A great psychological-thriller film of 1944, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten, came to mind recently. In the movie, Charles Boyer’s character is a congenital liar, sneak, manipulator, and accuser, doing all kinds of terrible things to make his young wife, Ingrid Bergman, think she’s going insane. In manipulating her this way, Boyer attempts to gain access to family jewels that belong to Bergman.
(“Gaslight” refers to the types of lighting used in English homes of the time, and it specifically refers to the flickering lights in the downstairs of Boyer’s/Bergman’s home while Boyer is secretly rummaging through the attic in search of the jewels.)
Scotland Yard Inspector Joseph Cotten begins investigating, and learns of Boyer’s evil-doing. Eventually, Boyer is brought to justice….
The Impeachment Saga
On September 25, news came out about President Trump’s July 25, 2019 telephone conversation with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump conditioned military aid to Ukraine on Ukraine conducting an investigation into Trump’s presidential rival, Joseph Biden, and Biden’s son, Hunter.
When questioned about the propriety of that call, Trump, of course, denied that there was anything wrong with it, and went so far as to call it “totally innocent, a perfect call, just perfect in every way.”
As more news came out, and as inquiries continued, Trump’s response remained the same: “it was a completely perfect call; there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.” For him, that might have been so, but members of the House Oversight Committee, the Intelligence Committee, and the Foreign Affairs Committee thought differently. The transcript of the telephone conversation, provided by the White House (!), gave proof that the call was not as pristine as Trump claimed it to be.
Soon, despite the White House’s attempts to stonewall and obstruct the investigations, a number of witnesses from the State Department — career-level Foreign Service Officers — testified behind closed doors, and gave extraordinarily-damaging testimony which showed that Trump and his rogue attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were busy manipulating the situation in Ukraine to extract whatever advantage they could in Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
To any person with the slightest understanding of the law, the conversation from the White House transcript, was a confession. The Foreign Service Officers who testified before the House committees were witnesses who gave additional, damning evidence of Trump’s and Giuliani’s criminal and unconstitutional behavior.
But, to paraphrase Senator “Moscow Mitch” McConnell, “Trump persists.” He continues with his daily flamethrowing Tweets; appears at rallies; and engages in the most vicious calumny about the whistleblowers who brought his impeachable offenses to light, calling them “spies” and “traitors” because they had the audacity to shout to the world that “the Emperor is naked!”
And, yet, his base likewise “persists” in its support for Trump. Why?
Trump’s Techniques for Gaslighting
Trump’s base has been the victim of his gaslighting techniques. Here’s how his methods work.
- Trump tells blatant lies.
Factchecks.org and other similar organizations have documented well over 13,000 lies publicly told by Trump since his Inauguration.
2. Trump denies he ever said something, even though you have proof.
Apparently, Trump and his minions think his base is unable or unwilling to look at videos and/or listen to audio recordings of Trump publicly saying things. To those in the reality-based universe, it’s incomprehensible that so many people literally cannot bring themselves to admit that Trump said or did something that is legally and/or ethically wrong, and yet his base buys what he’s selling.
3. Trump keeps his base isolated from facts.
He keeps using the Republican Ministry of Propaganda, Faux News, and right-wing pundits to keep the base fact-free. In that way, they don’t have to worry about how far Trump’s positions are from reality.
4. Trump uses what is near and dear to his base as ammunition.
He talks about his base’s kids, families, sense of safety, and cultural integrity by making xenophobic, racist, religiously- and gender-intolerant comments, in order to keep his base “in-line” and on the same page with him (and each other).
5. Trump wears you down over time.
He just does not stop. This is part and parcel of “The Big Lie” technique, pioneered by the Nazis in Germany before and during World War II.
6. Trump’s actions do not match his words.
When you go to the dictionary and look up the word “hypocrite,” Trump’s picture is right there.
7. Trump throws in positive reinforcement to confuse you.
Sometimes, he’ll throw a bone to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, or others in the liberal/progressive side of the spectrum.
8. Trump knows confusion weakens people.
He says “I’m sorry; that’s just how I negotiate.” No, that’s his transactional style of doing business designed to weaken his opponents and make it easier for him to “win.”
9. Trump projects.
He’s a liar, cheater and manipulator, but he projects that onto others so often that you try to defend yourself. This distracts you from focusing on Trump’s own criminal and psychologically-dysfunctional behavior.
10. Trump tries to align people against you.
Look at his Tweets. Listen to him at rallies. Villification of liberals and progressives is as natural to him as breathing out and breathing in is to you and me.
11. Trump tells you or others that you are crazy.
See №. 9, above.
12. Trump tells his base that everyone else is a liar.
“Fake News!” “No obstruction, no collusion!” The litany of lies continues unabated. That’s how Trump functions.
What Can be Done?
In Gaslight, the only way Charles Boyer’s evildoing was stopped was for Inspector Cameron (Joseph Cotten) to arrest him and remove him. Realistically, in Trump’s case, the only solution for his gaslighting is to impeach him and remove him from office.
In today’s political climate, there is a cascading effect regarding impeachment. More and more people — even on the right — are in favor of impeaching Trump. The question is whether a vote of removal will result in his leaving the White House.
There is the hard-core base which viscerally believes in Trump and everything (they think) he stands for. They still have not gotten the memo which says that the only loyalties Trump manifests are to three people: me, myself, and I. They still think that he truly believes in “Make America Great Again” as his guiding principle.
His views of the world clearly do not reflect allegiance to any principles, except those related to his own gain and survival. Nonetheless, many of those who rabidly follow Trump also tend to be loud-mouthed, boisterous gun-owners and believers in violence under “the right circumstances.” Knowing Trump, he and his media cronies could and would likely stir up a civil hornet’s nest by claiming that impeachment and removal votes are nothing short of a coup and, as a result, “God-fearing, country-loving people who support [Trump] should do whatever it takes to keep [Trump] in office.”
Would that involve armed conflict, with knuckle-dragging gun-toters attacking Congress, surrounding the White House in a protective cordon, and preventing his physical removal? Would it require Vice President Pence to conduct the affairs of the Presidency from the U.S. Naval Observatory while plans for Trump’s ouster are being made? Would Pence, himself, try to personally persuade Trump to give it all up for the sake of peace in the country and so that Trump’s legacy wouldn’t be that of a “loser?”
Would Trump, in his isolation, be willing to voluntarily step down, or would he be dragged out in handcuffs, kicking and screaming, to confront the many legal proceedings awaiting him?
Only time will tell, but the next year will be a great challenge to this country’s character, and the character of those who profess to lead it.