Monday, January 23, 2017
Gaslighting in the Age of Trump
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film, and has been used in clinical and research literature
This was sent to me by a friend on the west coast.
Attention must be paid.
If you are puzzled by the bizarre "press conference" put on by the White House press secretary, (angrily claiming that Trump's inauguration had the largest audience in history, accusing them of faking photos and lying about attendance), let me help explain it.
This spectacle served three purposes:
1. Establishing a norm with the press: they will be told things that are obviously wrong and they will have no opportunity to ask questions. That way, they will be grateful if they get anything more at any press conference. This is the PR equivalent of "negging," the odious pick-up practice of a particular kind of horrible man (e.g., Donald Trump).
2. Increasing the separation between Trump's base (1/3 of the population) from everybody else (the remaining 2/3). By being told something that is obviously wrong—that there is no evidence for and all evidence against, that anybody with eyes can see is wrong—they are forced to pick whether they are going to believe Trump or their lying eyes. The gamble here—likely to pay off—is that they will believe Trump. This means that they will regard media outlets that report the truth as "fake news" (because otherwise they'd be forced to confront their cognitive dissonance.)
3. Creating a sense of uncertainty about whether facts are knowable, among a certain chunk of the population (which is a taking a page from the Kremlin, for whom this is their preferred disinformation tactic). A third of the population will say "clearly the White House is lying," a third will say "if Trump says it, it must be true," and the remaining third will say "gosh, I guess this is unknowable."
The idea isn't to convince these people of untrue things, it's to fatigue them, so that they will stay out of the political process entirely, regarding the truth as just too difficult to determine. This is laying important groundwork for the months ahead.
If Trump's White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as this, just imagine what else they'll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of.