Don’t judge me, but I am a fan of the show Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. How, you ask, is someone like me, who is so concerned about facts, interested in a show that talks about mythical aliens?
I don’t share that information about myself to reveal whether I believe in aliens. I like the historical documentary aspect of the show. As a show with tons of viewers, Ancient Aliens makes a lot of money and can afford to cover some of the latest archeological, scientific, technological and astronomical findings. You have to take everything they say with a grain of salt, yes. Some of the documentary stuff you can verify by doing a Google search. However, I notice that when they start talking about religious figures being aliens at the end of a segment that my emotions take a hard left – that’s where they lose me.
What is your threshold? What gets your weirdness antenna up? And what ultimately would make you change the channel?
Those of us who are religious already believe in what is technically a mythology of sorts. As a religious person myself, I believe in God and want to be part of something fulfilling that is larger than myself. Unfortunately, there are people in this world who want to take advantage of our faith and our trust.
I will confess that I was not familiar with the term gaslighting until the Trump administration, but apparently, it is a widely known concept among political scientists, psychologists, and, oddly, among more recent military veterans who often receive it from their higher-ups. My niece, who served in Afghanistan, recently explained to me that being able to recognize the signs of gaslighting apparently helps vets deal with some forms of PTSD.
OK, so the term “gaslighting” comes from an old, black and white British movie by the same name about an abusive husband who manipulated his wife by messing with her reality. (There was also an American version of the movie by a different name.) For example, he would hide a personal item of his and then accuse his wife of misplacing or stealing it. They would have arguments every night where he would blame her for things, and over time, she would get confused, scared, and feel so misunderstood that it would bring her to tears all the time. Her community thought she was mentally ill, and they had compassion on the husband when she would act out in public at his probing – while secretly, she was the victim.
Gaslighting is a dishonest method of gaining more power over someone or a group of people. It is used by cult leaders and kidnappers. Trump uses it all of the time to influence his base, and if you aren’t aware of what it is, you should be. An article in “Psychology Today” by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., lists 11 types of gaslighting, and at least half of them apply to President Trump’s former tweets and his ad hoc talks to the press. The following are just some gaslighting tactics that Dr. Sarkis talks about, which I have identified as Trump classics.
1. They tell blatant lies.
Once someone tells you a blatant lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. In the case of President Trump, he, or his administration’s narrative, which is then repeated by Republican congressmen, offers “alternative facts” that seem as preposterous as his actual behavior. Reality is stranger than fiction in the Trump administration, and as a result, people don’t know what is true and what is a big, fat lie.
2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
President Trump has done this time and time again. For example, when his close relationship with Michael Cohen, his attorney and fixer, became inconvenient, Trump claimed he hardly knew him, even though Cohen has Trump on tape instructing him how to handle the payoff of a former Playboy model.
3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
President Trump’s base is very patriotic. Whether they are more patriotic than other Americans is questionable, but Trump identifies himself as the country itself, which, of course, is a fallacy. He may be narcissistic, yes, but there is another reason he uses this tactic.
For example, in 2019, President Trump said that CNN’s Jim Acosta was “bad for the country” after CNN sued Trump for taking away his press pass when Acosta challenged the President on his characterization of the migrant caravan moving through Mexico as an “invasion.” Acosta’s persistence in the press conference simply brought to light that Trump’s focus on the caravan was out of proportion and discriminatory. Therefore, Acosta wasn’t bad for the country – he was bad for Trump.
President Trump redirects people’s emotions about American patriotism towards the love and welfare of Trump. You ask, how could he possibly have so much power? Anyone who has been through a divorce can tell you. Apparently, a lot of the indoctrination has been happening on social media and conservative media outlets, where they reinforce President Trump’s message.
4. They know confusion weakens people.
Dr. Sarkis says that “gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy.” Gaslighters seek to challenge this stability by getting you to question everything. Then the gaslighter appears to offer you the stability and normalcy that you seek, but it is an artificial normalcy and one that will ultimately fizzle or fail.
President Trump has self-described himself as “the storm.” The famous Photographer Platon told the story on his “Brief But Spectacular” moment on the PBS Newshour about when he photographed President Trump during the 2016 presidential election. He acknowledged this chaos and frenetic energy that always seemed to surround Trump. Platon asked him, “Donald, how do you weather the storm?” He responded, “I am the storm.” Platon came to the realization that the chaos around President Trump is easy for him to navigate because he created it, at least, he thinks he can navigate it.
