To gaslight is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country. – Lauren Duca, Teen Vogue
Gaslighting as a practice has come to the forefront of the collective American consciousness since Nov. 8 as now-president Donald Trump has intentionally utilized harmful rhetoric in an attempt to convince voters that his direct quotes, campaign promises, misdeeds, and more exist only in our imaginations. Writer Lauren Duca took him apart piece by scummy piece in a scathing op-ed that appeared, so fittingly, in Teen Vogue. Duca accuses Trump of "normalizing deception" by doubling down on lies and painting himself as a victim of the media (tactics from which vice president Pence is not immune).
Both of those men – and all gaslighters – rely on an abusive tactic that's used to psychologically manipulate and weaken women in the interest of complete control by their partners. The gaslighting victim is led to question their (usually her) sanity by the abuser, often through the abuser's denial of previous incidents, or through staged incidents designed to disorient the victim. Gaslighting tactics are favored by sociopaths and narcissists.
The term originated in Gas Light, first a 1938 play and later a 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman (watch it in full on YouTube). In the film adaptation, antagonist Gregory Anton, in an attempt to have his new wife Paula committed so he can snag some jewels she inherited from an aunt, systematically and socially isolates her. In this controlled environment, he accuses Paula of moving paintings or pieces of jewelry that he has surreptitiously stowed (only to later sneak them back into Paula's possession, allowing her to stumble across them and thus doubt her memories). "You know perfectly well how you imagine things," he says to her protestations. "If you're not lying, there's only one alternative – you're losing your wits!" To add to the list of violations: he hides her mail; intentionally humiliates Paula by openly flirting with their maid Nancy; mansplains the most basic of household tasks; removes her only physical ally (the dog); and says things like, "Don't cry, you'll spoil your looks."
Gregory is the orchestrator of Paula's humiliation and her spiral into doubt and panic, setting the stage for her public disgrace, and leaving her so brainwashed that even when her salvation is at hand, she doubts its veracity. He is a piece of shit. "You tried to kill my mind," she accuses him. After this relationship, this abuse, how can she ever trust another partner? More importantly, how can she ever trust herself?
Watching the film feels worse than watching a cat toy with a mouse at times – because it feels all too familiar. The very same style of systematic abuse and manipulation is taking place on the grandest of scales. Believe your memories, call it out when you see it, and protect yourself. It's going to be a long four years.