Trump's claim that Biden is "jacked up" on drugs is more than projection — it's cult conditioning

Parroting Trump's obvious lies creates the groupthink that keeps followers from asking too many questions

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 26, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Ronny Jackson, Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ronny Jackson, Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has been thinking a lot about cocaine lately, even though drug-running is one of the few felony charges he's not been indicted or convicted for. He has been routinely accusing President Joe Biden of using drugs, with the usual vivid details Trump injects into all his weird fantasies. "So a little before debate time, he gets a shot in the a—," Trump told rallygoers in Philadelphia Saturday. "I say he’ll come out all jacked up," he added, before going off on a diatribe accusing Biden of being the owner of a bag of cocaine found in a White House visitors' closet last year. 

Since there's no flight of Trump's fancy too bizarre for right-wing media, this obsession of Trump's is getting echoed by Republican politicians and MAGA talking heads. Fox News hosts, Republican politicians, MAGA media influencers, and every right-wing troll on Twitter have been playing their part as well-trained parrots, repeating the lie. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is even putting the lie in paid advertising. 

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Everyone knows that Trump's favorite rhetorical tactic is psychological projection. You'd think Republicans would be a little more worried this would raise questions about what Trump has been ingesting. But no: The campaign tapped disgraced former White House doctor Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Tex. to be a major Trump surrogate pushing this lie. Jackson's been hitting both TV and podcasts to toss around drug names like "Adderall" and "Provigil." This only reinforces suspicions that this accusation is a confession, however. When Jackson was Trump's White House doctor, he earned the nickname "Dr. Feelgood" for relentlessly pushing these drugs on people who do not need them. Jackson's behavior was so egregious that the Navy stripped him of his rank.

What's telling about this lie is, as with many MAGA falsehoods, it seems few, if any, of the people repeating it actually believe it. Trump and his allies have accused Biden not just of being a little tired at times, but of having dementia. As Mona Charen pointed out on the "Daily Blast" podcast, if Adderall could restore a demented person's brain, they'd be mass distributing it to the millions of people who are suffering from this disease. As for the cocaine accusation, even the most naive person in the country knows cocaine makes people less coherent, not sharper. It causes people to ramble on about nonsense, which is closer to describing your average Trump speech, not anything Biden has been up to. 

Trump is using his second favorite trick, besides projection: Tricking his followers into believing they're in on his con.

Trump isn't trying to convince anyone of this lie. He's convincing them that, by repeating the obvious lie, they can share in what they believe is his mastery over reality itself. The lie is not a thing the MAGA person sincerely believes. It's a weapon Trump has provided them. When he loses the debate, which they clearly expect he will, the lie gives them a way to participate in the post-debate spin. But it's also the stupidity of the lie that makes it so fun. Saying something deliberately dumb is a reliable way to drive the liberals mad. Angering liberals is the emotional core of the MAGA base. 

This also helps explain why MAGA experiences no cognitive dissonance when Trump openly contradicts himself on the question of Biden's rhetorical skills. As many media outlets have documented, Trump spent weeks deriding Biden as "the WORST debater I have ever faced — He can’t put two sentences together." Now, he's suddenly changed tactics, claiming Biden is a "worthy debater" and warning that his followers "don’t want to underestimate him."

It's the stupidity of the lie that makes it so fun. Saying something deliberately dumb is a reliable way to drive the liberals mad.

None of this bothers Trump's supporters, who know nothing he says should be mistaken for truth. That's part of the fun. He makes them feel like they're part of the lie. No doubt that feels powerful, this ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth, and never being held to account for it. Every time Republican voters repeat an obvious lie, they get to feel they're sticking it to the liberals and the media, with all their pious insistence that words should mean things and lying is bad. It's the same trick Trump used to convince his followers to reject mask-wearing during the pandemic. Sure, spreading a deadly disease on purpose might be frowned upon in some corners, but that's what makes it feel so deliciously naughty. 

As I've written about before, this strategy is the oldest technique in the con artist's book. The best way for a grifter to gain a mark's trust is to make him feel like he's in on the con. Cult leaders operate the same way, by creating this sense of intimacy with their victims. Once the mark feels he's part of the conspiracy, it's that much easier to victimize him. The mark feels like the predator and not the prey, and so he lets his guard down around the actual villain picking his pocket. Trump does this to his followers over and over again, and they always fall for it. Even the Capitol insurrection is a good example. Trump convinced the rioters that they were his partners in the attempted coup. In reality, they were his patsies, set up to take the fall while he hid away in the White House. 

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Tuesday, the New York Times ran a report on how much Trump rallies are being used to swindle the MAGA masses. At the recent Turning Point USA (TPUSA) event in Detroit, the 8,000 people in attendance to hear Trump were first subject to a pitch from Alexander Spellane, "who federal regulators say is also known as Alexander Fisher and Alexander Overlie," on buying gold and silver. The rallygoers were not told that Spellane is under federal investigation for defrauding his so-called "investors." 

But it's no surprise, really. TPUSA is itself a shady organization, as Bill Scher reports in Washington Monthly. "The group reported $9.8 million in donations for 2017, $79.2 million for 2022, and a quarter of a billion since 2016," he writes, with promises to GOP donors that they will be able to turn out the youth vote for Republicans and win states such as Arizona. The group hasn't met its repeated promises to win tight elections in swing states, but by one important metric, they're quite successful: As the Associated Press reports, TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk "bought three high-end properties, all worth over a million dollars, which include his new Spanish-style mansion near Phoenix, as well as a nearby apartment and a beachside condo on Florida’s gulf coast."

Never let it be said that I'm asking readers to pity Trump supporters, however. This is a classic case of "play stupid games, win stupid prizes." If only these fools could limit it to wasting their own money, whether it's on $60 Trump Bibles or their life savings on Truth Social stock. Instead, because Trump flatters their egos to snake their wallets, they are risking our entire democracy. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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