For me, one of the most egregious parts of gaslighting is what I call “the game of changing the rules.” Those of you who have any experience with narcissists, particularly malignant narcissists, know exactly what I’m talking about and how the game is played.
Here’s an example drawn from real life. Let’s say for years the narcissist used social occasions to publicly humiliate you by talking openly and jokingly to your mutual friends about your faults. One night during a social occasion you turn the tables on them. You do it right back at them. You laugh and joke about their faults, their foibles. He or she smiles good-naturedly and laughs along with you. It’s not until you’re back in the car when the talons come out. How dare you do that? Who the hell do you think you are? When you point out a small fraction of the dozens of times they did the exact same thing to you they tell you, in no uncertain terms, why this time is different. They explain it condescendingly, jeeringly, as if you’re too stupid to understand and have to be spoon fed the reasons.
The narcissist’s rationale is difficult to follow. Sometimes it’s so convoluted you can’t reassemble it in its entirety later when describing it to a friend — or to a therapist. That is a classic instance of “changing the rules,” and confusion is a classic side effect of the labyrinthine explanation of why the rules need changing. After all, two of the salient features of the narcissist’s toolbox are hypocrisy combined with a freedom to change the rules of any game any time they wish.
One unenlightened practitioner of this odious game is Matt Gaetz. Recall one instance when he was destroyed on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News (of all places) after accusing Democrats of politicizing the pandemic. When his stunt of wearing a gas mask on the floor of the House was pointed out to him, his response was classic changing-the-rules gaslighting. “Oh please,” Gaetz replied, “give me a break. I was making a point that we should be concerned about it as congressmen because in Congress we go through the dirtiest airports and we interact with a lot of people.”
Sure you were, Matt. Matt was lying, of course. His original point was he was mocking mask wearers. It was the practical equivalent of, after being criticized for sloppy dress at work, showing up the next day in a tuxedo and tails. But when his hypocrisy was later brought to light he changed the rules. That’s how gaslighting narcissists do it, and, like the president of the United States, Congressman Gaetz is a gaslighting narcissist. That’s why he loves Trump so much.
Back in 2016, narcissistic, gaslighting Republicans sanctimoniously explained to us why it was inappropriate to nominate a Supreme Court Justice (in this case Merrick Garland) in an election year. They were very careful about why, and explained it in great detail. But don’t take my word for it. Here are some examples:
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in response to the death of Antonin Scalia and the nomination of Garland, “I don’t think we should be moving on a nominee in the last year of this president’s [Barack Obama’s] term. I would say that if it was a Republican president.” Of course you would, Marco.
Then there’s Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.), who had this to say: “The very balance of our nation’s highest court is in serious jeopardy. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will do everything in my power to encourage the president and Senate leadership not to start this process until we hear from the American people [e.g. after January the following year when a new president and new Senate has been sworn in.]”
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): “A lifetime appointment that could dramatically impact individual freedoms and change the direction of the court for at least a generation is too important to get bogged down in politics. The American people shouldn’t be denied a voice.”
Mitch McConnell (R-KY.): “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
I have several more, but I won’t bore you. Besides, I saved the best for last. Here’s what Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had to say on the subject in 2018, no less, and he even said that you can quote him later if you wish: “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election.”
Okay, that was the official Republican position back in 2016 and as recently as 2018, as enunciated by dozens of Republicans, and not one of them has ever contradicted it. Until now.
By the way, we were fed all this sanctimony as early as a full nine months before the November 2016 election, because that’s when Justice Scalia died. Now let’s see what the brand new, the improved, the rule-changing Republican gaslighting explanation is a mere 46 days before the election after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.
This example of gaslighting rules changing duty comes to us compliments of narcissist and Senator Tom Cotton, (R-AR). In a speech back in 2016, Cotton said, “In a few short months we will have a new president and new senators who can consider the next [Supreme Court] justice with the full faith of the American people. Why would we cut off the national debate about this next Justice? Why would we squelch the voice of the people? Why would we deny the voters a chance to weigh in on the makeup of the Supreme Court?”
Here’s why. On Sunday Senator Cotton told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, “Chris, the Senate majority is performing our Constitutional duty and fulfilling the mandate that the voters gave us in 2016 and especially in 2018.” Ah, so there you are. Rules changed! This time it’s because of, er, the mandate! Yeah, that’s the ticket! Let the gaslighting of the narcissists begin! As Occupy Democrats’ Brian Tyler Cohen aptly and sardonically points out, they may as well be saying that 2016 was a year that began on a Friday and 2020 is a year that began on a Wednesday, and as everyone knows, you should never change justices on a year that begins on a Friday. Got it.
The good news is that, even though Republicans just might pull this off, Democrats have a game plan waiting in the wings. If they do we will simply expand the Supreme Court after Democrats are back in control next January.
There is nothing sacrosanct about 9 justices. Nowhere in the Constitution does it require that the Supreme Court be composed of 9 justices. Historically the Court has contained anywhere from 6 to 10 justices. So if we need to keep judicial balance by expanding the court to 11 then so be it. It’s time we Democrats begin beating Republicans at their own game. Not only are we going to beat them, we’re also going to prove, in the long run, that we’re better at this game than they are.
In order to achieve this we positively must vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in November. And make sure you also vote for your Democratic Senator and Congressperson, wherever possible. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.