I recall years ago seeing a survey that concluded the most distrusted people in this culture are used-car salesmen (excuse me, previously-owned-car-salesmen) — followed closely by politicians. I dare say that after the recent election the ranking has switched: politicians must be in the lead, surely. Both are notorious for their lies and deceptions, though the politicians seem to be determined to set new records.

But, what precisely is a lie? We can say that a lie is a deliberate attempt to mislead. It involves intent, not just mistaken facts. When another study during the recent election showed that Trump had lied 87 times in a week and Clinton only 8 Hillary’s followers were well pleased — even though it was noted that she did lie. Now, we don’t know if it was lies, in either case, because we do not know what the intentions of the two candidates were. We cannot know — and it is quite possible that the candidates themselves didn’t know! (How many of know what our intentions are when we take action?) There’s a difference between confusing the facts and downright lying. It’s possible that either, or both, were simply confused about some fact or another. Heaven knows I do that all the time.

But the repeated pattern of distortion and falsehood suggests a deliberate intention to mislead. In Trump’s case we seem to have before us an inveterate lier, one who lies without knowing that he is doing so. It’s simply a habit. It has proved successful in his business dealings and it has become a part of his persona, such as it is. Tell them what they want to hear; it matters not if you lie like a rug. In Hillary’s case, it is not clear. Being a politician I dare say she has intentionally lied on numerous occasions — at times because she was guarding secrets at other times simply because she wanted to mislead. But Trump offers us a case study in what has been called “gaslighting,” a practice that is sure to lead us to the point where truth and falsehood will lose all meaning. A recent CNN story  helps us grasp the concept:

The fact is Trump has become America’s gaslighter in chief.
If you’ve never heard the term, prepare to learn it and live with it every day. Unless Trump starts behaving in a radically different way . . . , gaslighting will become one of the words of 2017.
The term comes from the 1930s play “Gas Light” and the 1940s Hollywood movie version (Gaslight) in which a manipulative husband tries to unmoor his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, by tampering with her perception of reality. He dims the gaslights and then pretends it’s only she who thinks they are flickering as the rooms grow darker.
That’s only the beginning. He uses a variety of truth-blurring techniques. His goal is to exert power and control by creating doubts about what is real and what isn’t, distracting her as he attempts to steal precious jewels.. . .

. . . The techniques include saying and doing things and then denying it, blaming others for misunderstanding, disparaging their concerns as oversensitivity, claiming outrageous statements were jokes or misunderstandings, and other forms of twilighting the truth. . . . When Trump says something that outrages a portion of the population and pleases one segment, he can have it both ways. Voters eager for a tough guy president may be happy with the bully, while those who don’t like it might be appeased by the denial. In the end, few people can keep up with all the facts all the time. And as he tries to undercut the credibility of serious journalists, he makes it even harder for everyone else to find an easy path to the truth.

The key lies in this fact: it’s all about power over others. It’s a shell game born of  Trump’s disdain for others and he plays it masterfully. This is a man who loves power and seems determined to do whatever it takes to increase his own and reduce that of those around him. He may not always intend to mislead — we cannot possibly know — but it is fairly clear that when he is confronted by bare facts that conflict with what he says he shows definite signs of one who is now faced with the problem of restating the falsehood so it appears closer to the truth, ignoring it altogether, or simply accusing his accuser of misrepresenting what he had said. It’s all a part of the gaslighting scheme and in the end we are the victims — as is the truth itself.


19 thoughts on “Gaslighting

  1. Hugh, great movie and very applicable. My daughter and I discussed this when she said her class was discussing the concept of gaslighting. It is imperative we shine a large spotlight when the President gaslights. Such as failing to mention he signed an executive order the first few hours that would harm 1 million plus homeowners with mortgage premiums (they were scheduled to decrease, but he eliminate the decrease). These would be the middle class you talked about sir.

    Or, saying build in America and buy America, when the heads in the audience are wearing “Make America Great Again,” ball caps made in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Or, when he flashes a picture of his inauguration audience, using a picture of Obama’s first inauguration (see I told you there was a big crowd).

