Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception or judgement. Those conducting the gaslighting use denial, misdirection, contradiction and misinformation to delegitimize other’s beliefs. It is recognized in psychological analysis, especially in the definition of abusers. The term comes from a 1938 stage play called Gas Light which was turned into a 1940 movie and, most famously, a 1944 movie called Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer where a man tries to convince his wife that she is going insane so that he can have her committed and he can retain her murdered aunt’s wealth. The term relates to his turning down their home’s gas lights while insisting that they are fully bright, among other things to make her feel detached from reality.
The United States is being gaslighted by most of the Republican Party, especially those in Congress. They are trying to gaslight us about the Big Lie of the 2020 election, about the attempted coup on 6 January 2021, and are using these lies to propel Republican controlled state legislatures into passing laws limiting voting opportunities and engaging in voter suppression.
For one example, listen to Republican Senator Ron Johnson (WI) question whether it was an “armed” insurrection which he did on a local radio station in Wisconsin. “That didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me. When you hear the word ‘armed’ don’t you think of firearms? How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired?” (Numerous firearms and explosives were known to law enforcement to have been at the capitol in the hands of the rioters, more were confiscated later, and detailed plans have been uncovered for the use of firearms by those storming the capitol.) Or perhaps this bit of misdirection by him on 7 February in a Fox News interview? “I have always believed the Russian hoax was a diversionary operation from the corruption occurring certainly within the FBI and potentially some of our intelligence agencies. You kind of have to ask the question, what is this impeachment all about? We know that 45 Republican senators believe its unconstitutional. Is this another diversionary operation? Is this meant to deflect away from potentially what the Speaker knew and when she knew it? I don’t know. But I’m suspicious.” (Senator Johnson is joined by the lead seditionists Senators Josh Hawley (MO) and Ted Cruz (TX) in trying to blame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for the attempted coup at the capitol.)
Since that was not enough, Senator Johnson went further during the Senate hearings on 23 February investigating the attack on the capitol. He claimed that the “great majority” of the rioters had a “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor.” In his portrayal, the rioters were festive and the demonstration was “jovial.” The rightful focus of an investigation should be on those that perpetrated the violence. You know, the “plainclothes militants, agent provocateurs, fake Trump protesters, and disciplined uniformed column of attackers.” He later added, “Basically it was like a picnic here that day until they [meaning antifa] got involved.”
For the record, on Tuesday 2 March FBI Director Christopher Wray clearly stated in his testimony that the insurrectionists did not have any (any!) members that were “antifa,” or “anarchist violent extremists,” or any other left-wing participation. He did say that the primary instigators of the attack were white supremacists or members of right wing militias. Of the roughly 270 rioters arrested so far, 33 belonged to right wing militia groups, 82 were friends and associates of organized right wing groups and the rest did not belong to any organized group. Director Wray testified that this latter group was his biggest concern as they do not fit into any “chain-of-command” type organizations and are likely to be “lone wolfs” ready to conduct violent acts based on their having been influenced and radicalized by right wing extremism on the internet and through social media. The Director said that combatting domestic terrorism is currently the FBI’s number one priority and that they are investigating about 2,000 cases right now.
There is no “what aboutism” to this. There is no both sides. Those that try and and compare the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations to the attack on the Capitol are trying to change the subject. There is no comparison. The attack by right wing extremists on the Capitol was intended to overthrow the government and to undermine a free and fair election in order to hand the presidency to a wannabe autocrat. I will state unequivocally that any criminal behavior taking place during any protest, BLM or otherwise, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And it is. Actions by any BLM groups or others associated with the otherwise peaceful protests does not in any way justify what happened at the Capitol in January. And yet, Republican Senators are trying to say that it does.
At this week’s hearings Senator Cruz asserted that “in the past year we have seen massive rioting and violence as extremists, many of them leftists extremists, took to the streets across the country.” After clearly speaking about the BLM demonstrations, without using the name, he asked Director Wray what the FBI is doing “to counter this ongoing pattern of domestic terrorism.” Of course! According to Senator Cruz the real terrorists are not those attempting to over throw the government and kill the Vice President and Speaker of the House. It is those terrible black people and those that support them.
