We Are All Being ‘Gaslighted’ by Donald Trump

I am a newsaholic, yet sometimes I cannot bear to watch the nightly news when Donald Trump is on it at any length. I have a visceral reaction to him. When he appears on the telly, it’s like my wife and I are seized by Tourette’s Syndrome, mumbling or screaming insults or epithets such as “mafioso”; “Putin stooge”; “traitor”; “liar”; “cheater”; or “fat a–.” This is funny and sad at the same time. We have to resist the temptation to fall into Trump’s trap.

I have never had such an unbalanced reaction to a leader before. I pride myself on dispassionate analysis. Yes, Adolph Hitler was bad, but did you know he was an environmentalist who kept things in Greater Germany very clean, and he built the Autobahn?

Did you know Richard Nixon, despite his many faults, was actually a liberal? He started the Environmental Protection Agency, funded a war on cancer, expanded social security, enacted wage and price controls, proposed a guaranteed annual income and universal health insurance. Ted Kennedy said late in life that one of the greatest regrets of his career was not compromising with Nixon on national health care reform that could have been achieved in the 1970s.

Many of my contemporaries and elders hated Nixon. At the time, as a college student, I found Nixon endlessly fascinating. I knew men like Nixon, I thought — too prideful and arrogant to admit mistakes, yes deceitful, but “one of us,” in liberal NYT columnist Tom Wicker’s respectful phrase.

Nobody is all bad, completely and totally evil. Except for Trump, when I am in a less than an entirely rational state of mind, after seeing him tell blatant lies on TV.

I am in danger of becoming what I most detest in the hyper-partisans who react viscerally, with irrational hatred toward Hillary and Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. CDS — Clinton Derangement Syndrome — was a real thing — as was ODS –Obama Derangement Syndrome and BDS — Bush Derangement Syndrome.

It seems TDS — Trump Derangement Syndrome — is so easy to fall into because he himself routinely practices CDS and ODS. He demonizes anyone who stands in his way, whether “Low Energy Jeb” Bush; “Weak Ben” Carson; “Little Marco” Rubio, “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz; or the dozens of insulting monickers he has given domestic and foreign leaders, and media figures. Like a dictator, he declares members of the media “enemies of the people.”

Those who detest Trump’s divide-and-conquer strategy, the chorus of lies, chaotic style of management, or simply have well-thought-out differences of opinion with him are being trolled or gaslighted. He is trying to do this to the whole world.

There is a growing body of literature on Trump’s gaslighting.


Graphic from View from the Hill. Tweet by Tweet, Trump is Gaslighting America.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation by “abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.” Gaslighters tell blatant lies. They deny they said something, even though you have proof. They attack people and ideas near and dear to you. They wear you down over time. Their actions do not match their words. After brutally and ruthless cutting you down, they start to praise you, so you think “they aren’t so bad.” They know that confusion weakens people. They project — constantly accusing you of the behavior of which they are guilty.

Trump, for example, projected feelings of insecurity onto his rivals in order to persuade the Republican Party to accept his strongman tactics. He asserted fiction as fact so convincingly that audiences doubted their own knowledge. He deflects criticism with ad hominem attacks and whataboutism.

Gaslighters try to align other people against you. They tell you or others that you are crazy. They tell you everyone else is a liar.

Gaslighters refuse to listen, withhold validation of feelings, immediately offer counter-arguments, block or divert or change the subject, trivialize — try to make others feel unimportant, and deny or “forget” what they previously agreed to.

Adversaries of gaslighters are characterized as “crazy”;”irrational”; “enemies of the people.” And followers become like members of a cult. They betray their own principles. They are unable to reasonably and rationally defend his actions, but respond with ad hominem attacks and Whataboutism.

On Gaslighting: 


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