    When you lie for a living as he has done his entire career (so say his five biographers and ghost writer of ‘The Art of the Deal”), the criticism is going to build. Even the wizard of Oz could not hide behind the curtain. And, when know how he responds to criticism.


  2. Interestingly, the movie “Gaslight,” and Orwell’s “1984” were released within five years of each other. There’s overlap between the two, and we’re seeing the Trump team combine methods from both — through the campaign, and even now in the first few days of the presidency. Trump staffers have been on Sunday morning talk shows today, pretty much saying day is night and night is day. Never mind the evidence — Trump compared the CIA leaks to “Nazi Germany,” and said several other disparaging things about the intelligence community, or crowd sizes were down for the inauguration — they insist it was not so, or they immediately flip the question another direction. Often, they flip it toward a person or event only lightly connected to the question and blame them for something, related or not. It becomes doublespeak. Orwell warned us.

    Something else of interest. Listen to Bill Clinton’s first inaugural address. He says, almost word for word, what Trump said about taking the capital from politicians and lobbyists and giving it back to the people. Trump breaks no new ground on that, although it sounds unifying. That will be interesting to watch unfold, a fairly easy marker of gaslighting — if he repeats it enough times, and nothing changes, will the Trumplets believe it is so anyway?

  3. Sometimes there’s a delicate way to sidestep painful information, but that’s often done with sensitive respect in order to infict as little pain as possible on another person….”Artful dodging” doesn’t apply here, which is sad… Our leaders must learn to be brutally honest, and not try to hide or artfully manipulate the truth.

    This reached my viewing fields this morning.. goodness gracious…

  4. Excellent post, Hugh … as always. The saddest, most frightening part, is that his followers are falling victim to his tactics. Many are now convinced, for example, that he did not actually mock reporter Serge Kovaleski, despite the visual evidence that he plainly DID. Unfortunately, I do not look for him to change his ways, as he has been this way all his life. What I do anticipate is that he will escalate, and I cannot imagine where that will lead this nation. Or perhaps I can imagine it, but just prefer not to.

  5. It’s simple to tell someone who lies intentionally with someone who doesn’t. I see it often in everyday life, and I’m sure you do, too – because, as you say, we all make mistakes.
    It’s the simple “Oops” statement. “Oops, I got that one wrong” or “Pardon me, I see my mistake.”
    It’s the gracious manner of normal people righting simple wrongs and there are millions out there who have the decency to offer that courtesy. Sadly, we don’t see many politicians who do this.
    (I can see this expression taking on a new twist: maybe you should start qualifying politicians’ statements by a ‘how-high-are-the-gaslights’ graphic, similar to the Pinocchio’s nose scale??? sounds like fun)

    • Indeed. It’s fairly simple to tell the difference between a lie and a simple misstatement. I do believe the goal of those at present in power is to confuse the two — too claim the lies (when caught) are simply misstatements!

  6. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Gaslighting: to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. Donald Trump is the master of this form of manipulation, as fellow-blogger Hugh Curtler so masterfully points out. Hugh is kinder to people than I am, and also more of a deep-thinker, and his post is an excellent analysis of what, how and why Trump’s gaslighting techniques seem to be effective for a portion of the population. Please take a few minutes to read Hugh’s post … what he says has much value. Thank you, once again, Hugh … both for a great post and for permission to share.

  7. Dear Hugh and friends.

    You are so right about DT’s habit of lying. In his famous book, “Art of the Deal” he brags that if one repeats the same lie three times, people will start believing it. This time he has his minions emulating this behavior. I’d like to see him try this tactic on General Mattis but then, he probably knows better.

    Thanks for a great post, Gronda

      • Perhaps, that whatever side of the political spectrum, it’s become the norm to manipulate and defraud the electorate by means of emotional and intellectual abuse. It’s the water we swim in these days, perhaps ever, when it comes to how this culture is waged upon the general population…good cop, bad cop…leading to the present milieu and tactics of the political class. I am want to see little fundamental difference between the Parties on that point, the results being strictly irrational voter preferences on several levels of Just This kind of manipulation: Gaslighting, yes?

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