By Hannah Kohn
On December 10th, Lauren Duca wrote an article entitled “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America”. Duca’s assertion that Trump employs gaslighting on a national scale has proven to be accurate. I would like to hone in on a couple of issues I feel truly highlight Trump’s gaslighting tactics: “fake news” and “alternative facts.”
Gaslighting involves manipulating someone into questioning their reality. In so doing, gaslighting can diminish a person’s trust in themselves and their ability to interpret what truly exists. In turn, this can make someone vulnerable to other forms of abuse, or someone else’s dictation of what “truly is.”
Usually, gaslighting is thought of on an individual level. However, this form of manipulation is being used on a national level by Trump and his cronies. This was on display at a recent press conference, in which Trump called CNN “fake news” after they released a story he didn’t like. Trump could have said many things about CNN. Of everything, he chose to call them “fake news,” news that does not accurately reflect reality. As a source many Americans rely on for information, Trump simultaneously said: what you see as reality is actually fabricated.
Having denigrated the press as “fake,” Trump ushered in what he claims is “real.” However, his narrative is sometimes objectively false. For instance, he insisted far more people were at his inauguration than there were. Kellyanne Conway was quick to explain this: she claimed Trump’s statement was an “alternative fact.” Conway thus developed a way to legitimate Trump’s lies as truths. This fits nicely with CNN, which we presume to be “real,” now branded by Trump’s administration as “fake.” The administration is attempting to make Americans feel that what we thought was reality is actually an illusion, while simultaneously ushering in lies to depict the “true” state of the world.
Many have wondered why Trump has been so defensive about his bluff regarding the number of people at his inauguration. The answer, I believe, is because it was not a bluff at all; it was a well thought out strategy to play with Americans’ sense of reality. Once he can make at least some people believe that his lie is the truth, the groundwork is laid for larger distortions of reality. He is already at work doing just that. His insistence that three million people voted illegally seems moronic. However, if he can get a sizeable group on board with this falsehood, he will have opened up space for restrictive voting laws.
We are all privileged to be at a university in which critical thinking is a skill that is stressed. Using critical thinking, it is easier to question statements and see through lies. But not all of America has the same privilege we do. We must amplify our voices and speak out against misinformation. We must protect the press and guard its role as a disseminator of information. And we must continuously remind ourselves that we know the truth; our reality is to be trusted; we can see clearly. Doing so will be crucial in the upcoming years.
Hannah is a senior Women’s and Gender Studies major and Political Science minor.