As an outsider looking in, I had to wonder what's going on with American presidential politics. What can explain the success of Donald Trump, the pompous populist with more hair than policies?
Try as I might, I couldn't figure out the dynamics at play. What is it about this crazy country called the United States that gives rise to such odd happenings? But then I spoke to a friend with dual citizenship who was reluctantly commencing the lengthy and complicated process of renouncing her American citizenship.
It wasn't because she no longer wanted to be an American. She still felt an affinity for her country of birth. It was only due to particular financial circumstances that she considered it necessary to cut the legal ties with her homeland.
It turns out that the U.S. is the only western country that taxes nonresident citizens on their worldwide income. In my friend's case, that fact alone was not enough to cause her to want to forego her American citizenship since her income was such that she never owes any U. S. income tax. However, she is obliged to file income tax forms in the U. S. every year and that entails hiring an American accountant at considerable expense.
But renouncing one's U.S. citizenship is not an easy or inexpensive procedure. Apart from all the forms to complete and the visits to a consular office, an applicant for renunciation has to pay $2,350 US. By way of comparison, the fee for renouncing one's Canadian citizenship is a paltry $100 CAD.
It dawned on me then that the reason for all this complication and expense is because America is a cult. Think about it: a cult is a system of veneration and devotion to a particular figure, object or idea. In this case, the object of veneration is America itself.
One of the characteristics of a cult is control of the membership as, for example, by taxing them even if they live outside the country. Another characteristic is shunning as in making it difficult and expensive for members to leave.
The U. S. seems to fit the other markers of cult status as well such as exclusivity. Americans, by and large, believe that theirs is not only the greatest nation on earth but also the greatest nation of all time. More and more, there is also a misguided sense of destiny, a belief that America has been especially chosen by God.
There is control of citizens' actions and thinking particularly through the indoctrination of the education system. This leads, in turn, to a persecution complex, an "us against them" mentality regarding foreign thoughts and methods.
The result is often cognitive dissonance, an avoidance of facts and critical thinking. This in turn leads to groupthink which is often enforced by means of threats for what is deemed un-American behavior or activity.
An important part of that groupthink is the myth of the self-made man. That's the commonly-held belief that, by dint of hard work alone, anyone can make it in America. It's the credo that by making more and more deals, you, too, can become wealthy. It's an essential part of the American liturgy that ensures the loyalty and adherence of the citizenry even when it's obvious that only a handful can benefit.
With this knowledge in hand, it becomes easier to understand, if not accept, the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. He's preaching the American gospel when he says: "We're going to win", "I'm going to make fantastic deals" and "Make America great again."
In a nation dominated by evangelicals, gun nuts and Horatio Alger-wannabes, Pastor Trump provides the homilies that require little thought and ask only for a resounding "Hallelujah!" in response. Put your faith not in rational thought, says The Donald, but rather in empty platitudes promising automatic salvation and endless wealth. In short, Trump is the personification of the American dream and an ideal candidate to become the country's high priest.
Political commentators continue to be astonished by the rise of Mr. Trump. They dismissed him early on and continue to assume that he will eventually fall from grace. But in the cult that is America, Trump is the perfect leader: the unquestioned and unquestioning prophet of the art of the deal.
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