We're All (Still) Being Gaslit

While it’s no All Too Well or, even, Cruel Summer, since Folklore came out last week, I’ve listened to the song Mad Woman too many times to count. I then went back and made an entire Spotify playlist with songs about being gaslit because, tbh, I’m kind of going through it right now. 

Obviously, songs like Mad Woman always hit differently, but, around my 15th listen, I also happened to be scrolling through Twitter when I saw one too many Trump tweets and started to get, like, really angry. Then I remembered that the Trump campaign and most of the GOP is relying on the same gaslighting tactics as every boy Taylor writes about and the all of the f*ckboys I’ve *almost* dated. 

Before I get ahead of myself, gaslighting is a form of manipulation that makes someone feel like they’re actually crazy, forcing them to invalidate their own thoughts and feelings. While it’s most common in interpersonal and romantic relationships, it can happen at a wider scale, like when the president gaslights his entire country.  

Here are a few examples of talking points that they use to gaslight Americans: 

“The Radical Left”

Donald Trump, everyone who works at Fox, and most of the Republican party have latched onto the phrase “radical left” over the last several years. They tend to like using it as a description of most of the policies that the Democratic party supports and advocates for. As someone who studied politics in London for a semester and hasn’t shut up about it, it’s really important that we deconstruct the myth that a “radical left” exists in America. “Radical left” policies like increased access to healthcare and gun control are commonplace in most countries. In many, they’re even seen as the bare minimum.

While political commentators like to talk about the fact that American parties are more polarized – or further apart – than ever. This narrative implies that the Democratic and Republican parties have moved left and right, respectively, at the same rate.

This is absolutely not the case, as demonstrated by this New York Times article from last year. The Democrats certainly have moved to the left, but the GOP has moved much further right at a quicker rate, leaving Democrats way closer to the center than the Republican party. 

The term “radical left” is really just a way to force the left to concede on important legislation and aspects of the Democratic party’s platform.

It’s also worth considering that the fear of having a candidate that was seen as radical is part of the reason we went from the youngest, most diverse field in history to picking an old white guy for a nominee (love you, Joe!). 

IDK about anyone else, but this has direct parallels to the guy who told me I was being crazy and controlling when I said I’d appreciate it if he maybe stopped hooking up with other girls, please? Like, I was really asking for a bare minimum level of respect, but to him, it was “moving too fast, and it was way too much!” 

IDK!? I just feel like whether it’s from guys or politicians, we shouldn’t have to beg for the bare minimum. 


“They’re Taking Away Our Rights” 

Let’s go back to things like gun control for a hot sec to talk about rights. Conservatives love to use the Second Amendment to push back on arguments for increased gun control. While I’m not going to fully get into this debate because I can only dedicate one or two of the very few brain cells I have left to this, I want to point out what the actual amendment says. 

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

So, the Second Amendment was written and ratified in 1789, when our country was literally brand new. We didn’t have a legitimate army, in fact, part of the motivation behind the Second Amendment was that the founders were nervous about the country having a strong standing army like Britain’s. They were worried that a standing army would limit citizens’ rights. There would always be a looming threat that the federal government could deploy against its citizens.

If you think this sounds like anything that might be happening around the country today? You’re right. But, I digress. 

The argument that gun control is taking away Second Amendment rights reminds me of a guy who likes to revise history and change the meanings of words mid-fight. You know, the kind who says, “just because I said I really liked you, slept over every other night for two months, and brought you to my grandpa’s 94th birthday party doesn’t mean I had feelings for you, I thought you knew that.” 


“This Is What Joe Biden’s America Will Look Like”


You may have noticed a new round of Trump ads that depict what he thinks America will look like under a Biden presidency. These ads have footage of protests, riots, and violence that have all happened during the Trump presidency. The ads also falsely say that Biden is in favor of defunding the police despite him saying the opposite in several interviews. 

These ads are the same as saying “seriously, I can’t believe you’re upset about the way I talk to you, it could be so much worse. It’s not like I’m manipulating or lying to you, all I did was say it’s psycho that you told your friends about me and punched a hole in the wall.” 

While we’re on the subject, let’s touch upon how Trump gaslights his own base. It cracks me up that his supporters keep walking around with MAGA hats as if Trump’s campaign didn’t briefly try to use “Keep America Great.”

MAGA gives his base a goal and a fictional enemy, completely distracting from the reality that over the last almost four years, Trump has accomplished almost nothing he promised his supporters he has, and America is further from ‘greatness’ than it has been in quite a long time. 


“Mail-In Ballots Lead to Fraud” 



This is one of the more dangerous examples of manipulation by the Trump campaign, and one Twitter flagged as misleading. In a typical year, somewhere around 20% of Americans vote either by mail or through absentee ballot (spoiler alert: they’re literally the same thing). Though this 20% includes the Trump family and most of his administration, Trump has recently picked safe, mail-in ballots, as his new enemy. He has called them unsafe and said that they would put us at further risk of election tampering. More candidly, he expressed fear that expansion of early voting and vote by mail means that “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” 

Multiple studies have shown that not only is voting by mail safe, but it is proven to favor neither party. However, in a normal year, in-person voting serves as a barrier to many people getting to cast their ballots at all, and, in a pandemic, this will obviously be worsened. What Trump really is saying is that when people who may not ordinarily get to vote are given the option and when more people vote in general, Republicans often lose. (He has also openly said this.)

Here, we’re being told not to trust an institution that is not only very trustworthy but vital to the functioning of democracy. It’s like being told that your friend is lying to you and jealous after telling a significant other that the same friend saw them cheating on you or pointed out your significant other’s problematic behavior. 

Personally, I think that these manipulation tactics coming from elected officials impact women in different ways than they do men. Women are often gaslit by their significant others, co-workers, family members, and even friends. While some women do the gaslighting, we are more likely to be on the receiving end. 

When these tactics become commonplace in daily interactions, they can have devastating psychological impacts. According to Psychology Today, over time, a victim of gaslighting will stop trusting their own judgment, over apologize, question their knowledge or memory, and have difficulties making decisions. 

Gaslighting is just one of many forms of emotional abuse and manipulation that society conditions women to accept and that we see in our political world. Last week, AOC was verbally attacked in front of the media, our president regularly comments on female politicians and reporters’ looks, the list of misogyny in politics goes on and on. All of these things are connected to one another. 

The idea that Trump is a misogynistic, manipulative narcissist who uses gaslighting for political power is not new at all, but it’s getting worse. The effects of gaslighting by Trump and his cronies have already impacted the 2020 election and will continue doing so. 

Just like our toxic exes, Trump probably won’t change, so it’s up to us to be aware of what he is doing and dump his ass on November third. 

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Reagan Anthony
Reagan Anthony
Reagan Anthony is aggressively from Cleveland and a junior at Tulane University. Her hobbies include taste testing chicken nuggets, 6 AM workout classes, and reminding people of her peanut allergy. If she isn’t color-coding her notes, she can be found stirring the pot at her favorite frat house. Reagan is spending the semester in London, and (like every other basic girl abroad) will be documenting her adventures on Instagram @thatssooreagan.