Often students studying for their college entrance exams (SAT), review words they believe will have a likelihood of appearing on their exams. Many schools write the SAT Word of the Day on white boards for students to learn in preparation for the test. Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries uses the word “obsequiousness” frequently, like the SAT Word of the Day, in Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership in his chapter on Trumpmania. Obsequiousness is used by Kets de Vries to describe the constant flattery and subservience of team Trump, who follow President Trump at all cost, even compromising their reputations and dignity (Kets de Vries 2019, Kindle Loc. 570). Kets de Vries also describes this obsequiousness as a way of identifying with the aggressor. Obsequious is the perfect word to describe the many followers of Trump who ignore the shameful and disgraceful acts that are daily displayed or twitted by the President of the United States of America. What is most difficult to understand is how many Evangelical Christian leaders have caught Trumpmania, attempting to lead credibility to a new type of mania that goes against some of the very principles that Jesus taught, such as love thy neighbor as thyself.
Trumpmania spreading within Evangelical Christianity can possibly be explained by the social theory of domination as described by Theodor Adorno in Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction by Anthony Elliott. Although I do not subscribe to everything in the social theory of domination, Adorno’s theory, described by Elliott is interesting,
For Adorno, as for Freud, the individual, when in a large group, is likely to identify less with its own ‘ego-ideals’ and more with impersonal ‘group ideals’. This identification with the group involves the undoing of various repressions at the level of the individual, and Adorno argues that fascist propaganda transposes aggression into hatred of the outgroup – in short, racism (Elliott 2009, 31).
This obsequiousness to President Trump or Trumpmania may be a type of group-think that takes over individual thought and may even surpass Christian beliefs leading to fascist potential. Elliott describes Adorno’s emotional traits of those with possible authoritarian tendencies, including: authoritarian submission and aggression, stereotype and superstition, power and toughness, and destructiveness and cynicism, to name a few (Elliott 2009, 33).
While it is easy to fit people into categories and use words such as obsequiousness to describe how people act, as Christians, we need to also recognize that humankind has a propensity toward sin. On one Sunday, that we call Palm Sunday, the crowd shouted praises to Jesus, saying ‘Hosanna to God in the Highest’ and just a few days later the fickle crowd shouted, ‘crucify Him’! The Bible shows us that ‘group-think’ and blindly following others in power has been around for a long time. Social Theory that points out the pathology of leadership is helpful to recognize destructive tendencies; however, we must never forget the real issue is one of sin.
Elliott, Anthony. Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Kets de Vries, Manfred F. R. Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership: Leadership Pathology in Everyday Life. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019.