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As a former member of an American cult, I know why so many white Christian women fervently support Trump

For traditional Christian housewives, the fear might be basic: contradict your husband’s opinion and you’ll be out of food and shelter. But for much of Trump’s base, the fear is all gross ego

Cyndy Etler
Tuesday 27 November 2018 15:27 GMT
Donald Trump supporters at rally say they'll agree with 'whatever he says'

To help a novice develop Buddha nature, a monk will pose a paradoxical question – “when one can do nothing, what can one do?” – that the rational mind can’t answer. These questions are called Zen koans.

We, as a country, are living a Zen koan. While our president, the molester-in-chief, continuously appoints men accused of sexual assault to government positions, a huge swath of American women – more than 80 per cent of whom have been sexually assaulted or harassed – continue to support him and his cronies.

Like, with a fervour.

The rational mind assumes that any woman, assaulted or not, would reject a man who says he would date his own daughter; would be repulsed by men who are repeatedly accused of violating women. But then, who’s to say Donald Trump’s supporters are rational?

Trump supporter tells her daughters that men groping women is 'no big deal'

As a sexual violence survivor, I deeply understand the male/female power dynamic. I understand it like a prey animal. I sense when a man is creepy. I get it when a woman is too afraid, ashamed or confused to report. I know how the most traumatic moments are seared into memory, while the irrelevant details fade away.

Every liberal woman I know intrinsically understands this. Every conservative woman I know pooh-poohs it. We all live in the same country, with the same men and the same high school parties. The majority of us have been sexually violated. Yet 34 per cent of women support Trump, and 37 per cent of women support Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. So the ultimate question is, why does this rapey stuff pass muster with conservative women, while infuriating liberal ones?

As a former cult member, I believe I have the answer.

I spent 16 months of childhood locked up in a notoriously abusive programme for teenagers. It was studied as a cult by multiple cultic institutes.

The cult’s method was this: take a mildly rebellious teen and convince their parents that they are addicted to drugs and on the verge of destruction. Take the parents’ money, lock the kid up and physically, psychologically and sexually abuse them until they not only recite the programme’s self-flagellating party line, but they actually believe it. We weren’t allowed to speak to our parents until we reached that point.

Kids who thought or behaved outside of the cult’s norms were punished with violent, personalised group confrontation, where group members screamed at and spat on kids who were suspected of having broken the rules. Attack therapy had two unspoken purposes. It demonstrated the terror that lay in store for the sinner and it let attackers reinforce their rabid loyalty. Every kid’s survival depended not only on our allegiance, but also on our violence towards those who appeared to have crossed it.

Trump’s frenetic female supporters use the same technique for the same reason. In praising predatory men and attacking outspoken liberal women, they reinforce their devotion to the dominant group, the group they subconsciously fear because it controls their fate: Republican men. It’s like a koan within a koan: how can countering one’s own best interests keep one safe?

Before we untie that knot, let’s look at who Trump’s supporters are. Two words: Christian right. According to the Pew Research Center, 81 per cent of “white, born again/evangelical Christians” and 60 per cent of “white Catholic” voters selected Trump. Why? Two more words: economic anxiety. Their party line: “Immigrants are stealing our jobs. African Americans are stealing our welfare.”

In this era of #MeToo, mixed-race marriage, Black Lives Matter and LGBT+ rights, America’s cultural fabric is shifting. The white, male Christian, financial and cultural top dog since 1776, can feel his crown slipping. And here comes Trump, in all his racist, misogynistic, egotistical glory, repping an America where the Christian white man remains king.

There’s a lot in Trumplandia for white Christian male voters. But where do the women come in? They come in through the barn door, because according to the Bible, women are work horses and breeders, created for two purposes: serving men and praising God. A woman should “be busy at home … and … be subject to their husband, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4-5). This makes sense, because “the husband is the head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:23). While the woman “rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household … her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:15-23).

And of course Trump can “grab them by the pussy”, because that’s what God created women for: to submit to men. In the words of the Baptist “19 kids and counting” Duggar family’s matriarch, women should be “joyfully available” for sex at all times. Eighty-plus per cent of women have been assaulted? They shouldn’t have resisted! They violated God’s plan.

Trump’s administration and his base, the Christian right, offer a s**t deal for women. So why do so many go for it? Same reason us “cult” kids “went for” being brutalised by each other: fear, lack of information and a steady diet of self-hating, figurehead-worshipping language.

For traditional Christian housewives, the fear might be basic: contradict your husband’s opinion and you’ll be out of food and shelter. But for much of Trump’s base, the fear is all gross ego. In the shifting social dynamics, former “minority” groups are rapidly becoming socially parallel with white people. In the past, a conservative Christian woman might have been officially inferior to her husband, but she felt superior to black, brown, immigrant and LGBT+ people. If Trump hadn’t come along to make America great again, soon she’d be better than… well, nobody!

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Limiting information is a tactic used by mind-control regimes everywhere. As cult members, we couldn’t read a shampoo bottle, but we could read the Bible. North Koreans and the Duggar household have strictly limited access to the internet. My pro-Trump neighbours have Fox News on 24/7. This stunting of input is a primary tool for brainwashing. Outside ideas cannot be allowed to creep in, lest a true believer realise they’ve been manipulated and start a revolution.

Finally, you know how, when a song gets stuck in your head, you can’t think of anything else? Cult leaders know that, too. In the cult I was in, they often sang praise songs to the programme for saving our lives, reinforcing our weakness and dependence. Just like the mindless repetition of simple words, like the “Thank You Jesus” signs appearing throughout my Bible belt town since 2016, the “Trump! Trump!” chants heard at certain rallies, and the short, repetitive phrases bellowed from the podium at those rallies.

I speak from experience when I say that when you are brainwashed, there’s a wall in your mind. Logic lies on the far side; you can’t touch it. Instead, you see everything through the lens of indoctrination. So those Trump-loving women on Facebook, they really do believe professor Ford is “making this stuff up”, that they’re superior to non-white non-Christians, that Trump is helping them. They’re incapable of thinking anything else. Their answer to that koan, “how can countering one’s own best interests keep one safe?” would be this: “For safety, my own best interest is not having my own interests.”

Cyndy Etler is the award-winning author of memoirs Dead Inside and We Can't Be Friends. Connect with her at

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