Gaslighting

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Liberty and Justice For All podcast. This week we watched the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump adjourn, and he is still President. Getting the Republican majority to do anything but acquit him was an impossibility, really, especially since convicting him would have required a super-majority two-thirds vote.

But the senators voting against the head of their party would have maligned them against their caucus, as well as the RNC, a significant campaign funding source that they heavily rely on. The challenge is that although senators took an oath to be impartial in their deliberation, or consideration, during the trial, their bias hung heavily over them.

However, freshman Senator Mitt Romney, Republican from Utah, made history just before the vote, when he became the first Senator of the same party as the president to vote against him. Romney’s vote of “guilty” for one of the two counts did not change the end result, but his action was instantly and vocally attacked by Trump supporters. Even members of the Utah state legislature are considering a bill to censure and possibly remove Romney from office as a result.

But I am so proud of Senator Romney for “following the dictates of his conscience,” the phrase he used in his sincere and well-drafted speech, which was a quote from the Eleventh Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney is a member of the church, also known as the Mormons, and so am I. I respect his vote because it aligns with my detailed understanding of the evidence against President Trump, and in addition, I admire his loyalty to God and his commitment to the truth and to facts – even when it means facing extreme scrutiny.

Senator Romney explained his religious convictions in an emotional speech before the Senate. “As a senator-juror,” he said, “I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.” Romney’s speech was on the front page of every newspaper in the nation this week because his convictions gave him the courage to adhere to moral principles instead of peer pressure.

I identify with Romney in terms of my personal religious devotion, which comes from a place deep in my heart, the real foundation of which began with my fervent and frequent prayer as a young teenager that developed into a loving and personal relationship with God. Despite personal trials over the years, my commitment to God continues to stand the tests of time.

I am grateful for Senator Romney’s example, which was a surprising turn of events that day. I understand that among the four senators who were on the floor to hear Romney’s speech in person, three of them were moved to tears, including Senators Patrick Leahy, Richard Blumenthal, and Chris Murphy.

Senator Murphy spoke to Chris Hayes on MSNBC later that day, explaining that he had spoken on the floor just before Mitt Romney’s speech. He had put himself in the shoes of his Republican colleagues, saying that he didn’t know if he could do what the Democrats had been asking Republicans to do. But Romney’s speech reconfirmed his faith in the Senate body. “He provided the answer that it is possible for senators of good conscience to put the nation before their partisan interests,” Senator Murphy said.

“… The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfill our duty,” Romney said in his 8-minute speech. “The grave question the Constitution tasked senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. Yes, he did,” Romney confirmed.

President Trump’s attacks on Romney in response have been loud and frequent. At the National Prayer Breakfast the next day, Trump unjustly attacked Romney’s religion. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that’s not so,” Trump said.

But Trump has a way of twisting things – Romney did the complete opposite of what Trump suggested – Romney used his faith as justification for doing what he knew was right. And President Trump, who lies all the time to suit his every whim, wouldn’t have a clue what it’s like to even be devoutly religious.

It is this very twisting that I would like to talk about today. The concept is called gaslighting. I will confess that I was not familiar with the term until the Trump administration, but apparently it is widely known among political scientists, psychologists, and, oddly, among more recent veterans who often receive it from their higher-ups. My niece, who served in Afghanistan, recently explained to me that being able to recognize the signs of gaslighting apparently helps vets deal with PTSD.

OK, so the term “gaslighting” comes from an old British movie by the same name about an abusive husband who manipulated his wife by messing with her reality. For example, he would hide a personal item of his and then accuse his wife of misplacing or stealing it. They would have arguments every night where he would blame her for things, and over time, she would get confused, scared and feel so misunderstood that it would bring her to tears all the time. Her community thought she was mentally ill and had compassion on the husband when she would act out in public at his probing, while secretly, she was victim.

Gaslighting is a dishonest method of gaining more power over someone or a group of people.  Trump uses it all of the time to influence his base, and if you aren’t aware of what it is, you should be. An article in “Psychology Today” by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., lists 11 types of gaslighting, and at least half of them apply to President Trump’s tweets and his ad hoc talks to the press. The following are just some gaslighting tactics that Dr. Sarkis talks about, which I have identified as Trump classics.

1. They tell blatant lies.
Once someone tells you a blatant lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. In the case of President Trump, he, or his administration’s narrative, which is then repeated by Republican congressmen, offers – air-quotes – “alternative facts” that seem as preposterous as his actual behavior. Reality is stranger than fiction in the Trump administration, and as a result, people don’t know what is true and what is a big, fat lie.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
President Trump has done this time and time again. When his close relationship with Michael Cohen, his attorney and fixer, became inconvenient, Trump claimed he hardly knew him, even though Cohen has Trump on tape instructing him how to handle the payoff of a former Playboy model.

