“Creation myths tell us how things began,” writes David Leeming in Creation Myths of the World. “All cultures have creation myths, [which] explain in metaphorical terms our sense of who we are in the context of the world, and in so doing they reveal our real priorities, as well as our real prejudices. Our images of creation say a great deal about who we are.”
Two questions kept recurring to me as I returned briefly to western Pennsylvania where Donald Trump won overwhelmingly in November. The first was, when Trump goes back to the heartland for periodic infusions of adulation, why does he spend so much time rehashing the election itself? The second: why does the retelling resonate so powerfully with those who go to his rallies? After all, the election is long over, and he is the president, arguably the most powerful man in the world. Why does he still feel the need to rehash the electoral vote, revive “Crooked Hillary,” and revile CNN and the failing New York Times?
His speeches are generally attributed to his constant need for praise, as well as to assert his legitimacy – to discredit the three-million-popular-vote deficit, the role of Russian interference, Clinton’s 19-1 edge in newspaper and magazine endorsements. But there is something more going on than narcissism. At Trump rallies, what seems an empty rehashing of the past is a reminder of the birth of a movement. It is a creation myth, and like all creation myths it grows stronger as it is repeated and ritualized. That’s how cults evolve, and to dismiss his performance as buffoonery is to miss the danger in it.