Donald Trump is gaslighting the American public and most people do not even know they are being targeted. How is that for an opening salvo?
In case the term is not a familiar one, gaslighting is a technique that abusers use. Through falsification and blatant and shameless lies, manipulators so disorient their target that the person (or in this case, the country) is left in defenseless bewilderment. In a game where the ultimate prize is being leader of the free world, and where one of the players is drowning in self-proclaimed grandiosity, a pattern of systematic deceptive behavior with the intent of exploiting and manipulating a victim (or in this case, America) into doubting its perception of reality is something with which we should all be concerned.
The term “gaslighting” stems from a 1938 Patrick Hamilton play entitled Gas Light, which was subsequently made into a British cinematic drama in 1940 and into an American classic film noir in 1944. The plot in the play and the films involves a scheming husband who tries to convince his wife whom he no longer wants that she is losing her mind. Gaslighting has commonly come to mean a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser; or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.
Since beginning his campaign in June, Americans have repeatedly reeled in shock and disbelief at offensive comments that have come from Donald Trump’s mouth. And when people pushed back in disgust, Trump met that reaction with condescending denials and spinned the facts, leaving many people doubting their own perceptions of the events. Denial and spinning are common tactics of a skillful gaslighter.
And Donald Trump is gaslighting Americans.
Diminishing is another tactic an adept manipulator uses to plant doubt into his victim’s minds, such as when Trump said people took his comment about Megyn Kelly’s “blood” all wrong and what he actually meant were her ears or her nose. Trump insisted that he did not, in using the word “wherever,” actually mean to suggest that Kelly was experiencing her menstrual cycle. Rather, as he later told CNN’s Jake Tapper, he meant that she was so angry that she seemed to be bleeding from some other orifice – like, say, a nose, or an ear. Diminishing is usually followed with a blame-the-victim statement that is designed to deflect the bad behavior onto the victim and exonerate himself. In Kelly’s case, he said that only a “deviant” would have thought that he was referring to her menstrual period. There are countless times when Trump’s misogyny has been truly remarkable. A case in point is when Trump mailed Gail Collins, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, a copy of her column with the words “face of a dog” scrawled across her picture. Trump struck again when he insulted Carly Fiorina’s face. In a Rolling Stone article, Trump said of Fiorina: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president. I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” Later at one of the Republican presidential debates, Trump said that he was talking about her persona. Carly Fiorina responded to Trump’s disparaging remark about her appearance, making it clear she found them insulting not only to her but also to women everywhere. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fiorina declared, drawing loud applause from the audience. “I think she’s got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” was Trump’s reply, but Fiorina was having none of it and did not smile.
There are many examples, as Kelly pointed out during the debate of Trump describing women as “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals.” He also called Kelly a “bimbo.”
Narcissistic and aggressive personalities will do whatever it takes to secure and maintain a position of advantage over others. Gaslighting and other tactics are used to conceal these malevolent intentions while prompting their targets to accede to their desires. Deception is the name of this game, and narcissists are adept at causing the targeted persons to doubt their gut instincts. When pushed back, narcissists will escalate their arsenal of deceit to make their victims back down, in order for them to “win.” And we all know that winning is what “The Donald” is all about.
Donald Trump’s expertise in playing the gaslighting game cannot be disputed. He is undeniably a world class professional. Since June, he has offended complete classes of Americans and ethnicities. He has demeaned women in the most vile and reprehensible fashion, saying among other things, “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions but he has yet to determine what that punishment should be. He has called Latino immigrants “criminals” and “rapists” without any evidence to support his claim. He has diminished John McCain’s gut-wrenching POW experience, and then blew off any dislike of his behavior as a meaningless inconvenience. He has said that there were “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. He saw them on television. Never mind that no one else saw what he says he saw. He has blamed Afro-Americans and Hispanics for violent crime across the country, connecting such criminality to race in such a blunt and unfair fashion that his comments seem more about blaming certain kinds of people than about solving the problem. And in a troubling Naziesque fashion, he has promised to look into rounding up people of a different faith (read Muslims) in order to “get rid of them.” In every one of these shocking incidents, Trump has denied wrongdoing and deflected his behavior onto his ever-growing list of targets, never acknowledging his faults, a trait that is so common with narcissists. Of course, apologizing is not in Trump’s vocabulary because his over-inflated ego tells him that he is never wrong. His defective personality prevents him from feeling empathy for others, and provokes him to constantly declare how great and how big and how smart he is. Just ask him. As Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry) says to Captain Briggs in Sudden Impact: “You are a legend in your own mind.” That is Donald Trump. In Trump’s mind, everything he does is bigger, better, faster, smarter, than anything humanity has ever seen. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created” Trump has declared on several occasions, but with no facts to substantiate that claim. But these thoughts enable him to take his gaslighting skills to new heights; con America into voting for him so he can fulfill this sick and twisted fantasy of global admiration and power at the expense of everyone else.
