The 1944 film “Gaslight” stars Ingrid Bergman as a naive young woman named Paula who marries a dashing man after a whirlwind romance.
The problem is the man is a liar, although she doesn’t realize this because his lies are calculated and bizarre and slowly meted out. In one scene she sees the gas lights in their home dim and brighten. He tells her she’s only imagining things. She begins to doubt everything.
“You’re not going out of your mind, you’re being slowly and systematically driven out of your mind,” a detective tells Paula.
“But why, why?!” Paula cries in tortured agony.
Every lie is a log on the fire of her growing despair. As she falls apart, he gains control.
That’s why people are using the term gaslighting to explain why President Trump tells so many lies.
The film, and the 1938 play that inspired it, spawned the term gaslighting to describe a psychological power tactic. Gaslighting warning signs include: telling blatant lies, denying something was said even though you have proof, accusing other people of lying and aligning others against you. It’s a go-to tool for abusers, cult leaders and dictators.
In 2016, gaslighting picked up traction as a verb in reference to politicians claiming that something had or hadn’t happened, most notably in a Teen Vogue piece written by Lauren Duca called, “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.” It hasn’t gone away. Trump has been called the gaslighter-in-chief. May saw the release of a new book titled, “Gaslighting America: Why We Love it When Trump Lies to Us.”
There likely isn’t a president who hasn’t told a lie, but the sheer number told by Trump is, to say the least, troubling to people around the world. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker feature has kept track of them since he took office, with detailed explanations of each claim and how many times it’s been repeated. As of the last count, in the 497 days since he took office, he’s made 3,251 false or misleading claims, an average of 6.5 a day. You can search them by subject (Russia, trade, guns, environment, etc.) on Fact Checker’s website.
But President Obama lied in office, call those rushing to Trump’s defense.
That’s been analyzed too. Trump told nearly six times more lies in the first 10 months of his presidency than Obama did in his entire eight-year term, according to a December analysis by the New York Times.
Trump has shrugged off these accountings by the press. He’s repeatedly called journalists the “most dishonest” people (see above warning signs).
So, how to deal with all the drama?
Gaslighting only works when the victim isn’t aware of what’s going on.