In spite of all the evidence, politicians, media personalities, activists, and others on the right are trying to rewrite history to turn the violent insurrection at the Capitol into “no big deal.” As chronicled in the Washington Post, it is a concerted effort to blame leftists and to absolve the ex-president (a.k.a the former guy) of any blame. In a tried and true tactic, many of them are actually blaming the Speaker for the attack. Representative Ken Buck (CO) said that Democrats are trying to create the impression that “there’s a bunch of people running around in the woods with Army fatigues on the weekends, and they’re going to take over this country, and that’s just nonsense.” Others criticize the fences and National Guard troops still at the Capitol as some kind of trick by Democrats to create the illusion of danger. They think it is part of a political effort to exaggerate the threat from right wing extremists dubbing the Capitol “Fort Pelosi.” Some even contend that the circumstances surrounding the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick are fishy and that it is being used by the Democrats to further their anti-Republican agenda.
Senator Cruz, of course, is one of the eight Republican Senators that joined 139 Republican Representatives to vote against certifying the results of the Electoral College, even after the Capitol had been sacked by supporters of the now ex-president. (You can find their names here.) This is the biggest gaslight of all. Most of those Republicans still refuse to recognize that Joseph R. Biden Jr. is the duly elected 46th President of the United States. Those 147 Republicans, and the Gaslighter-in-Chief continue to perpetuate the Big Lie that the 2020 election was rigged, stolen, or otherwise fixed to put Mr. Biden in the White House. This has real consequences. Mr. Cruz, Mr. Hawley, and everyone else that keeps pushing this devastating lie is actively and willfully undermining our democracy. They are using a circular argument. They have actively pushed this lie, directly leading to the insurrection in January. They then turn around, after having convinced their constituents that their votes did not count, even in the face of all factual evidence to the contrary, and say, “gosh” my constituents want to know what is going on, therefore I must act to fix the problem.
Those fixes involve voter suppression and disenfranchisement for millions of Americans. Republicans cannot win at the polls based on their ideas and policies, so they are working as hard as they can in state legislatures to pass laws that will keep many people from voting — most of whom usually vote for Democrats. Want an example? In Arizona they are considering a law that designates the state legislature as the final authority on deciding who the state’s Electoral College electors will be. No matter the vote count. No matter if the Governor and Secretary of State certify the results. No matter if the loser fails to win a single case in the courts. A simple majority of the legislature can substitute their own slate of electors at any time up to the day of the inauguration of the president. Indeed, why should we even let people vote?
Gaslighting has real consequences.
There is a distinct moral void taking hold in our country. Don’t like the consequences? Pretend that nothing happened. Don’t like the facts? Create your own alternative facts. Can’t win elections? Change the rules so that only your folks can vote. There is no shame. There is no taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Do you worship a man rather than fulfill your oath to the Constitution? No problem. Just vilify everyone that doesn’t worship at the feet of the golden don. (If you missed it, here is a picture of the Republican Party version of the Biblical golden calf at CPAC in Florida.)
The danger to our Republic remains. As long as the majority of Republicans at all levels of government keep the Big Lie alive, we are under threat. Call out the gaslighters when you seem them. Keep the facts out there. Advertise what the FBI Director testified to concerning the threat. Remind people that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) puts out warnings about domestic terrorism from right wing white extremists. We are in a cold Civil War. We need to work to keep it from going hot.
We are just over two weeks into the Biden Administration and good things are starting to happen. It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but we finally have a president and an administration that can competently address the health and financial crises at hand as a result of the pandemic. As the Covid-19 Relief Package moves through Congress, the administration is trying to work with the Republicans for a bipartisan bill. Unfortunately, some Republicans are using that as a weapon. The “party of no” cries foul if the bill or any other administration action is not exactly what they want. It seems that to many of them, it is only bipartisan if they approve it. The Democrats are smarter this time around. They are using Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (KY) own tactics against him. The Democrats will get a bill through and most Americans do not care about the process. They only care about results. Six months from now, when real Americans are doing better, all that they will remember is that the Democrats got it done.
Besides, why would the Biden administration want to broker a deal with a group of people whose majority still claim that Trump won the election and not President Joe Biden? The president and majority leaders should make it a condition of any talks that the purveyors of the Big Lie come out and formally and forcefully admit that President Biden won. By a lot.
