Gaslighting Our Politics
Flags, idols, culture wars, and crazies
Your word of the Day: Gaslighting:
A driver of disorientation and mistrust, gaslighting is “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.” 2022 saw a 1740% increase in lookups for gaslighting, with high interest throughout the year.
Its origins are colorful: the term comes from the title of a 1938 play and the movie based on that play, the plot of which involves a man attempting to make his wife believe that she is going insane. His mysterious activities in the attic cause the house’s gas lights to dim, but he insists to his wife that the lights are not dimming and that she can’t trust her own perceptions.
I really don’t have to explain why gaslighting was named Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2022, do I? (BTW, Our colleague, Amanda Carpenter, has written a fantastic book on this: “Gaslighting America.”)
Which brings us back to the GOP response to the State of the Union by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who declared that “We are under attack in a left-wing culture war ... Every day we are told we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags, and worship their false idols.”
Why, yes, those left-wingers and their flags and false idols.
Sanders also claimed that “we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”
If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that the culture war is absolutely what they want to fight… 24/7…. from Drag Queen Story Hour, CRT, and wokeness, to praying for the death of the president, and the panic over litter boxes in schools. Just watch Fox News pretty much any minute of the day.
But this comment from Sanders is the one that stuck with me: “The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left," she declared. "The choice is between normal or crazy.”
Thus spake the spokesman for a party that has flooded the zone with freaks, conspiracists, crackpots, cosplaying seditionists, snake-charmers, and loons of every sort.
So, in that sense, the Honorable Ms. Sanders was right.
But it’s also important to recognize gaslighting when you see it. The lights are dimming… and there’s no one in the house.
Even as Sanders spoke, her old boss was raving about a “stollen” election, tossing out accusations that the governor of Florida was a pedophile, while GOP representatives were channeling their best Cruella de Vil imitations, and their leading presidential candidate’s old buddy was calling for a literal race war.
You may have lost track of Alex Jones after his numerous legal humiliations, but millions of his followers have not. For years, Jones was promoted by right-wing media figures, and he was apparently on very chummy texting terms with Fox’s Tucker Carlson. The former president was so enamored of the conspiracist that he called him the Monday after the 2016 election to thank him for his support in the campaign. “I think Alex Jones may be the single most important voice in the alternative conservative media,” declared Trump whisperer Roger Stone, who describes the conspiracy theorist as “a valuable asset” who will “rally the people around President Trump’s legislative program.”
So what is Jones up to this week? “Alex Jones says ‘a gang of racist, foaming at the mouth Black people’ are coming for your family, advises audience to ‘kill every person you need to’.”
ALEX JONES (HOST): They intend on making the world so hellish in the build up to 2030 that everybody will just wink, wink when they release the race-specific bioweapons starting with Africa that are gonna wipe that continent absolutely out….
So I don't like the big giant African hoards being brainwashed against us and the left programming brown people to hate white people. It's all part of a plan, folks. It's all part of a very sophisticated plan and I don't just study history.
I don't just study the New World Order. I have the holy spirit. Doesn't mean I'm a perfect vessel, far from it. But I do have deep connection to God and God tells me that if I take part in wiping out the brown people, the Black people, that I will be cut off from God. We’re supposed to lift each other up.
Now that doesn't mean when a gang of racist, foaming at the mouth Black people come to rape, rob, or kill you, which is just, it's out of control right now, that you don't defend yourself and kill every person you need to protect your family if they're attacking you.
Not normal, Governor Huckabee Sanders.
But this was hardly the the most egregious example of political gaslighting served up to us this week.
Perhaps the classic moment was the voluble performative outrage of the GOP when President Biden suggested that some of them wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare.
HOW DARE HE! When nO oNE ever, eVeR suGgeSted suCh a tHiNg.
Except, of course, for this guy:
And this guy: Florida senator Rick Scott proposed that, “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”
And this guy: “Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs.”
And all these guys:
And… remember these guys? Via Semafor:
Many of the GOP’s top potential contenders voted for the former House speaker [Paul Ryan’s] budgets, which famously would have turned Medicare into a voucher program for private insurance to save money….
