In Eric Hoffer’s 1951 masterpiece of writing and thought, The True Believer, about the power of mass movements to utterly influence humankind, the major takeaway for me was that the driving psychological and emotional forces behind religion and politics are identical — one and the same.

Humanity in effect lives in a field of emotional insecurity; as such it is always searching for something greater than its pathetic self to believe in, a magical leader, a messiah to save it from itself. Thus politics and religion, until the American experiment in democracy came about, have always been tightly entwined. And, still, even in America it has proven extremely difficult to separate church and state in a way that many of the founders had hoped possible.

In fact it is because democracy is such an uphill battle against the inherent rules of human emotion is what makes it so fragile. Indeed, there is a prevailing constituent within us, especially among those of a great anti-intellectual bearing, that rebels against the American ideal of self rule, even though these “rebels” are the ones who often proclaim the loudest demand to be free of government and all else, but in reality are terrified of freedom.

What it was that caused masses of people to submit to the rule of kings (often supported by the church via bishops) was that kings were presented as having been divinely ordained by God. Thus kings were seen by the ruled as being above it all, an earthly representative of God.

Would be dictators such as Donald Trump are masters of projecting an image of being above it all. Trump’s bad boy image would seem counterintuitive to the logical mind as someone people should want to be their leader. But his very acts of flaunting custom and rule of law as he sees fit, projects an image of special power, of being above it all — a God like kingliness that to an unenhanced intellect is the very sort of primeval leadership they desperately crave, dare we even say a divine leadership.

This explains in large part his appeal to religious fundamentalist types, beyond the fact that he is willing to nominate conservative judges that will protect the unborn. Indeed, effective politicians like Trump are careful to stage every political rally like a tent revival affair, because people are won over to a cause or message via their heart not their head. This datum was highlighted by a key lieutenant of Adolf Hitler when he once told a man inquiring about the German leader, and I paraphrase here, you will not find the essence of Adolf with you head but rather with your heart.

Contrary to what the masses may sometime claim, they are not looking intently for competent leadership as much as they are for a savior who spins dreams they long to believe — like lying Donald Trump or the Disney World ravings of Bernie Sanders. A competent executive like Mike Bloomberg might make the most effective president for all the people, but, alas, he does not inspire the fearful, religious craving mind of the masses.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

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