No, You’re Not Crazy — Trump’s Gaslighting of America

Cartoon by J.D. Crowe

I am a person who is very cautious to not get stuck in a thought bubble. I actively seek out opposing viewpoints that challenge my beliefs. I have seen the dangers of groupthink and confirmation bias first hand on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t want to fall victim to that. For most political issues, I try to at least understand the reasoning behind an opinion that contradicts my own. That being said, there are some things that are going to be virtually impossible to convince me of. For instance, if I threw an apple up in the air and you told me it was not going to come down, I would call you crazy. However, that is exactly what happened in 2016.

If you had told me in 2015 that Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States, I would have considered you just as crazy as the guy who told me the apple wasn’t coming down. In fact, I would have thought you were even crazier. At least it would be theoretically possible that a bird would intercept the apple in mid-air, or maybe it could be vaporized by a bolt of lightning. But a reality TV star with zero experience in government being elected President? That's just absurd. However, when the dust settled after the first Tuesday in November, Donald Trump was elected president. The apple stayed afloat in the air. I was wrong.

I can say with no exaggeration that 2016 changed my worldview. Before 2016, I had essentially lived my life among what I consider smart people. I was always good at school, so I was often surrounded by the other kids at the top of my class. I had less academically inclined friends, of course, but the majority of my time was spent amongst very intelligent people. This severely influenced my perception of the intellectual makeup of the world. The world I built in my head was mostly made up of smart people with basic critical thinking skills. When Trump was elected, the walls of that world crumbled into dust, revealing to me what the real world was actually like. Essentially, I grew a newfound understanding of the classic George Carlin Joke, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”

To justify this shock to my worldview, I developed the theory that the people who voted for Trump either justified the pick because they just wanted a Republican no matter what, or they simply lacked the critical thinking skills to understand what a terrible choice he was. I figured that people were just caught up in the same populist, nationalist, anti-government wave that got Great Britain inexplicably removed from the EU earlier that year. I figured that once people saw the dangers of having a nationalist with no government experience running your country, they would quickly realize their mistake. Once again, I was wrong.

Weeks turned into months, months turned into years, and Trump proved himself to be even worse than what I feared he would be. Instead of surrounding himself with experts to make up for his lack of experience, he chose the cabinet based on loyalty to him. He fired anyone who disagreed with him, creating a government of yes-men. He blatantly lied all of the time, and not in the classic political double talk sort of way, but in the “what I am saying is objectively not true and I obviously just made it up in my head” sort of way. And yet, through it all, his approval rating remained remarkably steady.

Some supporters fell off, but for the most part, nothing changed. The 2018 midterms went blue, but not the blue wave that I was expecting. Great Britain voted again to Brexit, for real. With even more evidence presenting itself every day, people still appeared to be crazy. And every day that passed with no change, a tiny voice in my head got louder and louder. And that tiny voice existed to ask just one question: “Wait, am I the crazy one?”

Everything I knew and understood about the world told me that Donald Trump was a terrible president. But as we have at this point proven multiple times, everything I knew about the world was not always right. If I was wrong about Trump being elected in the first place, and I was wrong about him losing support over time, maybe I was wrong about his ability to be a good President. After all, the other side thinks I am just as crazy as I think they are, but at least they were right about those two things. How could I stop myself from succumbing to the dangers of groupthink if I did not at least acknowledge the possibility that I am the crazy one?

If you have found yourself thinking the same thing over the past four years, then good. It means you are willing to check your own bias. But don’t for one second actually believe it is true because it is not. It is exactly what Trump wants you to think. Trump is many things, but he is not stupid. He knows exactly what he is doing. He is purposefully and successfully gaslighting you, and for the sake of our sanity it is very important to pay attention to how he is doing it.

In her book, “Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People — and Break FreeDr. Stephanie Sarkis details some of the techniques gaslighters use and how to spot them. Trump uses all of them.

