Is Donald Trump Trying to Gaslight the Country?


In a speech at his new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump took less than a minute to finally put the Birther issue to rest once and for all. “Now, not to mention her in the same breath, but Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the Birther controversy,” Trump said matter-of-factly. “I finished it. I finished it. You know what I mean.” Of course, most people who remember the election of the first black President don’t know what Trump is talking about.

Most people, in fact, remember Donald Trump as one of the most aggressive pushers of the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama forged his own birth certificate to hide his foreign origins.

In 2011, the real estate mogul told talk radio host Laura Ingraham that the Birthers — crackpots who insisted the President was Kenyan or Indonesian, that his real father was alleged Communist Frank Marshall Davis, that he carried on numerous gay affairs — were actually not so bad. “Great American people,” in fact. Trump stood up for these fringe extremists, and said he was “proud” to be their de facto spokesman. That same year, in an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Trump speculated that Obama “doesn’t have a birth certificate.” Or, if he does, there could be “something” on it that indicates his Islamic faith.

Trump enthusiastically promoted one of the most pernicious myths about Obama, refusing to acknowledge that his birth certificate was real. When, in 2011, President Obama released his long form birth certificate, Trump remained steadfast that a conspiracy was afoot. The following year, Trump (allegedly) dispatched a crack team of investigators to Hawai’i in order to finally bust the Manchurian President once and for all. When that yielded absolutely nothing, he tried to blackmail the President for his college transcripts for five million dollars to a charity of his choice.

To top it all off, the orange-haired buffoon pinned the blame for this bullshit controversy on Hillary Clinton. And, in true Trumpian fashion, he even took credit for ending the conspiracy, boasting that he “finished it.” It doesn’t matter if he was contradicted by video footage or news reports or his voluminous Twitter feed. It didn’t matter that multiple fact checkers have declared his accusation to be false. If history is inconvenient, Trump will just rewrite history.

Comedian Stephen Colbert recently addressed the ridiculousness of Trump’s assertion that he “finished” the Birther controversy. “No you didn’t. No you didn’t. And I know you didn’t because I was alive and on TV,” the Late Show host remarked. A clearly exasperated Colbert continued to chastise Trump for his grudging admission that Obama was born in the U.S., saying,

Here’s the deal. You don’t get to flog this issue for five years and then act like you’re correcting everybody else! We’re not crazy, we were there! We all saw you do it! Even the people who support you saw you do it! It’s why they support you!

Indeed, this is a familiar routine of Trump’s. He’ll say a blatant lie, get called out by pundits or fact checkers, insist that he was correct anyway, send his underlings to spin the lie on television, and then move onto the next blatant lie hoping that you’ve forgotten the original one.

All the while he pretends we’re all mistaken. Or crazy. Or stupid. Like when he swore he witnessed thousands of American Muslims cheering as the Twin Towers collapsed. Or when he bragged about his relationship to Vladimir Putin. Or when he feigned ignorance of David Duke’s racist history. Or when he took several different stances on abortion in the span of several days. He was always right. Or maybe he had a bad earpiece. Or you remembered it wrong. It’s always someone else’s fault. Never his.

But this problem goes far beyond a sheer lack of personal responsibility. It’s also eerily reminiscent of gaslighting. Named after the World War II-era movie Gaslight, in which a woman’s sadistic husband attempts to make her think she’s losing her mind, gaslighting is a tool of psychological control used by abusive and narcissistic partners. Gaslighting “starts with a series of subtle mind games that intentionally prays on the gaslightee’s limited ability to tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty,” and is done in order to “undercut the victim’s trust in their own sense of reality and sense of self, thus resulting in confusion and perplexity for the victim.”

That this form of “psychological warfare” is used by controlling partners seems fitting for a man like Trump, who prides himself in being always right, always masculine, and always in control. He is, after all, the kind of person who is easily set off when being corrected or slighted by a woman, at which point he is known to make an offhanded comment about menstrual blood or facial features or weight. And while I am in no way trying to diagnose the Republican nominee in anyway, the fact that he, at least superficially, seems to share traits with psychologically abusive men and other misogynists should not be glossed over.

For what it’s worth, Dan P. McAdams wrote in The Atlantic that,

For psychologists, it is almost impossible to talk about Donald Trump without using the word narcissism. Asked to sum up Trump’s personality for an article in Vanity Fair, Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard, responded, “Remarkably narcissistic.” George Simon, a clinical psychologist who conducts seminars on manipulative behavior, says Trump is “so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example” of narcissism. “Otherwise I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes. He’s like a dream come true.”

Should we be surprised, then, that Trump at least appears to be using a tactic favored by narcissists to victimize and toy with the minds of others? And it should be reiterated that without any formal diagnosis from a psychiatrist who has analyzed Trump, we should take this information with a grain of salt. But whether he fits the profile of a narcissistic abuser or is just a pathological (and terrible) liar, we should at least be able to recognize that he has no business in the Oval Office.