IMMEDIATE RELEASE 30 September 2020
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Trump’s cult outreach
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has a fondness for cults and fringe movements, seemingly believing that if enough of such constituents support him, he can win reelection. Two such organizations come to mind, although with widely different agendas: People of Praise and Proud Boys.
In Tuesday evening’s debate, former Vice President Joe Biden avoided saying anything negative about Trump’s just-announced Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, including her affiliation with People of Praise, a small religious cult.
He called her “a fine person,” while pointing out that in her writings, she has questioned the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and her opposition to Roe v. Wade. If Barrett replaces Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, Republican-appointed conservative judges will have a super majority of 6 to 3.
Republicans have the votes in the Senate to confirm Barrett, but the public reaction to her nomination has been surprisingly cool. Polls show that a majority of voters think the seat should be filled by the next president, that this is too close to the election to leave the decision to a president who could be leaving office.
The Senate hearing into her nomination is set for the week of October 12, a rushed process that will nonetheless be time enough to raise legitimate questions about Barrett, who has been a judge on the Seventh Circuit since she was appointed by Trump in 2017.
Meanwhile, her greatest vulnerability is her association with People of Praise. Founded in 1971 by Catholics in rebellion against the Second Vatican Council, it teaches that the man is the head of the household and women handmaidens, a hierarchy that inspired the bestselling book, “The Handmaiden’s Tale.”
The group has since retired the word handmaiden, but women’s roles are limited even as they are encouraged to pursue education and leadership positions. Barrett did not disclose her involvement with the cult when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017, and her written articles for the group’s online magazine have been taken down.
Some Republicans might be wary of Judge Barrett’s alignment with a fringe religious group that many mainstream Catholics see as a cult. Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said they will not vote for her before the election. All Democrats need is for two more Republicans to see the light. Democracy is running out of time.
It is unclear whether Trump is aware of her affiliation, or whether it would even matter to him in any way. He did mention another cult.
At this week’s debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would disavow support from white supremacists and right-wing militias. Biden interjected the name of Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group. Trump replied, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” “Stand by” for what? Armed rebellion? Certainly, the cult thinks so, and it adopted the phrase as its rallying cry.
Some Republicans tried to clean up what Trump said, claiming he meant this armed group should stand aside and let law enforcement do its work. But that’s not what Trump said. He all but incited a civil war, conveying the message on national television before many millions of people to the Proud Boys to get their guns, get ready, and stand by for action.
Of all the appalling things he said at the debate, this is the most appallingly consequential. This fringe group of white supremacists see the President of the United States as an ally, and that translates into raising money, acquiring armaments, and winning new recruits.
America is so divided now that whatever Trump does, and whomever and whatever he embraces, he will find his shrinking base is still with him. The outcry from some Republicans is too little, too late that Trump could not possibly mean that he wants his supporters to take to the streets if that becomes necessary to keep him in power.
Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
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END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
IMMEDIATE RELEASE 30 September 2020