For the two or three youngsters who may be reading this, the term “gaslight” comes most famously from the eponymous 1944 film (though there was a previous film and play) in which a new bride finds herself questioning her own hold on reality. As it turns out, her loving husband is engineering her madness using a few parlor tricks combined with a systematic denial of her experiences, all in an effort to secure her hidden riches. These days, of course, the term is often applied to the Trump administration’s habit of strenuously denying the blueness of the sky. This tactic could be an embrace of post-modernist critical theory, moronic incompetence, pure anarcho-nihilism, or a systematic effort to devalue the civil institutions that usually serve as a break on autocracy. Evidence for the latter theory comes from the long history of dictatorial regimes using exactly this method. It’s even a central theme in George Orwell’s 1984, in which he highlights Big Brother’s exercise of brute power by making the book’s rebellious protagonist believe that 2+2=5. This up-is-down down-is-up strategy has been in full display during the last two weeks as the various elements of administration have claimed, backed off, deflected, reasserted, disavowed and reasserted again that Barack Obama (supposedly along with British intelligence services) was monitoring communications at Trump tower.
The other possibility is that this strategy is distracting us, sapping our motivation. As Sam Bee points out, #TheResistance hasn’t actually been that great at getting out the vote in some of the actual special elections that have been held in the past few weeks. There’s also been some talk of lower call volumes to congressional offices. We have to keep up the pressure.