The Trump Cult as Body without Organs

It has been clear to me for a long time that Trump is a cult leader; his followers behave exactly like cult members, deflecting all information that might undermine their faith in their leader or present cognitive dissonance. They find endless excuses for Trump’s offensive conduct and incompetence. If he hasn’t fulfilled a campaign promise, such as bringing back manufacturing jobs or building the border wall, his followers tell that you “he’s working on it; he’s doing the best be can, but there are lot of enemies blocking his efforts.” The same behavior is seen in QAnon and every other cult. Every bit of evidence that might undermine their belief system rolls off a smooth surface; there is nothing there on the surface to catch the information, which brings me to Deleuze & Guattari‘s “body without organs.” In Anti-Oedipus, they describe a tension between the body without organs and desiring-machines:

An apparent conflict arises between desiring-machines and the body without organs. Every coupling of machines, every production of a machine, every sound of a machine running, become unbearable to the body without organs. . . . In order to resist organ-machines, the body without organs presents its smooth, slippery, opaque, taut surface as a barrier. In order to resist linked, connected, and interrupted flows, it sets up a counterflow of amorphous, undifferentiated fluid. In order to resist using words composed of articulated phonetic units, it utters only gasps and cries that are sheer unarticulated blocks of sound. . . . This is the real meaning of the paranoiac machine: the desiring machines attempt to break into the body without organs, and the body without organs repels them, since it experiences them as an over-all persecution apparatus.

p. 9

Trump’s language, as well as the language of his followers when defending him, could be described as “gasps and cries that are sheer unarticulated blocks of sound.” This is the language of Faulkner’s Benjy. In Trump’s case, the “sound and fury” is full of contradictions and has no logical coherence; it consists mostly of slogans, lies, insults, and noise. It’s deeply solipsistic, having no firm connection to anyone or anything outside the cult. The slogans and insults are repeated endlessly, without any challenge being taken seriously. This is the smooth surface, as distinguished from the striated surface. The desiring-machines would interrupt the amorphous flow of the body without organs, introducing striation or stratification.

Striation forms grids, the disciplinary mechanisms described by Foucault. So there is constant tension between smooth and striated spaces. Trump and his followers continually resist being disciplined or bound by the norms of civilized discourse; they shout and badger rather than talk; they will not wear masks or socially distance because they don’t want to be told what to do. It’s a childish, “You’re not the boss of me” attitude. Trump’s assaults on social and political decorum can be understood in this light.

The tendency to make excuses for the leader’s lack of success frames the success as a potential that will surely manifest at the appropriate time. The success is surely coming; just wait, it’s on its way. It’s like God’s judgment or the second coming of Christ; it’s inevitable.

In A Thousand Plateaus, the Deleuze & Guattari write,

A BwO is made in such as way that it can be occupied, populated only by intensities. Only intensities pass and circulate. Still, the BwO is not a scene, a place. . . . The BwO causes intensities to pass; it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension. It is not a space, nor is it in space; it is matter that occupies space to a given degree–to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced. . . . That is why we treat the BwO as the full egg before the extension of the organism and the organization of the organs, before the formation of the strata; as the intense egg defined by axes and vectors . . .

p. 153

Intensities circulate within a cult. These intensities consist of the interactions among the people within the cult, and there is no effort to make meaningful connections beyond the cult. The communication is internally directed.

But we can also call Trumpism as protest movement, as it protests against globalization, immigration, women’s rights, technological automation, environmentalism, etc. It is not an organization, however.

The difference between a protest movement and an organization is that the organization is organized; it has strata, positions that people occupy, etc. This means protest movements have the characteristics of the body without organs. Organizations, by contrast, extend outward; they have dealings with the world beyond the organization itself—they have public relations personnel; they must make connections outside the organization and form assemblages. This is where we see Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring-machines.

8 comments

  1. It is necessary to understand the group psychology and the psychopathology of cults. What does the cult leader give his followers, his ultimate victims, that they will give up everything else in exchange?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think he gives them someone who appears to know everything—past, present, and future. He is “the one who knows,” as discussed by Lacan I think. The leader also takes away the awful burden of freedom, the obligation to make choices and take responsibility.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it was what he said about the “Algebra of Need” in Naked Lunch, something to the effect that anything with a capacity to relieve pain will necessarily be addictive.

        Liked by 1 person

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