Eric Hoffer’s Thesis of the “True Believer” and Donald Trump

Back in the 1980s I picked up a skinny book at a used bookstore titled “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer. It described how “mass movements” are created and propelled. It’s been 30 years since I read the book but the Tea Party movement and Donald Trump got me to thinking about the book again and how Hoffer’s book, is some ways, describes the Tea Party/Trump movement. Quotes are from Wiki.
Part 1. The Appeal of Mass Movements
“Hoffer states that mass movements begin with a widespread “desire for change” from discontented people who place their locus of control outside their power and who also have no confidence in existing culture or traditions. Feeling their lives are “irredeemably spoiled” and believing there is no hope for advancement or satisfaction as an individual, true believers seek “self-renunciation”. Thus, such people are ripe to participate in a movement that offers the option of subsuming their individual lives in a larger collective. Leaders are vital in the growth of a mass movement, as outlined below, but for the leader to find any success the seeds of the mass movement must already exist in people’s hearts.”
In the case of Donald Trump the already occurring “mass movement” was/is the “Tea Party movement”. They have found their leader and their leader is Trump. He has galvanized them. Herman Cain was in position to become their leader back in 2011-12 but he imploded when his past came back to haunt him.
Part 2. The Potential Converts
“The ‘New Poor’ are the most likely source of converts for mass movements, for they recall their former wealth with resentment and blame others for their current misfortune.”
The downward financial plight of the middle class (going from a manufacturing based economy to a serviced based economy) is a perfect example of this and is helping to fuel Trump. The Tea Party movement in its early years tried to paint a picture of themselves as small government minded, libertarian like people. When Donald Trump came onto the political scene this year he helped to squash that perception. Michael Lind of Politico – ‘The success of Trump’s campaign has, if nothing else, exposed the Tea Party for what it really is; Trump’s popularity is, in effect, final proof of what some of us have been arguing for years: that the Tea Party is less a libertarian movement than a right-wing version of populism. Think William Jennings Bryan or Huey Long, not Ayn Rand. Tea Partiers are less upset about the size of government overall than they are that so much of it is going to other people, especially immigrants and nonwhites. They are for government for them and against government for Not-Them.’
If the Tea Party movement had really been about smaller government as they proclaimed early on, their leader would have been Rand Paul or someone very much like him.
Part 3. United Action and Self-Sacrifice
“In mass movements, an individual’s goals or opinions are unimportant. Rather, the mass movement’s ‘chief preoccupation is to foster, perfect and perpetuate a facility for united action and self-sacrifice’. “
“While mass movements idealize the past and glorify the future, the present-day world is denigrated. ‘The radical and the reactionary loath the present’. Thus, by regarding the modern world as vile and worthless, mass movements inspire a perpetual battle against the present.” “Successful mass movements need not believe in a god, but they must believe in a devil. Hatred unifies the true believers, and ‘the ideal devil is a foreigner’ attributed with nearly supernatural powers of evil.” Without a devil to hate, mass movements often fail.”
Of course, according to Donald Trump, there are many ‘devils’.