Follow The Leader?


I’m watching two documentaries, one about the Kim dynasty and one about Jim Jones.

Both remind me of the current political leadership in the United States. Blind, and amazingly irrational support for the Jones cult and the Kim cult, both of which demand "loyalty" with serious penalties for failure. How similar is this to Trump’s demands for his cabinet and party, and even the media to be loyal and "nice" to him? How fanatical and irrational are his followers, whose t-shirts and signs demonstrate their ignorance, hatred and ultimately desperation?

Kim Jong-Il was different from his father, whom he succeeded in the mid 90’s because he was raised in an elite, secluded, and almost princely environment. Never mind the conflict with communist ideals, he was clearly in an upper class that others could not hope to be in. His position was protected by his family’s grip on power (even if they had an Ottomanesque familial brutality). Trump too was brought up like a prince, but like Kim he was not accepted by his "peers." The Kims don’t get invited to royal weddings; the Trumps aren’t part of the East Coast elite. The Kims do everything over the top, whether it’s shoes with lifts to make Kim Jong-Il taller, or the giant statues of him and Kim Il-Sung, the country’s founder. Look at Trump’s penchant for the gaudy; gilding every centimeter of his apartment, or picking increasingly younger and bustier wives...and let’s not ignore his giant hair piece and strangely orange skin tone. These are the actions of desperate people, who want to not only gain attention but also to convince themselves that they are something that they are not.

Jim Jones was also a big personality in all senses. He, like Ttrump, was a serial adulterer. He also claimed that "fake news" was being spread about him. He was a perpetual martyr, who faked attacks on his life and his miraculous ability to survive them. He had essentially made himself God. Something he shares with the Trumps and the Kims.

In all three cases, to the rational observer, there are glaring disparities between declared principles and lived realities. Trump claims to love America, while despising its democracy. He claims to be a brilliant businessman...who has never been genuinely successful at it. None of his companies have gone public because none could survive the scrutiny needed. Jones was a self-described socialist and Christian who exemplified none of those things. The lay followers were used to build his utopia in the jungles of Guyana, after his failed attempts to carve out a kingdom for himself in Indiana and San Francisco. The Kims too are socialists-who have made leadership hereditary, and Kim focused piety mandatory.

So what’s my point? We crave leadership, we are social animals. But without the balance that vigilance and critical thinking bring us we end up with tyranny. It’s good to question authority. It’s good to have checks in place on power. And it’s important that leaders are capable of self-reflection. Selfish, petty and egotistical regimes end up killing and torturing people even while claiming to be holy, patriotic, or good. Kim’s execution squads and work camps, Trump’s racist tirades and distruction of refugee families, and of course, Jones’ ultimate mass suicide and murder spree are the types of fruits that always come from these poisoned trees.