The current President of the United States is gaslighting our nation. I never thought I would write these words, but the fact is Donald Trump uses lies, denials, manipulation and confusion in order to rule over this great country.
Though this post veers from the usual discussion of leadership in the corporate sense, I think there is an overlap between the behavior of leaders in politics and in business. In fact, our political leaders often demonstrate a model by which leaders of all organizations can choose to follow . . . or not. In the case of Donald Trump, they should not.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and is used to sow doubt in individuals or groups so they question their memory, perception or sanity. It is a common technique used by abusers, narcissists, cult leaders and dictators. The behavior attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs.
In her book Gaslighting: Recognizing Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People – and Break Free author Stephanie Sarkis describes gaslighting techniques, including:
- Tell blatant lies – By telling big blatant lies we’re never sure if anything they say is true. Trump has told more than 15,000 lies, misstatements or fabrications since taking the oath of office to uphold the constitution and protect this country.
- Deny they said something even though there’s proof – Denying continually can make us question our own reality—even when we know what we saw or heard. And when we question our own reality, we often begin to accept theirs.
- Wear you down over time – Gaslighting is done gradually so that even the brightest and most self-aware can be sucked in over time. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, we don’t realize we’re being cooked until it can be too late.
- Actions don’t match their words – Saying things that don’t align with behavior is a clear indication of being disingenuous. Trump has masterfully stated untrue things that are entirely inconsistent with his actions, and those who stand up to Trump are regularly denigrated by him; when the media doesn’t simply accept his words, it is demeaned as “fake news.”
- They know confusion weakens people – By constantly questioning everything, gaslighters are able to uproot our sense of stability and normalcy. As a result, they can then be viewed as someone to make things more stable. Trump regularly uses fear as a way to maintain loyalty from followers.
Gaslighting is not unique to Trump nor was he the first to exercise it on the American people. In his book State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind, psychologist Bryant Welch described the technique in American politics beginning with the age of modern communications:
“Gaslighting comes directly from blending modern communications, marketing, and advertising techniques with long-standing methods of propaganda. They were simply waiting to be discovered by those with sufficient ambition and psychological makeup to use them.”
Though the book was written in 2008, Welch was perhaps anticipating the use of social media and Cambridge Analytica as vehicles for the right person to take advantage of them. In Donald Trump we found someone with the necessary ambition and psychological makeup.
As a I write this, the U.S. Senate is about to begin an impeachment trial on whether to remove the 45th President from office. Senators are largely expected to vote along party lines regardless of what is discovered in the trial, which will lead to fewer than the necessary two-thirds.
This means that whether the American people continue to be gaslighted by their president will likely be determined in November. It’s clear that a significant number of Americans refuse this gaslighting premise and will therefore go along with voting to re-elect the President. But there may be enough who recognize what has taken over the Republican party and decide they cannot support this manipulation any longer.
My hope is that we reject this gaslighting and learn to heal ourselves and the nation.