Image courtesy of mediamatters.org
By Joe Thorpe
Wikipedia defines gaslighting as a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s beliefs. Gaslighting has become the primary means for members of the GOP electorate to communicate with their constituents.
Through social media, I signed up to receive regular emails from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, whose webpage claims to be the “Certified Website of President Donald J. Trump.” The committee is really the name of President Trump’s campaign fundraising organization.
The Trump fundraising organization emails are laden with psychological and intimidation tactics in an attempt to manipulate the receiver into a distorted view of reality.
According to politicalcompass.org’s political compass test, I rank deeply into the left-libertarian view of political issues. Mind you, some of what is politicized are women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental protection and even racism. I do not consider myself to be scaled to the extreme of any political ideology. More so, I feel I am simply a rational human being with a heart who sees the rights of other groups outside of my own category to be as important as the rights given to me or those within my demographic.
This rational view allows me to remain fair-minded when observing the political nature of language. My education provides me with the tools I need to think critically and dissect speech and text for bias, lies and other forms of manipulation like gaslighting.
On November 13, 2019 I received an email of the type I am used to seeing now. The email is a request for donations to the Trump 2020 re-election campaign, but that is only discernible once I get through the madness of the language in the email itself and cognitively decode what it is that I am reading.
Here is a rundown of the information I received from top to bottom of the email and an analysis of what I am reading.
At the top of the email is a Trump/Pence 2020 campaign banner. Really nothing unusual about that. The next line reads, “FAKE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS HAVE BEGUN!”
Now, you may ask yourself, what do the impeachment hearings have to do with Trump’s re-election fundraising? Well, it doesn’t.
Let’s look at the issues surrounding this statement. First, the impeachment hearings are not “fake”; they are very real. What the email intends to imply by “fake” is that there is no basis for the hearings, therefore fake in their presentation of evidence. The overly exclamatory use of all caps, bold, underling and an exclamation point are a ploy to cause alarm and effect the pathos of the reader.
The following paragraphs (if they can be called that) look and read more like a ransom note than a fundraising request.
The following are the first two paragraphs as they appear in the email: “The Impeachment Scam hearings begin today! This is a complete Fake Hearing (trial) to interview Never Trumpers and a Pelosi-Schiff SCAM against the Republican Party and me.
It’s obvious they hate me, but more importantly, they HATE YOU. The Democrats know they can’t win in 2020, so they want to rip the power from your hands by ERASING your VOTE, ERASING your VOICE, and ERASING your FUTURE!”
The apparent grammatical gaffes are intentional manipulations. The incorrect usage of capitalization is a manipulative tactic used by whoever authored this email to mimic the President’s style on Twitter in an attempt to fool the reader into believing that the president wrote this email himself. The first paragraph accomplishes this manipulation fully.
Paragraph number two is where the real gaslighting begins. A suggestion, one supposedly being made by the President, that Democrats patently hate all U.S. citizens that are members of the Republican Party, is manifestly and dangerously false. Convincing GOP constituents that this is true is the definition of gaslighting. Secondly, threatening the constitutional right to vote is enough to alarm any American. The claim that the impeachment hearings are an attempt to “erase” votes, assumedly to mean from the 2016 presidential election is false. And, the language “erase your future,” falsely implies that votes are being taken away from citizens in the 2020 election if Trump is no longer eligible to be a candidate in that election.
Both of the claims are nothing more than lies. Impeachment is not a constitutional tool that can be applied without a process that requires substantial evidence. Impeachment cannot “erase” a vote.
The email continues in this manner for several more paragraphs before the subject of donations comes up.
In another all bold all caps statement, “Trump” says, “I WANT TO RAISE 3 MILLION DOLLARS IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS.” The email goes on to declare that for those 24 hours, Trump instituted an “EMERGENCY DOUBLE-MATCH” for all donations.
What’s wrong with ramping up speech to obtain donation dollars? Nothing. The problem here is the context. The email so far has been about the impeachment hearings. Like other emails from this account that I have received, the donations are suggested to be a part of an impeachment defense fund. There is no such fund. It does not exist. This is an ironic circumstance considering the impeachment hearings surround the president’s alleged illegal actions to aid his re-election campaign.
The most concerning language in this email, however, comes at the end, just before a sign-off from the President thanking me personally, featuring a profile shot and signed by Donald J. Trump.
The last sentence reads as such, “I’ve requested a list of every patriot who steps up with a critical contribution during the Fake Impeachment Hoax. I expect to see your name on that list.”
The idea that my personal activity as to whether or not I have donated to the Trump re-election campaign is actively tracked by the President himself, and that supposedly his administration is keeping a list of citizens who have donated, or more importantly a list of those who have not donated, is frightening.
The idea of someone such as Trump, who openly expresses his admiration of the world’s current murderous dictators, is keeping a list of citizens that informs him who it is that he may deem patriotic or not, and by extension whose rights will be protected under the Constitution of the United States, is nothing short of terrifying, especially when looking back through history at other leaders who used similar tactics.
As a person who never intends to support Donald Trump in any endeavor he pursues under any circumstances and given the content of the email as a whole, this language feels like a not so veiled threat.