“Worship” is defined as “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” To worship someone is “to regard [that individual] with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.” Donald Trump, America’s biggest criminal by far, is worshiped by much of white evangelical America. 

By 2015, Trump understood that lies designed to make white people feel superior to others were the key to winning over white evangelicals. He knew this because so many white evangelicals had already reveled in his blatant lie that President Barack Obama was a Muslim born in Africa. 

So, Trump in his first presidential campaign – and subsequent two others – spewed a seemingly endless stream of lies that were central to his quest for the White House. In response, most white evangelicals flocked to him, often adoringly. During his presidency, Trump lied some 30,000 documented times. He was adored all the more by his white Christian nationalist base, which still worships him. 

Now, the United States Justice Department has indicted Donald Trump for crimes against our United States government [You can read the indictment here]. In particular, the indictment against Trump focuses on 21 specific lies that the former president spread far and wide, lies fostering imaginary conspiracy theories and with the goal of galvanizing a white Christian nationalist army to overthrow the United States government on January 6 and forcefully keep Trump in power.

Those 21 lies, condensed by CNN, are:

  1. The lie that fraud changed the outcome of the 2020 election, that Trump “had actually won,” and that the election was “stolen.” (Pages 1 and 40-41 of the indictment)
  1. The lie that fake pro-Trump Electoral College electors in seven states were legitimate electors. (Pages 5 and 26)
  1. The lie that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have affected the outcome of the election. (Pages 6 and 27)
  1. The lie that Pence had the power to reject Biden’s electoral votes. (Pages 6, 32-38)
  1. The lie that “the Vice President and I are in total agreement that the Vice President has the power to act.” (Page 36)
  1. The lie that Georgia had thousands of ballots cast in the names of dead people. (Pages 8 and 16)
  1. The lie that Pennsylvania had 205,000 more votes than voters. (Pages 8 and 20)
  1. The lie that there had been a suspicious “dump” of votes in Detroit, Michigan. (Pages 9 and 17)
  1. The lie that Nevada had tens of thousands of double votes and other fraud. (Page 9)
  1. The lie that more than 30,000 non-citizens had voted in Arizona. (Pages 9 and 11)
  1. The lie that voting machines in swing states had switched votes from Trump to Biden. (Page 9)
  1. The lie that Dominion machines had been involved in “massive election fraud.” (Page 12)
  1. The lie that “a substantial number of non-citizens, non-residents, and dead people had voted fraudulently in Arizona.” (Page 10)
  1. The lie that Fulton County, Georgia elections workers had engaged in “ballot stuffing.” (Pages 13 and 14)
  1. The lie that thousands of out-of-state voters cast ballots in Georgia. (Page 16)
  1. The lie that [Georgia Secretary of State] Raffensperger “was unwilling, or unable” to address Trump’s claims about a “‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more.” (Page 16)
  1. The lie that there was substantial fraud in Wisconsin and that the state had tens of thousands of unlawful votes. (Page 21)
  1. The lie that Wisconsin had more votes counted than it had actual voters. (Page 21)
  1. The lie that the [national presidential] election was “corrupt.” (Page 28)
  1. The lie that Trump won every state by hundreds of thousands of votes. (Page 34)
  1. The lie that Pennsylvania “want[s] to recertify.” (Page 38)

Foundational to these 21 lies – and many of Trump’s other lies – pertaining to the 2020 presidential election is the lie that America was founded as a Christian nation and must once again come under the authority of God, by violence if necessary. Despite the failure of Trump’s January 6 army to destroy America’s democracy, white Christian nationalist leaders, still worshiping Trump, are today calling on their followers to continue the war against their own nation

Why, sensible Americans wonder, are so many white evangelical Republicans – “evangelical” and “Republican” now essentially interchangeable – still seemingly blind to Donald Trump’s obvious con job? 

Marcel Danesi, a professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto, has extensively examined the power and significance of politicians’ lies.

The author of Politics, Lies and Conspiracy Theories: A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective, Danesi observes that since antiquity authoritarian leaders –like today’s former President Donald Trump, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Russia’s Vladimir Putin – “are capable of using words and speeches to whip people into such an emotional tempest that they will do things like march on the seat of Congress or invade a neighboring country.”