While Trump still holds sizable leads over his two viable counterparts – Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich – the election is still far enough away that this manipulator can be stopped in his tracks. Call me a naive idealist, but I continue to believe that there are enough intelligent and intuitive people on both sides of the aisle to put an end to his dangerous and destructive sport. Knowledge is power and as Americans begin to understand the psychology behind Trump’s actions, they will reclaim this political process and send him a clear message that America is not for sale and cannot be won in a dirty deal by a mentally defective con artist. At least, that is my wild-eyed liberal hope.
Gaslighting can only work on people who do not question, on people who do not think for themselves. Victims have to be made mentally weak and unsure of themselves and such a condition can happen to anyone under the right conditions.
Donald Trump is a toxic blend of Phineas Taylor “P. T.” Barnum, a snake oil salesman, and a playground bully. Ask him a question and he will lie without batting an eye. Call him a liar and he will declare himself “truthful to a fault.” Confront him with contradictory evidence and he will shrug and repeat the lie. In all probability, he will change the subject, but he will never change the lie.
Evidence? He says he never settles lawsuits. He says he is polling better than Hillary Clinton in New York. He says he never encourages violence at his rallies. He says he is winning Latinos and Afro-Americans and women. He says he is the first candidate to mention immigration. He says, he says, he says, he says. He lies! But forget all that, because evidence is for losers. Forget all that, because truth is for failures.
Political journalists have been repeatedly criticized for not confronting Trump on his lies. But, of course, they have. For political journalists, a politician caught in a lie is something to exploit and develop. But when journalists confront Trump with his lies, he does not behave as most people. He does not blush or equivocate or argue. Instead, he steamrolls. He bullies. He lies some more. And journalists do not know what to do when he does this. They have brought facts to an ego fight, and found them to be worthless weapons. It reminds me of that scene in The Untouchables, when Jim Malone (having a gun in hand) says to some thug trying to stab him: “Isn’t that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gun fight.”
If it is hard to wrap our minds around the gaslighting of a nation, just watch the dynamics at work on a single person. That person is Michelle Fields, a former Breitbart News Network reporter. While covering the March 8, 2016 Donald Trump press conference in Jupiter, Florida, Fields was grabbed by Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Ben Terris of The Washington Post reports seeing Lewandowski do it. Fields has bruises on her forearm and there is audio of the event. Lewandowski himself reportedly told a Breitbart editor that he grabbed Fields.
So what happened next?
Lewandowski said Fields was crazy. “Totally delusional,” he tweeted. Trump suggested she made up the whole thing. The Trump campaign pulled straight from the attack-the-victim playbook a response typically deployed against those who raise accusations of sexual assault – she is delusional, she is making things up, why didn’t she tell the police, she has a history of this kind of behavior.
In other words: gaslighting.
And what does this look like as he does it to an entire nation? We only have to go back to Chicago last month where Trump cancelled a planned appearance, resulting in a series of scuffles between outraged Trump supporters and cheering protestors. Appearing later on The Sean Hannity Show, a nationally syndicated talk radio program, Trump said law enforcement had advised him to cancel the rally out of safety concerns. That was a lie. The Chicago Police Department says it never advised Trump to cancel.
Trump further said, “I don’t want anybody to be hurt. We want this to be a nonviolent situation.” That was another lie. For more than a month, Trump had been encouraging his supporters to become violent, not only spurring them to rough up protestors but offering to pay their legal fees if they were arrested for assault.
Sean Hannity – who has been gaslighting America for far longer than Donald Trump, but less effectively – said, “When did we start blaming victims of violence instead of the perpetrators of violence?”
When? Ask Corey Lewandowski.
When? Ask John McGraw.
Trump said his supporters only fight back in self-defense – just three days after a Trump supporter was caught on tape sucker-punching a protestor who was being led out of a rally. Trump said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he would look into paying the legal fees of the sucker-puncher. The man to which Trump referred is John McGraw of Linden, North Carolina, who was arrested on and charged with assault, battery and disorderly conduct. After the incident in Fayetteville, North Carolina, McGraw said that next time he might kill the protester, who he said was “not acting like an American.” Trump claimed that the protester was taunting McGraw and making crude gestures. While Trump said he did not want to see violence at his events, he also said that the man who threw the punch might have been carried away but that he “obviously loves the country.” In other words, McGraw was “acting like an American.” I suspect that there may be some dispute over that understanding of the situation.
The best way to end Trump’s gaslighting is to sever ties with the gaslighter. That approach is easier said than done, but some Republicans are trying to do just that. However, my gut feeling tells me that the GOP is stuck with Donald John Trump at least through July, but most probably until November. My only hope is that after November, Trump will go back to running beauty pageants and casinos, selling pricey steaks and bottled water, and building anything – anything – but a border wall.
America can still resist. Trump will keep on saying that he loves Americans, but that, of course, is the con. He says those words wherever he goes. He loves this place and that place. He loves the police. He loves the vets. He loves the military. But as in any abusive relationship, love is not the goal. Power is the real goal. The big test facing Americans now is to prevent Donald Trump from getting any power.
It remains to be seen if Donald Trump’s attempt to gaslight America will succeed or whether Americans will be wise enough to resist the maneuverings of a lying, narcissistic, ego-centric con artist.