The war with Iran that Trump almost started in January 2020 when he ordered the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani is another example of how Trump thought he could create a “minor” conflict with Iran and then quickly get things under control and be the hero. We are indebted to Iran for not attacking us more forthrightly than they did, but still, soldiers received head injuries when the U.S. base in Iraq was bombed. And unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, Iran accidentally shot down a commercial aircraft taking off from the Tehran airport, killing all 176 souls on board, including several Iranian and Canadian students returning to college after the holidays. And the conflict did nothing positive for our NATO relations, some who indicated that they were not willing to back us up in the conflict that Trump had created.
5. They project.
It seems like President Trump is constantly dishing out criticisms about other people that best describe himself. During the House impeachment hearings last year, Trump called Chairman Adam Schiff “a deranged human being.” Trump said, “I think he grew up with a complex for reasons that are obvious. I think he is a very sick man, and he lies.” Lawrence O’Donnell, on MSNBC, interviewed Psychiatrist Lance Dodes about it, whose professional opinion is that Trump has an early childhood block which leaves him extremely self-centered and unable to have empathy for others.
But President Trump also uses projection to distract us. He creates a media frenzy, such as his beefs in 2018 with LeBron James, Maxine Waters, and the NFL players that knelt for the National Anthem, to draw attention away from himself when an item in the media paints him in a bad light. And that war with Iran? Well, you remember that in January 2020, he was getting impeached.
6. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
Fake news. Need I say more? If an article paints Trump in a bad light, it is automatically fake news. And Trump’s use of repetition with the phrase evokes almost a Pavlov-like response by his base, as though they don’t even need to think but just rely on him to tell them what is true and what is fake. Trump also uses repetition with his terms “witch hunt” and “no collusion” for the same effect. Of course, Fox News and other right-wing media have played an important role in re-enforcing Trump’s narrative.
I will give it to President Trump: If there is one thing he is good at, it is the smoke-and-mirrors, shady business dealings that he perfected in his real estate business — which fit right into dirty politics in Washington. But what has made Trump look powerful in the past is now making him spiral out of control. Perhaps he started drinking his own Kool-aid.
Losing the presidential election was a big blow for President Trump, and he has utilized QAnon and conservative media to convince his followers that the election was fraudulent, despite a lack of any evidence and his loss of more than 50 court cases fighting the election results.
Through gaslighting, Trump has fleeced hundreds of millions of dollars from his followers through fundraising just since the November 2020 election. Even more heinously, he convinced more than 1,000 of his most fervent followers to storm the Capitol on January 5, 2021. These followers are now wanted by the FBI and face federal charges that range from simple trespassing and vandalism to murder, bombmaking and sedition.
Gratefully President Trump was clearly recognized on both sides of the aisle for inciting this violence. He is now the first president to be impeached a second time, and he could very well get removed from the presidency and not be allowed to run for office ever again. Post-presidency, Trump faces tons of charges in the state of New York alone, and his corporate sponsors, like PGA Golf, Marriott Hotels, and Deutsche Bank, are dropping him left and right.
The chickens have come home to roost, maybe. Some people have been awakened to see the truth as a result of the Capitol riot, but others will continue to believe that Trump won the 2020 election. President Trump has been holding the entire Republican Party hostage (not to mention the whole country), and I look forward to a time when the party can again be a constitution-abiding, law-making institution. I look forward to President Biden being able to reunite Congress and to restore to our country what has been lost.
Emily Olsen is a professional writer who studied journalism in Bakersfield, California, and at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She also has a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. She is fascinated by media bias, political commentary, and how the news is reported.
Sarkis, Stephanie A. “11 Warning signs of gaslighting: Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to gain power, and it works too well.” Psychology Today, January 22, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting
Cuomo, Chris; Kara Scannell; and Eli Watkins. “Exclusive: CNN obtains secret Trump-Cohen tape.” CNN, July 25, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/24/politics/michael-cohen-donald-trump-tape/index.html
Gonzales, Richard. “White House revokes press pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta,” NPR, November 7, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/11/07/665497382/white-house-revokes-press-pass-of-cnns-jim-acosta
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