My father once told me that a man who worked with him told him that his wife walked in on him in flagrante delicto with another woman and the man denied it.
I said, well, what is the guy a pathological liar — you can’t deny the obvious fact. My father said he didn’t know but it somehow seemed to give the man’s wife enough to excuse, forgive, or lose herself in denial. They were still married. It was a new ontological perspective for me — a look at a nature of being that perplexed me.
Years later I learned the metaphorical expression for that sort of blatant horse puckey, gaslighting, or, Are you going to believe me or your stupid lying eyes? It was from a film with a plot that showed how a man made his wife start to believe she was crazy — she stopped trusting the facts.
Gaslighters use blatant lies, they deny they said something even when there is proof (it was another voice on that recording), they call everyone else liars or crazy (He lost his job and he lost his mind), they are narcissistic (“With the F-35 fighter plane – me, myself – I’ve saved hundreds of millions of dollars in negotiating.” utterly false), they project onto others the worst qualities of themselves, and they thrive on chaos that keeps everyone confused, even tossing in random praise for their victims that will just be more lurching disequilibrium. In the end, they seem to be striving for a world in which they are the only happy ones, happiness dependent on others’ misery.
Welcome to the Donald J. Trump School of Rule. Governing by gaslighting.
When John Kerry made competing claims about his positions on invading Iraq, he was rightly ridiculed for it, and Trump did the very same thing, provably, on the record. The significant difference is that Trump refuses to acknowledge that he was ever in favor of it. Gaslighting.
Is everyone feeling calm and stable? Is anyone? Trump doesn’t seem satisfied unless he’s shot off some vertiginous tweet or statement. Sports? Stay off balance. Allies? Insult them. Dictators? Praise them. Gaslighting.
When real geniuses deny they are in fact that smart, the less bright narcissist calls himself a stable genius. Gaslighting.
Trump tweeted that Rosie O’Donnell was fat, adding to his long list of attacking various women with those sorts of cheap shots, ignoring what he sees in the mirror and demonstrating his predilection for projection. Gaslighting.
Ignoring his own precarious mental conditions, Trump calls Morning Joe crazy and dumb as a rock. Gaslighting.
Multiple lies daily, just a tiny sample of which include his bogus claim that 3 million to 5 million illegal votes cost him the popular vote victory; his fraudulent claim that a Pew report documented illegal votes; his notorious prevarication that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever in the U.S. despite clear photographic evidence showing the opposite; his hoax that two people were shot dead in Chicago at an Obama speech (no murders in Chicago that day); multiple fake claims that The New York Times apologized for erroneous coverage of Trump, which it never has; his factually backward assertion that the murder rate in 2016 was the highest in 47 years; Trump’s fictional claim that Obama had Trump’s hotel room wiretapped or bugged; his blatant falsehood that he, Trump, finally convinced NATO to “fight terrorism” when NATO has been engaged in counterterrorism for more than 30 years; multiple documentably historical whoppers that he has signed more legislation by certain periods in office than any other president, and the list of these outright phony claims goes on. His list of inflated claims is also overwhelming. How can you tell if Trump is lying? His lips or his thumbs are moving. Gaslighting.
How long will we tolerate the lies, the chaos, the relentless attacks on the most vulnerable, the evisceration of programs we have paid for, the dalliance with death by nuclear war, and the wholesale harvesting of your hard-earned money to the deep pockets of the rich? It is a remorseless assault on epistemology, on how we calculate the very validity of knowledge.
We have a few ways to end this — a hard reign’s a-gonna fall, to tweak the old Bob Dylan line. Trump could stroke out (no, I am not hoping for this), he could resign, he could be impeached, or he could be declared unfit and the 25th Amendment could be deployed. Let’s push for it. Any nonviolent port in a storm. This is the most piercing and urgent item of American business for all of us, not just the gerrymandered corporate-funded office-holders.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.