The development of a cult of personality is a prerequisite for those who aspire to be dictators. Having a section of the population give you undying support is useful if one is to assume power by claiming popular sovereignty - the fact that this section is normally not the majority of the population is irrelevant. Having a cult of personality gives you a casus belli to dismantle legal apparatuses that would constrain a presumptive tyrant, and once those apparatuses are gone the tyrant is free to do as he wishes, even if that includes consuming his cult when he abandons the promises that got him into power.
While not all humans are equally susceptible to joining a cult, every human has the capacity to be drawn into one. With that in mind, what warning signs are there that can serve as a warning for the susceptible person in particular and society in general? For the purpose of pertinence, let us use somebody with widespread support in the public realm. Let us use the support base for President Donald Trump.
According to the Cult Education Institute, there are 10 warning signs of a potentially unsafe group or leader:
1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration and lavished praise on national leaders who would be considered dictators and tyrants in any other Presidential administration. While other administrations have had polite dealings with despicable individuals, public praise was rarely, if ever, expressed by the President toward a dictator. President Trump seems incapable of withholding compliments toward these vermin.
2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
Trump has had notoriously few solo press briefings, preferring to trot out his Press Secretaries to obfuscate inquiries by media organizations. President Trump is openly critical of the free press; it is this criticism that he refers to when he puts out most of his public statements out on Twitter. Until recently, Trump routinely blocked critics of his administration from his Twitter, only ended by a court order that the Trump administration is currently appealing.
3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.
President Trump utilized his wealth as proof of his capability as a businessman, which was supposed to extend his credibility as a leader. Claiming that he was worth $10 billion in 2015, Forbes estimated that his net worth in 2018 was instead $3.1 billion. During the campaign President Trump stated he was unable to release his tax returns due to being under audit, despite the IRS releasing a statement directly contradicting that. A year and a half into his presidency, Trump has yet to release any of his recent tax returns, despite every president since Jimmy Carter releasing their tax returns while either running for office or in office.
4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.
Donald Trump's notorious comments about Mexico "not sending their best" was a twofold verbal assault; first, it suggested that the Mexican government was intentionally instigating migration into the United States. Second, it stoked the kind of fear that fuels the racism that is evidently very alive in the United States, particularly inside his support base. Supporting members of the Trump administration were fearmongers in their own right - Steve Bannon was the chief strategist for the Trump Administration, and is a believer in the "fourth turning" - essentially a catastrophic war that will leave the world in a state of chaotic upheaval. Alex Jones, conspiracy nut and living internet meme for the previous decade, hosted an interview with Trump during his campaign and has been a cheerleader for the Trump administration, encouraging his listeners to support the president and not trust the globalist alien satanist pedophile elite media class. Qanon, an anonymous modern Nostradamus that leaves intentionally vague predictions that outline a nefarious deep state attempting to stop the glorious revolution that Trump would bring, has been growing in scope online and has instigated an incident involving a truck blocking traffic on a dam. Furthermore, a majority of white Americans now feel that they are persecuted; whether this may or may not be true, feeling under attack increases fear, which increases likelihood of violence.
5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.
Conservatives that have not given unrestrained support for Trump get bombarded with accusations of being RINO or deep state stooges. The phrase "Trumpgret" has come to encompass these lapsed supporters.
6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
While notable Trump campaign and administration officials have yet to have a public airing of grievances, numerous reports from White House staffers paint a picture of public shunning, low morale, and chronic fatigue. Capable leaders know how and when to delegate; President Trump did not seem to read the memo about this facet of leadership, as he has a reputation for being a micromanager.
7. There are records, books, news articles or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
Excluding everything already mentioned and referenced, the audio of Donald Trump admitting to grabbing women by the genitals should serve as sufficient example.
8. Followers feel they can never be "good enough".
While it is impossible to peer into the mind of a person and discern their innermost feelings, the fact that his base is stereotyped as blue-collar workers that lost their job to globalization is the opposite of the wealth they believe Trump holds. It has been said that the royalty of America are celebrities - Donald Trump pushing himself into the media's eye for the last 40 years has given him the name and face recognition that makes the desperate hold him on a pedestal.
9. The group/leader is always right.
It doesn't matter how much Trump lies, or how definitively it is proven. It doesn't matter how substantial the proof of his contradictions are. It doesn't matter because his political base simply does not care. A substantial part of this is directly related to point #2 - Trump has openly admitted that he calls news that is negative toward him "fake news", regardless if what is reported is accurate.
10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.
President Trump has stated multiple times that he prefers to use twitter to speak to his base so his message is unadulterated by fake news, but that is not the only method he uses to drive up support. Media channels such as the Trump TV Network and Real News Update were created explicitly to give Trump supporters a pro-Trump news outlet, while networks that support Trump such as NRA TV, Sinclair Broadcasting and Fox News have explicitly told their audience not to believe "fake news" - which, again, is any news that is negative of Trump.
The tendency for conspiracy theories is that when someone points out a flaw in the theory, that person is involved in the conspiracy; this has wrapped criticism of the media with the alleged deep state that is trying to stop Trump from achieving his promises. A quick joke that illustrates this example -
A conspiracy theorist dies and goes to heaven. At the pearly gates, Saint Peter tells him that he can ask one question and get an honest answer. The conspiracy theorist asks who killed John F. Kennedy. Saint Peter responds that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. "This goes higher than I thought", thinks the conspiracy theorist.
The tragedy of millions of Americans blindly believing a habitual liar has yet to fully unfold, but it will almost certainly get worse.