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As a kid growing up on hot summer days, not at all unlike our recent hot July record-setters, I enjoyed my mom’s homemade Kool-Aid ice pops. The strawberry flavored ones were my favorite.
In my adult life, Kool-Aid, politics, cults and the term “evangelicals” have taken on new meanings.
Many readers are old enough to remember Jim Jones and the infamous Jonestown tragedy of 41 years ago. Nine hundred adherents to Jim Jones’ cultic religious camp known as Jonestown, in the country of British Guiana, were forced to drink Kool-Aid laced with cyanide killing every man, woman and child present.
This tragic journey of Jim Jones and his followers began with a man who had become a pied piper, a charismatic leader who had his start as a 21-year-old student pastor of a Methodist church. In 1956, Jones became an ordained minister in the Independent Assemblies of God. Jones considered the church to be primarily a means to fulfill his political agenda.
It was not until the early 1970s that Jones began believing and teaching that he was the incarnation of Buddha, Gandhi, Vladimir Lenin and Jesus. Jones assured his devoted followers that he alone could take care of them and their futures. His description of the area of Guiana to which he would lead them was lush and fertile, a place with no dangers such as poisonous snakes. It was all a lie. He was the “snake.”
The Kool-Aid laced with poison and drank by the members of Jonestown had instant, deadly results.
In the thinking of this columnist, there is a more subtle, slow-working, yet toxic political Kool-Aid being consumed by millions of the U.S. electorate. It slowly but surly eats away one’s ability to use critical thinking skills. It causes the loss of clear thinking and reasoning abilities concerning political realities. It makes one equate criticism of the president with criticism of the country. Science, education and progressive ideas become the enemies. Socialism becomes the same as “communism.”
The question: Why do people put their lives in the hands of charismatic and increasingly unhinged white men?
An individual who escaped Jonestown, Yulanda Williams, said, “For me, that brought to mind the religious fervor at Trump’s rallies, his ubiquity on Twitter and all forms of mass media, and the chilling fact the he is the first president to be able to broadcast messages to all our cellphones.”
A psychologist who has studied Jones’ audio recordings, Karen Hill, writes: “While Trump’s and Jones’ ideologies could not be more different, the president has a similarly entrancing staccato speaking style and has also exhibited extreme narcissism.”
“Like Jones, he has enforced demands of loyalty through threats, degradation and retaliations for slights. Like Jones, he has amassed large amounts of money used to get out of trouble. Like Jones, he is accused of denigrating and sexually assaulting women. And like Jones, he has spread messages of fear, paranoia and violence.”
From where I see it, there are unsettling similarities between Trump and Jones. What’s scary is that Trump holds the secret nuclear launch codes.
The current Trump cult-of-personality, which is supported by 80% of the evangelicals who are drinking the Trump political Kool-Aid laced with lies, deceptions, greed, divisive rhetoric and racism along with the promise of power, can be deadly.
The antidote: A hunger for truth, an unwillingness to allow one man to determine what is the truth, the courage to speak your truth to power, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.