[Former] Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem all voted for the Ryan budget while members of the House. As governor of South Carolina at the time, Nikki Haley praised Ryan’s Medicare plan for “trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity.”
During his time in Congress, meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis voted for a series of budget resolutions crafted by the conservative Republican Study Committee that would have voucherized Medicare for new beneficiaries, slowed Social Security cost of living increases, and raised the retirement age for both programs.
But, wait. There’s more.
I regret to tell you that gaslighting is not the sole province of the Right. (Check out the comment section later, which will be full of terms like “both-sidesism” and “imaginary hippies.”)
Maybe you remember the contretemps over banning gas stoves, which was totally, absolutely not a real thing.
Even though some GOPers reacted with performative childishness, my colleague Sonny Bunch pointed out, the issue is not actually just made up. Via the WSJ:
Progressive cities such as Berkeley, San Francisco and New York City have already banned gas stoves and other appliances in new buildings. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul this week proposed a ban on gas equipment including stoves in new small buildings in 2025 and larger ones in 2028.
Come 2030, New Yorkers won’t be allowed to replace their gas stoves with new ones if they break down. “As you begin making a transition, everyone will have to switch out appliances,” a state official explained. This is how the left’s green-energy “transition” will work for all things. Come 2035, New Yorkers and Californians won’t be able to buy new gasoline-powered cars either.
Then, there is the whole “Defund the Police” thing, which we are assured NO ONE really wants to do…
Except, of course, for the quite prominent organizations that continue to say that they do, indeed, want to defund the police. Our friend, Jonah Goldberg shares part of the Black Lives Matter Foundation’s statement on the killing of Tyre Nichols (emphasis added):
This moment affirms what we’ve known all along: Reform doesn’t work. Incremental progress is too slow. Diversifying a police department will not work. No police department, no matter how diverse, can ever overcome the reality that it is a direct descendant of slave patrols. Police will never keep our communities safe. Our call to defund the police includes ending traffic stops for minor traffic violations and removing police from traffic interactions.
Finally (deep, deep breath), there is the trans issue. We are often told that only random progs on Twitter take extreme position on trans issues.
But, as Giselle Donnelly (who is herself trans) wrote recently in the Bulwark, there are, in fact, “those on the left who have used the trans rights movement as a battering ram in their war against mainstream society, heteronormativity, the patriarchy, et cetera, et cetera.”
And they are not obscure or fringe figures.
Donnelly cites “the response of the omnipresent Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice and staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union and go-to spokesperson for media on all things trans.
“When Congress recently passed the Respect for Marriage Act, codifying the right of same-sex marriage, Strangio wrote:
I feel an inexplicable amount of rage witnessing the Senate likely overcome the filibuster to vote to codify marriage rights for same-sex couples. . . . I find it disappointing how much time and resource went into fighting for inclusion in the deeply flawed and fundamentally violent institution of civil marriage. I believe in many ways, the mainstream LGBTQ legal movement caused significant harm in further entrenching the institution of marriage as an organizing structure of US civil society.
Writes Donnelly: “To the degree that this sort of radicalism has become the face of the movement for preserving citizenship liberties for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans Americans, it’s hardly a wonder that it provokes an ugly reaction.”
She’s right, of course. Which is why it’s important not to engage in gaslighting by pretending that this sort of thing isn’t out there.
Iran-Iraq War Redux
So, here me out, Charlie... I am going to agree with Sanders. She is 100% correct that her people didn't start the culture wars and never wanted them. If everyone with any institutional or monetary power or of public adulation continued to be straight, white Christians with a morality code of backwater Arkansas families in 1925, and if everyone who wasn't those things understood they deserved to be second class citizens, then there would be no reason to fight culture wars.
If they Jews hadn't whined about christian prayer in public schools, the gays not shoved it in everyone's faces that they deserved to be treated with dignity and respect, and definitely if those black people hadn't been so uppidy with their demands for fair bus seating and water fountain access, then we could all just live in peace and prosperity together as Americans.
The omnipresent Chase who? There’s a difference between using an elected office to spread unreasoning fear and resentment based on a lie and the positions of activist / interest groups. To claim equivalence might be called, well...