You’ve heard of course about Trump’s 2nd Amendment “solution” to the Hillary-as-president problem that he proposed yesterday:
The intense backpedaling, as evidenced briefly in the video above, has commenced immediately and continued unabated today, with Trump’s surrogates minimizing his “gaffe” (that wasn’t) as best as they could. Their trumpsplanations have ranged from ridiculous but amusing (Trump, despite having the best words, don’t speak so good, what with not having a Ph.D. in grammar) through misguided (it was a “joke gone bad,” said Paul Ryan, unaware apparently that narcissistic psychopaths do not have a sense of humor) to patently absurd (it’s about unification, y’all!).
Trump himself attributed the debacle to a nasty media conspiracy (what else) but let the truth slip out, inadvertently and with a plausible spin, by admitting that this controversy is “a good thing for me.”
As the media and public storm rages on, let’s stop for a moment to remember that we are dealing with a con man who has had a lifetime of manipulation and abuse of others to practice his schtick. We are being had, again, and it may be instructive to examine how and why.
What Trump is doing is called gaslighting. As Christine Louis de Canonville writes on her blog,
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. The techniques used in “Gaslighting” by the narcissist are similar to those used in brainwashing, interrogation, and torture that have been used in psychological warfare by intelligence operative, law enforcement and other forces for decades.
A form of crazy-making, this abusive tactic used by “natural-born” manipulative abusers everywhere is meant to engender fear-based submission to the abuser. When used repeatedly, as it always is, it makes the victims lose a sense of reality and of their own agency and strength, sometimes even leading to sympathy for and an identification with the abuser (Stockholm Syndrome).
Gaslighting can be done on an individual and mass scale, and Trump has been doing it since the beginning of his campaign (if not before). He also does it with predictability embedded in his character defect, as these expressions of his own aggression and calls for violence from others are eruptions of narcissistic rage which follow his personal humiliations.
He incites aggression, but when called on it, denies doing it and blames “the victims” — the subjects of his aggressive remarks and/or those taking him to task for them — and immediately assumes the stance of a victim himself. Because his denials and deflections may sound plausible, people end up giving him the benefit of a doubt and he “wins.”
For a malignant narcissist*, such overt displays of aggression, followed by denials and victim blaming, are meant to meet the following objectives, immediate and long-term:
- release the pent-up rage;
- exact revenge for the “wounding” on the humiliators or their proxies, or even on unrelated subjects;
- patch up his narcissistic wound and restore the elevated (grandiose) sense of his power and importance;
- divert attention from the reason for his humiliation (his incompetence, dishonesty, etc.);
- cow the victims into submission by engendering confusion and fear (gaslighting);
- continue with whatever schemes he’s perpetrating at the moment.
This behavior is not conscious and typically is not premeditated (although it can be), but it is purposeful (see the above objectives, esp. 4 to 6).
At a rally in Cedar Rapids on the day of the Iowa caucuses, Trump offered to pay the legal fees of supporters who attacked anyone trying to throw fruit at him. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously,” he said. “Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. I promise.” As it turned out, there were no attempts to throw fruit at him at the rally.
Later in February, at a Las Vegas rally on the eve of the Nevada caucuses, Trump said of a protester, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
“We’re not allowed to punch back any more,” Trump lamented in Las Vegas. “You know what they used to do to a guy like that in a place like this?” he said. “They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
And last month, Trump said he’d like to “hit” speakers at the Democratic National Convention who spoke ill of him.
“The things that were said about me. You know what, I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard,” Trump said. “I was gonna hit this guy so hard, his head would spin. He wouldn’t know what the hell happened.”
It is worth noting that these incidents followed some major public humiliation that exposed his ineptness and dishonesty (widely publicized and disastrous interviews with the WaPo and NYT in early spring, the collective bashing at the DNC, and the latest, his inane “economy” speech on Monday). His outrageous statements thus effectively deflect attention from his glaring lack of substance and basic qualifications for any office, much less that of the American president. But as long as we debate whether he really called for Hillary’s assassination or not, we are not talking about his lack of actionable solutions to the problems he’s promising to cure. Remember, he admitted so himself when he said that the controversy is good for him.
Astonishingly, his jaw-dropping statements about wanting to hit the DNC speakers did not elicit much outrage, suggesting that either we are immune to Trump’s threatening behavior or find it acceptable, maybe both. (That, however, was before The Khan Effect, fully exposing the chasm between the humanity with a conscience and Trump, took hold, which may be the reason for this relative silence.)
It does not help that the media insist on treating the man as if he were a normal candidate, straining for reasonable explanations and equivalencies, as documented by Peter Dreier :
The headlines about Trump’s comment that appeared on-line within hours of his speech reflect how constrained the media are in reporting such an outrageous statement:
- “Trump Appears To Suggest ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Stop Clinton” (NPR),
- “Donald Trump Says ‘Second Amendment People’ Can Stop Hillary Clinton From Curbing Gun Rights” (Wall Street Journal),
- “Trump sparks uproar by saying ‘maybe there is’ a way for ‘2nd Amendment people’ to keep Clinton from naming justices” (Los Angeles Times),
- “Donald Trump Suggests ‘Second Amendment People’ Could Act Against Hillary Clinton” (New York Times),
- “Trump suggests ‘Second Amendment people’ could stop Clinton” (Chicago Tribune),
- “What Ever Could Trump Have Meant With This Joke About ‘Second Amendment People’ and Clinton?” (Slate),
- “Trump ‘Second Amendment’ Quip Seen as Veiled Threat Against Clinton” (NBC)
- “Donald Trump says ‘Second Amendment people’ may be the only check on Clinton judicial appointments” (Washington Post)
- “Trump in trouble over ‘Second Amendment’ remark” (Politico).
All these headlines are accurate but misleading. They don’t explain what he meant or put what he said in political context.
He is right, they don’t. They do illustrate, however, how the narcissistic collusion that’s behind much evil in the world, happens: almost imperceptibly and almost with our full, though usually unwitting, participation.
There is dangerous but predictable logic to Trump’s destructive behavior. And this is just a preview of things to come, should he become our president (may fates help us). Understanding what we are dealing with — a con, one in a long series of many, this time the largest of them all, perpetrated by a psychologically primitive, but skilled in abuse, conscienceless manipulator who’s driven by an insatiable desire for power and adulation — would be helpful to the media as well as the American citizens dealing with the inevitable emotional reactions of being subjected to such abuse (confusion, fear, anger, helplessness, exhaustion). We are being led by our noses; it is up to us to resist this enforced march toward an abyss.
*Not a medical diagnosis.