More recently, Trump has distanced himself from Rudy Giuliani, his new attorney. Trump now claims that Giuliani’s work in the Ukraine may have been related to one of his other clients instead of Trump himself, when we know that the opposite is true. In the summary that Trump released of his July 25 phone conference with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump encourages Zelensky more than once to get in touch with Giuliani, who he praises as his attorney, as well as the former mayor of New York City.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
President Trump’s base is very patriotic. Whether they are more patriotic than other Americans is questionable, but Trump identifies himself as the country itself, which, of course, is a fallacy. He may be narcissistic, yes, but there is another reason he uses this tactic.

For example, last year President Trump said that CNN’s Jim Acosta was –quote– “bad for the country” after CNN sued Trump for taking away his press pass when Acosta challenged the President on his characterization of the migrant caravan moving through Mexico as a –quote– “invasion.” Acosta’s persistence in the press conference simply brought to light that Trump’s focus on the caravan was out of proportion and discriminatory. Therefore, Acosta wasn’t bad for the country – he was bad for Trump.

President Trump has also said that the Mueller investigation and the impeachment hearings were also “bad for the country,” when both are constitutional and legal processes. Although the impeachment hearings may have actually been bad for the country because of the polarization we have experienced as a result, I will argue that it would have been worse for the country if we didn’t proceed with this process.

Even though Trump was acquitted by the Senate, he was impeached by the House, and that will remain. Nevertheless, Trump has been empowered by getting away with the things he has been accused of doing, and without question, we will see him commit more misdeeds, likely more blatantly than ever before. In addition, the actions by Congress have set a precedent that will likely embolden future POTUSes.

OK. Back to Dr. Sarkis’ list.

4. They know confusion weakens people.
Dr. Sarkis says that “gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy.” Gaslighters seek to challenge this stability by getting you to question everything. Then the gaslighter appears to offer you the stability and normalcy that you seek.

President Trump has self-described himself as “the storm.” The famous Photographer Platon (Plă-tŏn) told the story on his “Brief But Spectacular” moment on PBS Newshour about when he photographed President Trump during the 2016 presidential election. He acknowledged this chaos and frenetic energy that always seemed to surround Trump. Platon asked him, “Donald, how do you weather the storm?” He responded, “I am the storm.” Platon came to the realization that the chaos around President Trump is easy for him to navigate because he created it.

You would think that evangelicals, which make up a large portion of President Trump’s base, would oppose his personal misgivings, including former affairs and multiple accusations of sexual assault. But Trump’s base is willing to look the other way when he promises them economic prosperity. However, we’ll see how long people believe Trump’s promises when the economy tanks. His bully tariffs are hurting multiple job sectors, not just abroad but right here in the states, including farmers in the Midwest.

The war with Iran that Trump almost started in January when he ordered the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani is another example of how Trump thought he could create a “minor” conflict with Iran and then quickly get things under control and be the hero. We are indebted to Iran for not attacking us more forthrightly than they did, but still, soldiers received head injuries when the U.S. base in Iraq was bombed. And unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, Iran accidentally shot down a commercial aircraft taking off from the Tehran airport, killing all 176 souls on board, including several Iranian and Canadian students returning to college after the holidays. And the conflict did nothing positive for our NATO relations, some who indicated that they were not willing to back us up in the conflict that Trump had created.

OK. Number 5.

5. They project.
It seems like President Trump is constantly dishing out criticisms about other people that best describe himself. During the House impeachment hearings, Trump called Chairman Adam Schiff –quote– “a deranged human being.” Trump said, “I think he grew up with a complex for reasons that are obvious. I think he is a very sick man, and he lies.” Lawrence O’Donnell, on MSNBC, interviewed Psychiatrist Lance Dodes about it, whose professional opinion is that Trump has an early childhood block which leaves him extremely self-centered and unable to have empathy for others.

But President Trump also uses projection to distract us. He creates a media frenzy, such as his beefs in 2018 with LeBron James, Maxine Waters, and the NFL players that knelt for the National Anthem, to draw attention away from himself when an item in the media paints him in a bad light.

6. They tell you everyone else is a liar.
Fake news. Need I say more? If an article paints Trump in a bad light, it is automatically fake news.  And Trump’s use of repetition with the phrase evokes almost a Pavlov-like response by his base, as though they don’t even need to think but just rely on him to tell them what is true and what is fake. Trump also uses repetition with his terms “witch hunt” and “no collusion” for the same effect. Of course, Fox News and other right-wing media play an important role in re-enforcing Trump’s narrative.

I will give it to President Trump: if there is one thing he is good at, it is the smoke-in-mirrors, shady business dealings that he perfected in his real estate business. I just hope people realize it before it is too late.

Too late, you ask? Senator Romney appears to have been fearful of something much worse than the wrath of President Trump. What some Christians call the Rapture – or their transport to heaven at the Second Coming of Christ – may not be such smooth sailing. As the Bible says, “no man knoweth” when Christ will return, but it seems that some evangelicals want to jumpstart it. They believe that supporting Trump and letting him loose to do his chaos is a way that it will come to pass.

