ORONO — I was struck – but not surprised – when I recently saw a photo of a man standing proudly next to his car, which bore the message, “Donald is Mine, Chosen Divine.”

What this told me is that the Democrats are on the wrong track. Their strategy has been to point out the president’s deficiencies (which are legion) long and hard and relentlessly, in the belief that this will make President Trump’s supporters see the light and abandon their man. But this approach is wrong-headed and serves only to harden Trump’s base in its convictions. What the Democrats don’t understand is that devotion to the president has evolved from political support to a religion.

First,  who would have believed that a glib, fast-talking, abrasive New York billionaire, who had spent his life feathering his own nest and described manipulating the tax code to his advantage as a “sport,” would come to be venerated by so many Americans as a source of their salvation? They know that Donald Trump compulsively lies. They know that he evaded the draft and denigrated John McCain for the disgrace of allowing himself to be captured and tortured by the enemy. They know that he embraces dictators who wish America ill. And they are familiar with his misogyny (let’s be inclusive here – his misanthropy). Is it logical that they should support him with a fervor normally reserved for the deity?

There it is, then. It’s not a matter of logic, which is where the Democrats keep running aground. Their pointing out Donald Trump’s “issues” to his supporters is akin to shouting at someone who doesn’t understand English, in the hope that comprehension is a matter of volume.

Donald Trump has, in an ingenious way, transitioned to icon and has become an object of veneration. Highlighting his shortcomings is no different from trying to discourage a fundamentalist’s faith by citing contradictions in the Bible: One is not likely to abandon belief in God because of the inconsistencies found in the Book of Genesis. Faith requires allegiance to an overall idea, and it’s not the job of the faithful to pick and choose which aspect of faith they want to run with. Faith is a set of goods not meant to be broken. It´s the idea of Trump as savior that is so alluring.

American history is littered with the antics of talented demagogues who encouraged unquestioning devotion in their followers: Lewis Levin, the anti-immigrant; William Jennings Bryan, the anti-evolutionist; Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-Semite … . The list goes on, but what these men shared is that each was able to convince his supporters that there existed easy answers to complicated problems, and that these supporters were victims of forces conspiring against their welfare. The result is that each of these men had a moment in the spotlight, during which he was able to whip the faithful to white heat, convincing them that without his leadership the nation was doomed.

So where does this leave Democrats and others who want to give Donald Trump the bum’s rush? As with Levin, Bryan and Coughlin, his shine will eventually tarnish and he will become a tragic if colorful historical footnote and the subject of countless plodding doctoral dissertations. The big difference is that Trump – unlike the others – became president and has real power, which he has parlayed into a run as a prophet and godhead, viewed by his supporters through a haze of devotion that equates criticism of the president with blasphemy and challenges to his flip-flopping policies as heresy.

The Democrats need to accept the futility of impeachment, or invoking the 25th Amendment, or forcing the release of Mr. Trump’s tax returns. To pursue any of these routes would be to impugn not the politics of the president’s supporters, but their cult of devotion. Messing with religion is always a fool’s errand. The alternative? Opponents of Trump should take comfort in knowing that they are in the majority.

And then, in 2020, vote for whomever the Democrats nominate.


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