Danesi extensively analyzed “real speeches made by politicians past and present, including those of Trump, Orbán and Putin, using cognitive linguistics — a branch of linguistics that examines the relationship between language and the mind.” His takeaway? Throughout history, “speeches by dictators and autocrats have one thing in common: they use dehumanizing metaphors to instill and propagate hatred of others.” In Trump’s case, “others” are non-whites and/or “liberals.”

But most Americans have never fallen for Trump’s dehumanizing agenda; Hillary Clinton received some 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016, for example. Only “some people” are entrapped by Trump’s lies. 

Danesi explains how Trump hacks “into the minds” of certain people whose “emotional basis is fear,” whether due to “economic instability or pre-existing cultural prejudices.” Then, he incessantly repeats lies that dehumanize “others,” imprinting the lies upon vulnerable minds and creating cult followers. Trump himself told former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham that “As long as you keep repeating something, it doesn’t matter what you say,” some people will believe it, even if it is a blatant lie. 

Trump initially drew Grisham into his cult, but in time, she came to have doubts. The violence of January 6 became the last straw for her. After leaving the Trump cult, she wrote a tell all book.

“What this means,” Danesi says of Trump’s cult-inducing lies, “is these repetitive uses of dehumanizing metaphors are incredibly powerful to those brains already willing to hear them, because they direct their thoughts, making it easy to focus on certain things and ignore others.” The same is true of conspiracy theories; Trump labeled as “THE BIG LIE” his false claim that he was robbed of a second presidential term by a liberal conspiracy against him. Danesi explains that “neuroscientific research shows that people who believe” repetitive lies “develop more rigid neural pathways, meaning they find it difficult to rethink situations once this pattern of thinking is established.”

Still, not everyone is susceptible to the Trump cult, Danesi observes. “This comes down to critical thinking and brain training. If one wants to or needs to believe, then the language [of lies] works manipulatively and the neural pathways” calcify against truth. “If we aren’t fearful or primed to believe, our brain has mechanisms to alert us to the deceit. Simply put — if we are constantly critical of lies, our brains are more trained to notice them.”

On the other hand, “once people begin to believe lies, they are unlikely to change their minds even when confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs. It is a form of brainwashing.” 

How does someone who is brainwashed re-emerge into reality? There are no easy answers, but in general, it takes a jolt – a “disruptive event,” in Danesi’s words. 

Will the Justice Department’s indictment – and subsequent trial, alongside Trump’s other upcoming criminal trials – be enough to shake many of the remaining Christian nationalist Trump worshipers out of their stupor? 

Probably not, for Christianity itself is a “belief” system. Apart from actual evidence, one “believes” that God exists or that this or that doctrine is true. 

In reality, it’s not that much of a step from believing in God to believing Trump’s lies: Both are based on faith, not facts, and both require mental assent to something for which there is no actual evidence. Religion trains the human brain to believe that which cannot be verified as truth. For this reason, cults are almost always religious in nature, and cult leaders are authoritarians who position themselves as tangible gods who require their followers’ loyal worship. 

Cult leader Donald Trump is not about to cease his demand that his followers worship him at all costs. 

Trump ignited January 6, and now many of his insurrectionist followers have been convicted and jailed for their crimes committed on his behalf. 

Trump desperately hopes his “BIG LIE” is still powerful enough to keep his remaining subjects focused on doing whatever he asks of them.

And what is he demanding? Nothing less than the dissolution of American democracy and the installation of his own authoritarian regime, the only certain way that he will avoid imprisonment.

Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, far right warrior and perhaps the most prominent white Christian nationalist Trump worshiper today, is right now leading the charge as instructed by Trump in organizing a second “war” – a second January 6 – against his “own country” to destroy democracy.

These are perilous times for democracy and Christianity alike. The Justice Department’s indictment of Trump is also an indictment of some white Christians’ lust for self-serving power. 

Should Donald Trump not be imprisoned for his many crimes against the United States of America, our nation will remain endangered by violent authoritarianism and much of white American Christianity forever guilty of crucifying the inclusive Jesus of the gospels on a bloody altar of lies and lust.

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