Two words have been bouncing around in my head today: Gaslighting and Complicity.
In 1944 Ingrid Bergman starred in a movie called Gaslight. The basic premise of the movie is that, in order to get something he secretly wants, a woman’s husband slowly and insidiously convinces her that she’s going insane.
Over time, the term “gaslighting” has become a kind of slang term used when someone tries to trick you into thinking you must be making things up. They tell you you’re crazy, a conspiracy theorist, seeing shadows where shadows don’t exist. You then feel confused. Are you just seeing something that isn’t there? Maybe you’re paranoid. Maybe you only think the worst of people. And so as this person questions the questions you’re asking, the tables are turned, the focus is blurred, and the subject quietly moves from the problem you were addressing to something completely different. Gaslighting. A famed tactic of emotional abuse perpetrators and of politicians.
Donald Trump doesn’t condemn an endorsement from David Duke for juuuust long enough that the people he’s getting his message to receive it loud and clear. Then comes the “oh gosh, sorry, right, that guy is terrible” wink wink, nod nod.
Dan Patrick releases a hateful and disgusting tweet after a shooting at a gay nightclub. It stays online juuuuuuust long enough that the people he’s getting his message to receive it loud and clear. Then comes the “oh gosh, that was a strange and serendipitous accident” wink wink, nod nod.
A school district decides to un-invite a renowned children’s book author after he book talks a middle grade book dealing with a transgender protagonist. The district is silent for juuuuuuust long enough that the people they’re getting their message to receive it loud and clear. Then comes the “that’s not what we meant at all, we just don’t like authors teaching kids to talk back to authority figures” wink wink, nod nod.
And do not even get me STARTED on “religious freedom.”
“Oh, we aren’t racists/bigots/intolerant, YOU’RE the one imagining things.” Right. Just like we’ve been imagining things for decades. Just like the senators who voted against the Civil Rights Act were doing it for states’ rights. Just like the law in North Carolina is to prevent child molesters from wearing lady-costumes and lurking in restrooms.
Why can’t politicians just say what they mean? Why can’t they cop to their hatred, their bigotry, their intolerance? Why do they hide behind the cloaks of religion and provisions of safety? Do we dare hope that the reason why is because they know they’re being terrible human beings? Deep in their caustic, bigoted hearts is a glimmer of guilt? Is this why? Or, are they offering an easy out for their trying-to-be-less-horrible constituents? It isn’t a stretch to think that vile gasbags like Dan Patrick are sending two messages. One is for their foul base – the people who are openly, blatantly full of hate. And the second? That one is for the people looking for an out; the voters who would never think of themselves as racist or intolerant, and yet they vote for racist and intolerant men and women every chance they get.
This is when the second word that’s been rolling around in my brain comes into play. This is when I think about complicity. Gaslighting provides the perfect cover for complicity, especially when people join the ruse. “He said he doesn’t want the support of the Ku Klux Klan! I can vote for him!” Really? Is that what he said? “That tweet saying gay people deserve to be killed was just a crazy coincidental accident. Whew! I can totally still vote for him!” These justifications don’t come from lunatics, they come from people we all know and love. They support some of the politician’s positions, but not all of his ideals. So they vote for him anyway. No harm, no foul, right?
Voting for someone who carefully calculates ways to denigrate, shame, and marginalize is an act of complicity. Plain and simple.
“But I have gay friends,” you say. “I support marriage for everyone.”
“My working buddy is black, and he does all right,” you say. “Look how far we’ve come!”
“I can offer any book to my kid, let’s not get too riled up here,” you say. “It’s just a book.”
“It’s taxes and jobs I worry about.”
“We can’t let the government get too heavy handed.”
“Women and children must be protected.”
My friends, do not go gentle into that dark night. Do not align yourselves with the perpetrators of evil. And do not roll your eyes at me and accuse me of hyperbole. These people ARE perpetrators of evil. They quietly gaslight everyone, giving a complicit nod and handshake to anyone who wants to pick up a rifle and take matters into their own hands. They offer thoughts and prayers, they condemn terrorism, and then they take thousands of dollars to ensure possible terrorists have no obstacles in getting the guns they need to wreak havoc. They preach love and Jesus out of one side of their mouthes and hate and intolerance out of the other side. They cry over Big Government and then try to legislate women’s bodies, restroom policies, and “religious freedom.”
Do not go gentle into that dark night. Please. I know it’s easy to look the other way. I know politicians are bred to be distasteful. But my God, Hitler wasn’t Hitler until suddenly he was. (And do not invoke Godwin’s law here — when there are riots in the streets and mass murders happening regularly, an open discussion on xenophobia and fascism should be welcomed.)
Demagoguery is easy. It is a coward’s way of gaining power, and a weak-minded excuse for support. It gets a lot of response for a little bit of effort, and it doesn’t require thought or facts.
Don’t be complicit.
Don’t let the gaslight blur your vision.