A battle described in Ezekiel of the Old Testament between Gog and Magog is a “type,” or a mirrored foreshadowing, of a battle that will occur in what evangelicals call the End Times. Senator Romney and other members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ like me recognize that we are in the Last Days, where we must prepare ourselves temporally and spiritually for the Second Coming. But we don’t want the blood on our hands associated with unleashing such wickedness, and I believe Romney agrees.

As Romney explained in his speech this week, “…[M]y promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and political biases aside,” he said. “Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Very well said. The truth about Trump’s deep corruption will be revealed, and it will happen sooner rather than later. Too many people were in on the conspiracy regarding the Ukraine for it to stay in the shadows. Further, Trump is guaranteed to do something like this again. Will we be among the centurions like Senator Romney and finally be able to say, enough is enough?

The things we have been taking for granted for decades just may be shifting. Now is the time to pay attention to national politics so that we may continue to have Liberty and Justice For All.

References
Roche, Lisa Riley and Katie McKellar. “Romney returns to Utah to explain vote as lawmakers talk censure of senator,” Deseret News, February 6, 2020. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/2/6/21126433/mitt-romney-president-trump-utah-recall-censure-recall-vote-convict

ChurchofJesusChrist.org. “Article of Faith 11,” Gospel Media. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/images/meme-articles-faith-eleventh-1567827?lang=eng

The New York Times. “Full Transcript: Mitt Romney’s Speech Announcing Vote to Convict Trump.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/05/us/politics/mitt-romney-impeachment-speech-transcript.html

Hayes, Chris. “‘That speech will stand up for centuries:’ Sen. Murphy on Romney’s condemnation of Trump.” All In, MSNBC, February 5, 2020. https://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/-that-speech-will-stand-up-for-centuries-sen-murphy-on-romney-s-condemnation-of-trump-78201413965

Sarkis, Stephanie A. “11 Warning signs of gaslighting: Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic used to gain power, and it works too well.” Psychology Today, January 22, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

Cuomo, Chris; Kara Scannell; and Eli Watkins. “Exclusive: CNN obtains secret Trump-Cohen tape.” CNN, July 25, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/24/politics/michael-cohen-donald-trump-tape/index.html

Westwood, Sarah and Maegan Vasquez. “Trump slams Democrats and Romney at prayer breakfast as Pelosi looks on,” CNN, February 6, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/06/politics/donald-trump-national-prayer-breakfast-nancy-pelosi-impeachment/index.html

Arciga, Julia. “Trump denies Giuliani acted on his behalf in Ukaine: ‘Rudy has other clients,’” The Daily Beast, November 26, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-denies-giuliani-acted-on-his-behalf-in-ukraine-rudy-has-other-clients

NBC News. “Read Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president: full text,” September 25, 2019.  https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry/read-full-transcript-trump-s-conversation-ukraine-s-president-n1058581

Gonzales, Richard. “White House revokes press pass of CNN’s Jim Acosta,” NPR, November 7, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/11/07/665497382/white-house-revokes-press-pass-of-cnns-jim-acosta

Steinbuch, Yaron. “Rudy Giuliani: Mueller probe was ‘bad’ for the country,” New York Post, March 25, 2019. https://nypost.com/2019/03/25/rudy-giuliani-mueller-probe-was-bad-for-the-country/

NBC News. “Trump claims an impeachment inquiry would be bad for the country,” September 24, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/video/trump-claims-an-impeachment-inquiry-would-be-bad-for-the-country-69785157629

Woodruff, Judy. “How photographer Platon gets up close to capture a person’s truth,” Brief But Spectacular, PBS Newshour, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/211981/platon

Fassihi, Farnaz. “Anatomy of a Lie: How Iran Covered Up the Downing of an Airliner,” The New York Times, January 26, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/world/middleeast/iran-plane-crash-coverup.html

O’Donnell, Lawrence. “Psychiatrist: Trump’s project on Chairman Schiff is ‘primitive,” The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” MSNBC, December 3, 2019. https://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/watch/psychiatrist-trump-s-projection-on-chairman-schiff-is-primitive-74462277699

Schwartz, Nick. “10 times LeBron James stood up to Donald Trump,” USA Today, August 4, 2018. https://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/08/10-times-lebron-james-stood-up-to-donald-trump

Wagner, John and Avi Selk. “‘Be careful what you wish for Max!’ Trump takes aim at Waters after she calls for public harassment of his Cabinet,” The Washington Post, June 24, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/06/25/democratic-congresswoman-maxine-waters-calls-for-harassment-of-trump-officials/

Walsh, Kelsey. “Trump blasts NFL players for kneeling during anthem: ‘Stand proudly …. Or be suspended without pay,’” ABC News, August 10, 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-blasts-nfl-players-kneeling-national-anthem-suspended/story?id=57131857

Matthew 24:36. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Copyright 2013 by Intellectual Reserve. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/nt/matt/24?lang=eng

Mencimer, Stephanie. “Evangelicals Love Donald Trump for Many Reasons, but One of them Is Especially Terrifying,” Mother Jones, January 23, 2020. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/01/evangelicals-are-anticipating-the-end-of-the-world-and-trump-is-listening/

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