Gaslighting is the systematic attempt by one person
to erode another’s reality, by telling them that what
they are experiencing isn’t so – and, the gradual
giving up on the part of the other person.
A Google search of the words “gaslight” and Trump” will yield a long list of articles explaining how the gaslight effect has become a hallmark of the Trump administration. Of countless examples, the most recent would be explanations by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for President Trump’s claims he and his family will not benefit at all from the tax reform legislation being prepared for his signature.
An understanding of the history and various definitions of gaslighting would help citizens better comprehend the threat of authoritarian influence the Trump administration poses for our democracy, eloquently expressed by Bill Moyers in one of his last TV commentaries.That President Trump not only lies on an unprecedented scale but apparently does not comprehend this trenchant critique of what he is doing only compounds the threat.
Psychologist Hilde Lindemann asserts that reasserting moral agency when confronted by the systematic lies associated with gaslighting requires what she calls narrative repair. As this blog argues, strengthening independent public media and teaching critical media literacy are necessary steps in comprehending and facing this new threat of authoritarianism Hannah Arendt identified long ago, and creating the narrative repair our democracy must find a way to generate.