Instead, many Republicans in Congress would rather divide the country by pushing conspiracy theories and fantastical lies about doctored voting machines and other foolishness. Regrettably, millions of people believe it. More on that in moment.
As a result, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last week put out a Domestic Violence Extremists (DVE) Advisory. It is effective now and the advisory lasts until 30 April 2021. It says in part,
“Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence.”
It then goes on to say,
“Throughout 2020, Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) targeted individuals with opposing views engaged in First Amendment-protected, non-violent protest activity. DVEs motivated by a range of issues, including anger over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results, and police use of force have plotted and on occasion carried out attacks against government facilities.”
Doesn’t that match well with what Trump and many Republicans in Congress are saying? It also matches Q-Anon and other radical right wing extremists. The Advisory notes that these extremists are “emboldened” by the events at the Capitol on 6 January. And yet, the propagation of the Big Lie continues.
The new face of the Republican Party is Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene from Georgia. She should be a back bench freshman with no influence in the caucus. She should especially have no influence because of her nutty Q-Anon beliefs such as that the school shootings in Florida and Connecticut were fake, fires in California were caused by Jewish space lasers, and she condones threats of violence against prominent Democrats, to name a few of her public pronouncements. It is her First Amendment right to think and say whatever she wants about Jewish space lasers and the like, and such comments can be ignored as the rantings of a nut case. The threat of violence against a president, the Speaker of the House and others cannot be ignored or sloughed off as silly. They especially cannot be ignored when she is now in close contact with those same people. Yet, only weeks after other adherents of those crazy ideas attacked the Capitol, the Republicans would not discipline her.
Why are they afraid of her? Because she is a disciple of Trump. She is like a Trump Mini-me espousing many of the lies that Trump bombarded us with for four years. The Republican Party does not want to do anything to upset Trump’s, or Taylor-Greene’s supporters. Many are one and the same.
Representative Taylor-Greene is part of the enemy within, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) said the other day. Just as with the cliche in many horror movies, the threatening phone calls are coming from inside the house. She is not alone. Another Q-Anon sympathizer is freshman Congresswoman Lauren Boebert from Colorado who supports many of their conspiracies. Representatives Mo Brooks (ALA), Paul Gosar (AR) and Pete Sessions (TX) helped to organize the Trump rally on 6 January and spoke to the crowd. Representative Brooks told them to “start taking down names and kicking ass.”
The Big Lie continues to be a dominate issue in the United States. Those that believe the election was stolen — the right wingers and Q-Anons of the world — feel that they have no recourse or say about the changes taking place in society. If ballots are stolen, changed or stuffed, then the elections are rigged. If they are rigged, then they feel that they have no avenue for their causes except through violence. Thus, violence is likely to continue and we get advisories like those above from DHS.
I am baffled as to why elected Republicans still so staunchly support Trump. There are no excuses. Trump being Trump no longer works. They cannot justify supporting him because of tax cuts, or federal judges, or anything else they applauded him for doing. Yet, they are still all in. Trump will not be held accountable in the Senate next week. As a result, he will gain more power. They all know that he is guilty, but most Republican Senators will weasel out of convicting him by arguing that the “process” is un-Constitutional.
Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) gave away the real reason last week. Speaking of Trump and why most Republicans will vote against conviction, he said “We cannot take the House and Senate back without his help. That’s just a fact.” In other words, politics once again trumps holding an ex-president accountable for his actions that resulted in deaths at the Capitol. In fact, just the opposite is happening. All around the country Republican Party state and local committees are censuring any Republican that did not support Trump, either in the election or through the impeachment vote. Some of those censored includes people who were never in office, such as Mrs. Cindy McCain.
I thought that by now Trump would have crawled back to Florida to become an irrelevant player in today’s more hopeful society. I fear I am wrong. The Republicans had a chance following the attack on the Capitol to make a clean break with the man and his divisive, mean-spirited methods and policies. Instead, Lindsey Graham is talking about how much they need him. The spineless House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) made a special trip to the castle-by-the-sea to go on bended knee before the king and kiss his shoes. They totally caved. Now they expect everyone to “move on” from an attempt to overthrow the government. Most Americans will not move on. We certainly will not forget that Trump and numerous Republicans in Congress sold the Big Lie so well, that it lead to an attempted coup.
