Trump stars in contemporary version of "Gaslight"

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com.

Today I offer commentaries that shed light on Trump’s deceptions, not from Trump the Gas Bag but from Trump the Gaslighter.

Donald Trump is ‘gaslighting’ all of us explains a CNN commentator. (CNN Editor note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Scriber note: h/t Paul McCreary. )

Here are selected snippets.

The questions are endless, and the answers, unless you’re paying very close attention – all the time – can require significant effort to ascertain. Reality is becoming hazy in the era of Trump. And that’s no accident.

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 after he becomes President, 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.

… more recently the tactical tampering with the truth has become a preferred method of strongmen around the world. Gaslighting by other means was always a common feature of dictatorships, but it has found new vogue as a more subtle form of domestic political control even in countries with varying degrees of democracy.

Now Trump has brought it to the United States. 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.

He’s just getting started, but compared with the man he admires so much, he’s a rank amateur at gaslighting.

In Russia, the truth became a matter of opinion under a strategy implemented by a clever aide to President Vladimir Putin, Vladislav Surkov. Surkov, who has a background in the arts, orchestrated a kind of political theater in Russia, creating a gauzy façade where no one knew which group was a creation of the government and which wasn’t.

Russia even tried to gaslight US voters, as intelligence agencies concluded, trying to undermine their faith in the democratic process. And when Moscow thought Trump would lose, it planned to promote the view that the election was stolen, under the #DemocracyRIP banner, a plan whose seeds Trump had already planted.

The challenge will be a steep one for journalists and for all Americans, when so much of what comes from the next president has to be checked and double-checked. The first step is to establish when there is a gaslighting operation in progress.

Check.

Then comes the battle to hold on to the facts.

The question is will we, the American people, engage in that battle. Unfortunately, about 45% of the people will not.

The fact is, many people hear only Trump’s version of events, and polls show many people believe even the most obvious distortions of the truth.

And that brings us to the other commentary in the LA Weekly, Gaslight : The Film That Gave Trump’s Favorite Brand of Mindfuckery a Name, authored by April Wolfe. ( April is a filmmaker and lead film critic for LA Weekly. ) Wolfe provides some historical background for the original film including the world’s fascination with another Gaslighter, Adolf Hitler. Here are some snippets.

After Lauren Duca’s Teen Vogue op-ed smartly pointed out the president-elect was in fact gaslighting the entire world — that is, blatantly doing or saying something and then denying he ever did it by calling us absurd to think he did — everyone I know has been using the term “gaslight.” And a few have gone back and looked at this MGM production for its origins: A woman’s new husband repeatedly dims the gaslights in her home, telling her it’s all in her mind, playing off a traumatic incident in her past, so he can search for some hidden jewels in the attic. Essentially, he tries to drive her mad by warping her sense of reality.

Obviously, this is currently apt. But the story of gaslighting goes back further than 73 years and that MGM production or the British production in 1940, to Patrick Hamilton, the man who wrote the play on which the films were based.

Hamilton, like many critical writers of that time, was adamantly anti-Hitler — one of his most famous novels, Hangover Square (1941), is beautifully and explicitly anti-fascist. Though Gas Light is seen as a domestic Gothic drama, which many have rightly gone on to interpret through a feminist lens, what we often fail to miss is that it’s also an allegory for standing steadfast against propaganda from those who do not have your best interest at heart and who seek to hurt you. Hamilton lived through a time when even seemingly good British people found themselves swayed by the adulation of a violent dictator, and watching Nazi sympathizers bloom in that atmosphere must have been a mindfuck. At the same time, Americans also were falling in love with the flashy new fascist, and those Brits who were close to the frontlines were scratching their heads raw. Could they believe what they were seeing? Remember that it took years, multiple British anti-Nazi films (including some from Hitchcock) and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to get Americans to recognize Hitler as the danger that he was.

So as we continue to wake up to the reality that we have been, are and will continue to be gaslit under this new administration, and with new potentially disastrous allies in Moscow who’ve mastered the art of gaslighting, let us remember Patrick Hamilton, his play and the movie that gave us the vocabulary to voice our worries. And let us remember a sentiment I’ve said and will say again and again: Movies can provide us with escapist relief, but they can also deliver unto us a biting and necessary reality.

In the end, we should hope that the guy who walks out on stage on January 20th is Trump the Gas Bag. Unfortunately, the harm that has already been visited on our nation will continue from Trump the Gaslighter. Hold onto the truth if you can.

Here, from the author of that Teen Vogue piece referenced by Wolfe, Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America, are specific recommendations for what you can do.

There are things you can and should be doing to turn your unrest into action, but first let’s empower ourselves with information. Insist on fact-checking every Trump statement you read, every headline you share or even relay to a friend over coffee. If you find factual inaccuracies in an article, send an email to the editor, and explain how things should have been clearer. Inform yourself what outlets are trustworthy and which aren’t. If you need extra help, seek out a browser extension that flags misleading sites or print out a list of fake outlets, such as the one by communications professor Melissa Zimdars, and tape it to your laptop. Do a thorough search before believing the agenda Trump distributes on Twitter. Refuse to accept information simply because it is fed to you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. That is now the base level of what is required of all Americans. If facts become a point of debate, the very definition of freedom will be called into question.

As we spin our newfound rage into action, it is imperative to remember, across identities and across the aisle, as a country and as individuals, we have nothing without the truth.

Above all, remember that truth is our prophylactic protection against Trump’s mindfuckery.

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