Yesterday at the impeachment demonstration in Times Square in New York there were a small handful of pro-Trump demonstrators who, when I arrived at around 5:30, were chanting “eight more years.” They were largely, and to their disappointment, ignored by the crowd, but at some point, they switched their chant to “sixteen more years.” At around 6:15 when the demonstration began to make its way downtown, the Trump supporters yelled “go home snowflakes,” and then left.

A very small group of demonstrators are not a stand-in for the tens of millions of people who voted for Trump in 2016 and who intend to vote for him again in 2020, but the actions and words of that small group reveal a lot about the mentality of what is becoming more clearly the cult of Trump. First, the chant of “eight more years,” escalating to double that was, on one hand, clearly meant to agitate the assembled demonstrators, but it was also something more than that. People on different sides of political debates have long shouted things at each other, but this kind of provocative behavior, or trolling, is not simply part of the pro-Trump worldview, it is at the absolute center of it. For Trump’s supporters, their leader’s ability to get so many Americans in a state of constant, and appropriate, concern and anger is not just a feature, rather than a bug, it is a core deliverable from the President to his voters.

calling for Trump to serve more years in office than is allowed by the Constitution, was a way for the pro-Trump demonstrators to confidently assert their contempt for the Constitution and democracy

Second, and equally significantly, calling for Trump to serve more years in office than is allowed by the Constitution, was a way for the pro-Trump demonstrators to confidently assert their contempt for the Constitution and democracy. This contempt starts at the top for the cult of Trump. It is possible to dismiss the chant of “eight more years” as a product of the moment, but that is not entirely convincing, particularly given that Trump himself has proposed staying in office longer than what is allowed by the Constitution. What those counter-demonstrators understood implicitly is that as with any cult, there is no future without the cult leader. For those who have cast their lot with Donald Trump, from Mitch McConnell to those in Times Square yesterday, the post-Trump future is very grim. It will be dominated by transitional justice proceedings, a loss of the feeling of being important and powerful, slow but inevitable deprogramming for many and the absence of, in their view, a witty and fearless leader who keeps all the right people angry all the time with offensive and semi-coherent Tweets and comments.

The shouts of “snowflake” by Trump supporters who were heading to the comparative warmth of the subway or the real warmth of a bar or restaurant at demonstrators who were braving the chilly December night to walk to downtown is an example of the kind of projection that is such a deep part of the cult of Trump. The irony of the moment was almost funny, but the larger pattern of a cult built around a faith in Trump’s ability to protect his supporters from change, whether in the form of racial equality, scientific reality or an evolving culture calling anybody a snowflake was hard to miss. Trump supporters are afraid of understanding, or even hearing about, American history with more nuance than they learned in middle school, yet they hurl the odd epithet “snowflake” at their opponents.

Words like cult are not pleasant and should be used carefully, but are also much better suited to explain the devoted following and unquestioning loyalty that Trump’s followers feel towards him than any more sterile political terms. This week as the House of Representatives impeached Trump, we did not hear Republicans in that body defending the President on the grounds that there was not enough evidence or that his mistakes were not enough to be impeached, but they echoed his sentiments about the “perfect” phone call and took the empirically indefensible position that he did nothing wrong. In the Senate, Trump’s supporters, who constitute a majority, are likely to eschew a trial altogether to avoid having to confront unpleasant, and undeniable realities about their cult leader.

Trump supporters are afraid of understanding, or even hearing about, American history with more nuance than they learned in middle school, yet they hurl the odd epithet “snowflake” at their opponents

When the cult ends and the heady feeling of seeing the likes of Donald Trump Jr. revel in a particularly toxic brand of right-wing adolescent attempts humor subsides, something that could happen in November of 2020, but might happen later, Trump’s supporters will find themselves in a difficult situation. Many of those who voted for Trump will act as if they were not aware of all the details of his malfeasance, while others will retreat further into the anger, bitterness and imaginary-and exaggerated-sense of victimhood that has mobilized Trump and his supporters for years.

As difficult as it may seem now, for the good of the country it will be necessary to welcome the former back into political society. Giving Trump’s erstwhile supporters a face-saving way to move beyond their previous mistakes will be essential, when the time comes, to holding the country together, but the latter category will raise much greater challenges. They may not be a large proportion of the population, but there will be a not insignificant group of Americans who will continue to believe in the cult long after Trump has lost, been imprisoned or fled to Moscow. There is no precedent for that, but it demonstrates that Trump’s ability to destabilize the system and engender contempt for democracy and the Constitution will not go away anytime soon, even if Trump himself does.

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