This is a battle for our country’s soul. I am not sure we have a functioning two-party system anymore. Democrats have their flaws, but they are now the party working hard to restore and maintain the norms of our democracy. The other party — whatever we should call it — has a majority of members in Congress that just want to tear everything down, undo any election they do not win, and install an autocrat as president. Apparently, they are willing to use any means necessary to do that. Lies. Violence. Anything. Republicans have brought the Proud Boys, Q-Anon, Boogaloo Bois (Boys), white supremacists and conspiracy theorists into the mainstream. They are afraid to call them out because it will cost them votes. They are being held hostage by self-projected fear in some cases. In other cases, I think some in Congress see those groups as their allies.
We cannot talk about bipartisanship, progress, or unity until this is resolved. We do not negotiate with terrorists. Those people, in or out of office, must be held to account.
Little did we know when Donald J. Trump delivered his inaugural address four years ago that when he spoke of “American Carnage” he was setting an aspirational goal. He succeeded.
We have 400,000 dead Americans thanks to his incompetence and indifference to putting measures in place across the country that could have effectively stopped or certainly slowed the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. In days, we will pass the number of Americans killed in World War II. Before it is over, we have a shot at surpassing the 675,000 Americans lost in the 1918 flu pandemic. What a proud record.
Trump fomented racial division and supervised the rise of white nationalist and other supremacist groups throughout the country. Where these groups existed in the shadows in the past, they are now front and center in American politics and a threat to many of us who despise their values. We have Q-Anon believers as Members of Congress. We have governors as the focus of kidnap plots to try them for “treason” because Trump told them to take back their state from the “tyranny” of having to wear a mask and social distance. As he said after the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville in 2017 that resulted in fighting in the streets and the death of a counter-protester, “there were good people on both sides.” A clear signal to those groups that he supported them. He further encouraged them with his statement in the fall debates in front of a national audience when he said to the Proud Boys, “Stand down and stand by.”
The list can go on and on. I often wonder how one person and one administration can be so incompetent, uncaring, feckless and destructive. One has to work hard to cause as much mayhem as Trump has created. I cannot help but sometimes think that given his relationship with Vladimir Putin that perhaps Trump did work hard at causing so much trouble and nearly causing our country to collapse under the weight of his singular focus on working only for his own power and riches.
His crowning achievement for the title of the Worst President Ever came two weeks ago when he attempted to overthrow the government. As we learn more and more about the events surrounding the attack on the capitol on 6 January, we come to realize that it was a very close thing for the survival of our republic and our system of government. Organized groups were, it seems, ready to kidnap and probably kill Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Other Senators and Representatives barely escaped the mob’s wrath and probably would have been severely injured or killed if the mob had gotten to them. In my view, if the seditious mob had succeeded in destroying the legislative branch of our government, I have no doubt that Trump would have accepted the result and used it to keep himself in the presidency. As we now know, the mob missed their targets by less than a minute. It surely would have been a horrific blood bath as the Secret Service would have fought to protect the Vice President and the mob would have reacted with even greater fury. We were so lucky as a nation. As it was, the “peaceful demonstrators” beat a police officer to death and their actions resulted in four others dying at the capitol during the melee.
Their blood is on Trump’s hands as it is on the rest of the Sedition Coalition made up of a few “Republican” Senators and over two-thirds of the “Republican” Congressmen and Congresswomen that voted to overturn the most fair and free election in the history of our country. (But don’t take my word for that last statement. It was so judged by those in Trump’s Administration tasked with protecting the election, confirmed by the Attorney General, reinforced by states throughout the country led by both Republicans and Democrats, and upheld by over 60 court cases that were dismissed or laughed out of court for their frivolousness and remarkable lack of evidence.)
It is the lowlight of the Bizzaro world that we lived in over the last four years.