1. They tell blatant lies.

This one is obvious. From lying about the severity of Covid to calling anything he doesn’t agree with fake news, the number of lies I have heard and forgotten about is greater than the number of lies I can actually remember.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.

Again, Trump does this so often that it would be impossible to list them all. Here is a handy video with just a few recent examples:

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.

This rule is a bit more specific to personal relationships, but Trump does often do this on a national scale. One recent example is how he tried to take Dr. Fauci’s comments out of context in a campaign ad. He made it sound like Fauci thought no one could have had a better response to Covid than Trump did. Which, of course, he did not.

4. They wear you down over time.

It is important to note that Trump started his political career with just one simple lie; President Obama was born in Kenya. It started there, and then little by little, he added on more lies until it seemed like every day there was some new crazy thing coming out of his mouth, but he did it so gradually that it always felt normal.

5. Their actions do not match their words.

For this, you need not look further than what Trump says about Covid and his response to getting it personally. He has repeatedly downplayed the virus and has constantly told people not to worry about it. However, when he got the virus, he took a helicopter ride to his own personal hospital suite and got thousands of dollars of state-of-the-art experimental treatments. Enough said.

6. They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.

Like #3, this one is again more about personal relationships, but Trump still does this on a larger scale. He does not hesitate to dump praise on any public figure who supports him. Just look at how he treats Kanye. He also is constantly optimistic about the state of the nation, even when all the evidence says otherwise, such as when he downplayed the pandemic, when he says we are the greatest country on Earth, or when he promises the economy will get better even though he isn’t doing anything about it.

7. They know confusion weakens people.

Creating mass confusion has always been one of Trump’s goals. He regularly talks and tweets about things he knows will send the media into a frenzy, and then tells us the media is a bunch of fake news and we can’t trust them. His entire re-election strategy also stemmed from creating mass confusion over the validity of votes and then claiming victory no matter the results.

8. They project.

One of Trump's most used gaslighting techniques is to project any accusations made against him back on his opponents. The media says he is lying about something? Fake news. He offered a quid-pro-quo for personal gain with Ukrain? So did Hunter Biden. He lost the vote? So did Joe Biden when you only count legitimate votes. He supports white supremacy? Well, Democrats are the real racists. The list goes on and on.

9. They try to align people against you.

I already mentioned what he did with Dr. Fauci’s comments and that would apply here as well, but the way he actually gets so many people to spout his lies for him is nothing if not impressive. Sean Hannity is essentially a White House Press Secretary with his own mainstream news platform. Republican politicians like Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, who were once extremely critical of Trump, are now some of the loudest voices talking about election fraud. He even has Rudy Guliani, who at one point was a beloved mayor of one of the most liberal cities in America, as his own personal lawyer.

10. They tell you or others that you are crazy.

Not only will he tell people you are crazy, but he will also give you a neat little epithet or nickname to discredit you, like “Crooked Hillary,” “Sleepy Joe,” or “Pocahontas.”

11. They tell you everyone else is a liar.

The man has literally (and falsely) claimed that he coined the term Fake News. Need I say more?

In summary, no, you are not crazy. You are the victim of a planned and organized gaslighting attack on your own sanity. The news does have bias, but it is not fake. Experts can be wrong, but not even close to as often as Trump says they are. We do have a President that got elected with zero governing experience, but the people have spoken and he will not be the president for much longer.

In recent days when I have found myself questioning if I am the crazy one, I have found it very beneficial to look at Rudy Giuliani's press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The campaign accidentally booked a press conference at a landscaping company instead of the famous restaurant. They knew about the mistake many hours in advance, but instead of rescheduling at one of the real estate mogul’s many properties, they decided to go through with the press conference in a dirty lot behind a warehouse next to a porn shop.

Photo from the Daily Beast

That is not the behavior of a well functioning campaign. That is the behavior of an incompetent organization filled with yes-men who live in fear of their leader. A leader who is detached from reality. Just like you think he is. You are not crazy. The real crazies just want you to think you are.



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