Does your blood pressure spike when you watch a Trump press briefing? Do political headlines make you feel sick? Have you ever wished you didn’t read the comments section at the end of an article? Do you wonder why you ever log onto social media? Does arguing with people about Trump make you think you’re going insane?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be a victim of gaslighting. Gaslighting occurs when someone says something is true when it’s demonstrably false (e.g., Donald Trump is the most honest president we’ve ever had) in an attempt to manipulate you into questioning your memory, perception, or judgment.
To avoid becoming a victim of political gaslighting, it may help to understand its motives:
- Trolling. Trolls enjoy getting a rise out of people. They thrive on seeing others experience sadness, pain, and anger. They goad people into debates to rile them up and waste their time.
- Profit. People paid to sow discord occupy the Internet. Like trolls, they don’t listen to arguments. They receive compensation for spreading conspiracy theories and other fabrications. They throw stink bombs into an arena and then get high on the chaos that ensues because they earn money off the action.
- Election interference. Countries like Russia use social bots–autonomous computer programs designed to spread false information. Broken sentence fluency usually indicates a post originated from a social bot. Their accounts also often lack photos and profiles. The content is often clearly not original or personalized.
- Political persuasion. Trump regularly gaslights people to hide the truth. In many cases, low-information voters believe whatever he tells them. For example, they might tell you that Trump deserves praise for not taking a presidential salary even though he has bilked taxpayers for millions of dollars through vacations to his properties, fleeced the secret service with our tax dollars, and banked much more than his salary by violating the Emoluments Clause.
In a textbook gaslighting move, Trump complains about mail-in ballot corruption that doesn’t exist. The House impeached him for corrupting an election–and he’s telling us he’s worried about voter fraud. That’s how he operates. He violates a norm, and then tells people we need to protect against people breaking that norm. Trump and his supporters also often allege that people hate Trump because they’re criticizing him. They use this gaslighting tactic to discredit valid criticism.
How should we respond to Trump’s gaslighting? Here’s a list of options to consider:
- Don’t respond to it. It may not be a good use of time unless you’re employing an effective strategy to offset it. You know the truth. You’re not going to win an argument with gaslighters. Dishonest politicians, easily duped voters, and people with ulterior motives will always exist. Effective advocates talk to people interested in the truth. If you want to respond to it, share a reputable article that fact-checks the falsehood and then exit. Prepare for additional gaslighting. Don’t take the bait. Avoid arguing with people who don’t listen. It causes frustration and anger, negatively impacts health, and doesn’t advance your interests.
- Recognize that Trump gaslights because he’s weak and insecure. Trump doesn’t have coping skills, so when people scrutinize him, he responds by attacking, exaggerating, and lying. He can’t handle criticism, so he lashes out. A textbook sociopath, he only cares about his image and maintaining power, and he only feels safe when he feels superior to everyone else. Don’t expect him to change.
- Spread truth. Be a responsible steward of accurate information. Avoid sharing news without verifying it with reputable sources. A meme isn’t trustworthy–even if it contains a link to a source. Find the original source and ensure it’s a major player in the news industry before sharing information.
- Develop a support system. Gaslighting victims experience anger, depression, and feelings of despair. These feelings are valid when we see our democracy eroding and truth dying. Surround yourself with rational-thinking people to keep perspective. Limit your exposure to gaslighting. You may also find this resource useful.
- Volunteer for a campaign, donate to a political nonprofit advancing your interests, and encourage people to register to vote by mail.
Given that Trump doesn’t care about campaign laws, it’s going to take a significant effort to defeat him. The status quo approach of merely voting on Election Day will unlikely be enough to overcome his cheating, crimes, and propaganda. His fan base is united and fired up for a second term. Don’t underestimate them. We have one chance to end this long national nightmare. Let’s do everything we can to save the country.