How to Stay Sane and Find Hope in Trump’s Gaslit America
It’s been a crazy 24 hours. It’s been a crazy few years. Crazy being the operative word.
The plight of Americans and those around the world watching this spectacle is in keeping a firm grasp on reality under a constant threat of deception that intentionally challenges our sanity. Experts have explored in depth the concept of gaslighting and the current president’s regular employment of it. In fact, Amanda Carpenter, a Republican CNN contributor and former Ted Cruz communications staffer, wrote a fairly well received book with over 200 pages dedicated to the topic. The book is aptly titled, “Gaslighting America: Why We Love it When Trump Lies to Us.”
In Carpenter’s book, she posits that the method to the wide-scale madness Trump incites follows a simple five-step process:
1. Stake a Claim.
2. Advance and Deny.
3. Create Suspense.
4. Discredit the Opponent.
It’s frustrating to know that our sense of reality can be turned upside down in five simple steps, but we must now, more than ever, accept the fact that our collective minds are pliable. We have traditionally clung to facts as a foothold, a focal point to help us navigate tumultuous and confusing times. What are we left with when facts are so easily dismissed and a proven liar is at the helm? We naturally next turn to each other for validation and normalcy, only to find a good chunk of neighbors, family and friends have fallen victim to the cult of personality, that they’ve become an army of blindly loyal supporters who do his bidding by spreading his rhetoric and falsehoods. They not only believe the lies they’re fed, they believe them and in him with such passion that the phenomenon itself becomes gaslighting, making us question our own instinctive suspicions.
Trump’s ability to sow doubt in our own sanity is his greatest power and we are being made fools if we somehow believe that anyone — left, right or middle — is inoculated from its effects. Whether you have become part of the MAGA army, the Resistance army, the casual observers or the growing group of disenfranchised and weary folks who choose to just not pay attention, you are playing a role in this insanity. We all are.
Self-awareness is key to survival as individuals and as a country. Even in light of an impeachment inquiry, we have to admit that Trump’s tactics have worked. He was never supposed to be taken seriously enough to rise to power. He did. He was never supposed to retain power after breaking laws and trashing the Constitution. He has. People were never supposed to believe him when the claims he makes are dishonest and borderline ridiculous. They do. Given success he has enjoyed by gaslighting the nation, it is inevitable that we can expect more of the destructive same as he finds himself in an oversight corner.
We will be inundated with projection, deception and accusations in the coming months as it all unfolds. Although it’s best to be as informed as possible, we must be careful not to get so caught in the details that we are unable to see truths in plain sight. Trump has made a number of public admissions related to unethical practices and criminal behavior — we don’t need a “transcript” to tell us what he already has. The facts are not nearly as complicated as some will make them out to be, so fix your focus on the obvious in order to retain your sanity through these hearings and hearsay. You know it’s wrong that a presidential election was aided by a foreign adversary. You know it’s wrong that a president extorted a country to aid in his re-election campaign. You know it’s wrong that Trump and his family profit from the office of the presidency. You know it’s wrong that he obstructs justice, espouses nationalism and prefers “love” from dictators over allies.
Most people know these things are wrong inherently and if we remind ourselves of those simple truths, we just might come out of this with some semblance of our brains intact.
However, nobody is wholly free from blame in today’s maniacal situation. Trump alone is not responsible for getting us here — he is far from the genius that kind of pursuit would require, but he is an opportunist who has mastered the art of the lie. Armed with his very limited skillset, he simply capitalized on our fractures. Many people were and are willing to look past his faults because something in his messaging made them feel heard and seen — in this way, he didn’t rise to power in a vacuum, he merely filled one. We have to take a hard look at the conditions that created this mess, to try and understand what alienated so many voters and what roles we each played in the process. There’s serious resistance to that kind of empathy right now, and for many good reasons.
It’s hard to feel compassion for people who turn their heads to or support his amoral policies, and in some cases, forgiveness is not possible. But there are an uncomfortable amount of people out there who were entranced by the fervor and believed in promises he made. In the end, when all of this shakes out and his grip on the media circus dies down, there will be millions of people who have to reckon with the fact that they were manipulated and lied to, and that will not be an easy task in today’s divisive culture. Simply, we have to give most (not all) a home to come back to if we’re going to move forward. If not, we’ll soon find ourselves here again.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t hold those accountable who used this time to incite hate and fear, but it’s imperative we don’t lump every person on the right into categories deserving of some real ire. Not everyone on the right is a sinner and not all on the left have been saints. Again, his manipulation and gaslighting have affected us all in way or another and the most important thing now is to stop playing the prescribed roles in his twisted game.
There are three simple things we can do to survive a gaslit nation in chaos. First, we combat doubt by focusing on simple truths. Second, we combat division by showing compassion whenever possible. And third, we combat fear of the future by voting in massive numbers that ensure victory. The consequences of slipping in any one of those three areas will be grave and long lasting, so don’t slip.
This is not hyperbole. This is a reality check in a society that has, by design, largely lost touch with what’s real.