Anyone who has lived with a malignant narcissist will know exactly what I mean. You can catch them in an obvious lie and they will find a way to make it your fault and make you the liar. Not only that, what I used to refer to as their “cheering section” or the “peanut gallery” will always support the narcissist’s side of the story. It’s called gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a sinister manipulation used by narcissists (and others) to promote a harmful and false reality that benefits the narcissist at the expense of their victims. It’s cruel and crazy-making and disempowering and infuriating, and it can even make you question your own sanity and sap you of your will to live.
The Republican Party has become a malignant narcissist. America is no longer a two party system, it is a system of two factions. One faction, the last of the legitimate parties, the Democratic Party, wants to protect democracy. The other, the Republicans, want to destroy democracy and replace it with tyranny.
Democrats want to preserve voting rights, restore the nation’s health after a deadly pandemic, fight global warming and provide affordable healthcare for all Americans. Republicans want to cut taxes for the rich and retake power by any means. Once in power they want to ensure they remain in power for all time. The only way to do that is to destroy the democratic system and deprive most Americans of their right to vote.
Republicans are gaslighting the American people, and you can see it in their recent volte-face on the attack on the Capitol. In the immediate aftermath of the January 6th insurrection, many individual Republicans knew exactly who was to blame and they said as much. Donald Trump was to blame, and Trump was the one who inspired the hateful and potentially murderous mob to attack on the Capitol where many Republicans shivered on the floor, fearing for their lives.
Today they are spinning a new counter-narrative of that day. Republicans not only absolve Trump of any wrongdoing, they have now concocted a gaslighting version of events in which those accused of rioting were patriots and Nancy Pelosi was to blame for the violence.
The comparison of the Republican Party with malignant narcissists isn’t perfect, of course. With an individual narcissist there would have been no latency period of self-examination, no point in which Trump would have been blamed. It took Republicans a while for them to come together and get their stories straight, a disadvantage a group has that an individual does not. But the net effect is identical. The narcissist concocts a new story and gaslights anyone who doesn’t buy into it, and the peanut gallery is there and ready to cheer them on. Republicans know they are lying, but as long as enough people believe them they will go right on doing it.
This is not a uniquely American phenomenon either. Whenever democracy dies, whether it is in pre-Caesar Rome or Weimar Germany, the patterns are always the same. “This is happening all over the place — it is so much linked to the democratic backsliding and rising of authoritarian movements,” said Laura Thornton, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy. “It’s about the same sort of post-truth world. You can just repeat a lie over and over and, because there’s so little trust, people will believe it.”
But you don’t have to be a historian to see the parallels with tyranny. If you are a past victim of a malignant narcissist you already know the playbook by heart. Joe Manchin to the contrary, there are no more hopes for bipartisan arrangements. One does not go to the bargaining table with a narcissist, one goes to war. There will never be peace in America as long as the current incarnation of the Republican Party remains. Somehow, some way, they must go. But make no mistake, they are the enemy of the people and the enemy of Democracy, and if Republicans ever retake power it may very well be for the last time. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.