Now called “The Big Lie” by many, it was a concerted effort — months if not years in the making — for Trump and his soulless allies to make millions of Americans think that the election was rigged, or unfair or otherwise set up to deny Trump his “landslide” win. It really started in 2016 when Trump shouted from the rooftops that the election was rigged in Secretary Hillary Clinton’s favor. Even he was amazed when he won. None-the-less, he claimed that he lost the popular vote because of fraud. He created a commission to look into voter fraud and to find the fake votes. You may remember that the commission quietly stopped its work a few months after its creation because they were unable to find any evidence of any fraud that changed the outcome.
Throughout 2020, Trump claimed that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged and massive fraud occurred. Rally after rally, speech after speech he spewed this same lie over and over. Millions of his followers believed him. His enablers and cohorts in Congress reiterated the same message. And now we are here.
Even as I write this piece, Trump has yet to admit that President-elect Joe Biden won the election. Trump goes home a loser in every way possible. Likewise, his accomplices in the Senate and House refuse to acknowledge that the 46th president was duly elected by the will of over 81 million Americans. Shameful. Somehow they stick to their blind loyalty to Trump out of fear of some political or personal retribution. They pledge their true faith and allegiance to a wannabe dictator rather than to the Constitution of the United States. They disgrace their oath and their personal honor. If Trump is such a political “kingmaker” then please explain how the Republicans, during his watch, lost the House, the Senate and the presidency. Some kingmaker. I hope they do as well into the future.
The consequences of their seditious actions and continued defiance will be felt long after the inauguration tomorrow. Those same seditious Representatives and Senators — and other elected Trumpists — claim that to try Trump after his impeachment would be “divisive.” They argue that it is now the duty of Democrats and President-to-be Biden to bring unity to the country — this as they continue to argue that the election was not valid. It would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. The pure unmitigated gall of these people! Do they think that all Americans are so gullible or short-sighted or fooled by their sleight of hand? Apparently. Or do they have further plans to rile up the Trump base to wreak further havoc on our republic?
At this moment, news reports indicate that some of these “patriot” lawmakers are seeking pardons from the president to absolve themselves of responsibility in the attacks. If this happens, they surely must be removed from the Senate. Such shining examples of leadership they are!
Try them all! Trump should be convicted in the Senate for his crimes against the state. The counts in the indictment could have been volumes long, but the House leadership wisely focused on his seditious actions in sending a mob to destroy the capitol. It cannot stand without punishment. I know there are numerous arguments pro and con about doing so — along with Constitutional concerns that have yet to be tested in court — but I cannot imagine that his actions over the months leading up to the insurrection should be allowed to go unpunished. Think of the precedent. A president can foment any illegal act that he or she desires near the end of their presidency and feel perfectly comfortable that they will get away with it. If no one is above the law in the United States of America then a president cannot pardon himself and he is liable for impeachment and conviction for actions in office even after they leave. The president wouldn’t even have to wait until the end of a term. Commit any impeachable offense and then resign with the knowledge that in this case, actions do not have consequences. It seems no different than retired military officers who are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for the rest of their lives.
I cannot believe that we can begin to heal until those that fomented the attacks on our fragile state are held accountable. The FBI and other agencies are tracking down and charging the domestic terrorists that stormed the capital. Those that encouraged them to take those actions should be equally accountable. Senators that voted against verifying the Electoral College results should be censored and removed if they don’t resign, but they most certainly will not. If criminal charges are appropriate under the law, they should be held to account. Likewise with the roughly 147 Representatives that voted not to verify the results. Remember, these votes came after the attack on the capitol.
Tomorrow is a new day. Thankfully. President Biden has a huge job ahead of him. It will not be easy to conquer the pandemic, restore the economy, re-establish our leadership role in international affairs and accomplish all the other tasks ahead needed to clean up the mess Trump leaves behind, all while those that he must work with continue to push the canard that he is an illegitimate president. It could take years to undo the damage. Only with the help of those on the right side of history can he succeed. I trust that like many former members of cults, once his followers no longer have to drink the Kool-Aid of divisiveness, grievance and lies that they will come to their senses and help to restore the America we thought we knew. Some will. Some will not. As an optimist, I hope that more will than will not.
It will not be an easy road. We have a long way to go. Bringing those that sought to intentionally destroy our country to justice will help us to make our way. They must all enjoy the full consequences of their actions to the fullest extent of the law. This includes an ex-president and his family.
On to a new chapter in our history!