Lit by Gas

Some Hollywood movies are useful. There’s Gaslight from 1944 – directed by George Cukor, with Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and an eighteen-year-old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut. Yes, she was young once, but her part is minor. This is the film where Ingrid Bergman thinks she’s going crazy. She’s the sweet young thing who impulsively marries a worldly older man, Charles Boyer, who manipulates her for various nefarious reasons that don’t really matter much. The movie is about his methods. She simply has to be confused – so things that weren’t there before are there now, and he says they were always there. So do others involved in the plot. Things disappear. He says they were never there and never even existed. So do others involved in the plot.

Ingrid Bergman is going mad but it all works out – back then MGM didn’t make movies without happy endings. But this movie is useful because it gave us the term gaslighting:

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film, and has been used in clinical and research literature.

And that research literature is about this:

Sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics. Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically are also convincing liars, sometimes charming ones, who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their own perceptions. Some physically abusive spouses may gaslight their partners by flatly denying that they have been violent.

So, sociopaths and narcissists frequently use gaslighting tactics, and the Washington Post’s David Nakamura notes this:

It was a foundational promise of Donald Trump’s historic presidential campaign: Mexico would pay for his 2,000-mile border wall. But as he desperately fights for $5.7 billion in taxpayer money for the project, Trump now claims he never said Mexico would directly foot the bill.

“Obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re going to write out a check,” the president told reporters Thursday at the White House.


He did say it – at least 212 times during his campaign and dozens more since he took office. And he put it in writing – in a March 2016 memo to news outlets that was then posted on his campaign website.

Specifically, Trump threatened to cut off billions of dollars in remittance payments from Mexican nationals in the United States to families in their home country. That, he proclaimed, would pressure the Mexican government to cough up “a one-time payment of $5-10 billion” for the wall.

He’d cause them pain. They’d have to give in and cut him a big check. If they didn’t give in he’d cause them more pain – a lot of it. And if they still didn’t give in, the pain would increase, dramatically. They’d give in. But things didn’t work out that way:

First, then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto openly defied Trump and canceled two scheduled visits to the White House, one in 2017 and the other in 2018, in retaliation for Trump’s demands that Mexico pay for the wall.

“Mexico will not pay for any wall,” he stated. His successor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has shown no willingness to change course.

The Republicans who controlled Congress over the past two years never made funding the wall with taxpayer money a priority.

And now during the shutdown, the White House is searching far and wide for potential pots of money it can tap as the president considers declaring the situation at the border a national emergency – a move that is sure to kick off a legal battle and inflame political tensions.

So he never said what he had said. He never does, perhaps in this case because what he said was absurd:

“The story keeps changing by the day – like everything,” said Cecilia Muñoz, a vice president at New America, a liberal think tank, who served as a White House domestic policy adviser under President Barack Obama. Of Trump’s original plan for funding the wall, she added: “They had no earthly idea how they would get Mexico to do that, so they came up with an idea to try to pass the laugh test, which they didn’t do.”

Instead, they scrambled:

Trump and his aides have floated other ideas to pressure Mexico to pay – canceling visas or increasing fees for consular services for Mexicans, and taxing imported goods at 20 percent.

Most recently, Trump has resorted to arguing that Mexico will indirectly pay through a revised trade deal that his administration signed with Mexico and Canada. But that deal has yet to be ratified by Congress, contains no provisions earmarking money for the wall, and economists have doubted whether it would significantly increase revenue flowing to the U.S. treasury.

Trump says don’t listen to them:

“Obviously, they’re not going to write a check,” Trump said of Mexico on Thursday, before leaving Washington for a tour of a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Tex. “But they are paying for the wall indirectly, many, many times over, by the really great trade deal we just made.”

That is not what he had been saying for years:

Trump has been promising that Mexico would pay for a wall since before he was a candidate for the White House, and the vow figured prominently in his June 16, 2015, campaign announcement.

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” he declared that day at Trump Tower in New York. “And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

What might have seemed a preposterous boast from a vanity candidate became a staple of his campaign rallies, where supporters chanted “Build the wall” and Trump would often add: “Who’s going to pay for the wall?” The crowd would respond:


By the spring of 2016, after he had emerged as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was under pressure to explain how he would make good on the promise.

There was never an explanation. There may never be a wall. But to be clear, he NEVER ever said Mexico would pay for this one. Ever. He did NOT make that promise. Ever. And then he took a nap. He had just gaslighted his base. Everyone else was never fooled in the first place. Mexico was never going to pay for this. He said what he said as a way of sneering at them. Having to pay for a massive wall to keep them and people like them out would humiliate them. Even talking about them paying for our wall would humiliate them. Mission accomplished.

But that doesn’t get a wall built. It was time to scramble:

President Donald Trump has been briefed on a plan that would use the Army Corps of Engineers and a portion of $13.9 billion of Army Corps funding to build 315 miles of barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the briefing.

The money was set aside to fund projects all over the country including storm-damaged areas of Puerto Rico through fiscal year 2020, but the checks have not been written yet and, under an emergency declaration, the president could take the money from these civil works projects and use it to build the border wall, said officials familiar with the briefing and two congressional sources.

The plan could be implemented if Trump declares a national emergency in order to build the wall and would use more money and build more miles than the administration has requested from Congress. The president had requested $5.7 billion for a wall stretching 234 miles.

So it was time to screw Puerto Rico and Houston:

Trump has urged the Army Corps to determine how fast contracts could be signed and whether construction could begin within 45 days, according to one of the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the preparations.

The list includes dozens of flood control projects in areas affected by recent natural disasters, including the Texas coastline inundated by Hurricane Harvey and parts of Puerto Rico battered by Hurricane Maria. The military construction budget is also being looked at as a potential source for unspent funds, with billions more potentially available there.

Congress should have a say in this, but Congress doesn’t have a say in this anymore. President Trump’s awesome White House is in charge. This is a businessman who knows how to run a tight ship:

As the partial government shutdown took hold over the holidays, President Trump seemed to express wonder at being alone in the White House with little but the cheeriness of heavily armed guards to keep him warm for the better part of a week.

“I was waving to them,” Mr. Trump said just after New Year’s Day. “I never saw so many guys with machine guns in my life. Secret Service and military. These are great people.”

Mr. Trump’s “Home Alone” Christmas tale has hardened into a 20-day standoff as relations between his administration and Congress over his $5 billion demand for a border wall grew ever frostier. The White House has stopped paying its water bill. Desks of some furloughed employees, whose job can include such drudgeries as helping their bosses work the copy machine, sit empty in the West Wing.

And the Secret Service agents Mr. Trump was so impressed with, down to the officers who check IDs and wave black SUVs in and out of the gates surrounding the complex, are all working unpaid – everyone in the Secret Service is, according to an official at the agency.

This is not what one might expect at the top of the world of worldwide power:

With paychecks failing to fatten the bank accounts of some 800,000 federal workers, the pain of this partial shutdown bit into all corners of America – even the White House, where there is often very little sympathy for those whose job it is to keep Washington running. Only 156 of the Executive Mansion’s 359 full-time employees are allowed to report for duty because their work is considered essential, according to a government contingency plan.

And there’s this:

Besides the issue of paying workers, other practical matters at the White House have been left unattended for now.

Days after the shutdown took hold, representatives from the Treasury Department left notice with DC Water, the Washington water utility, that the federal government’s $16.5 million quarterly water bill would not be fully paid, leading to a lively discussion among the DC Water Board about at what point a client’s water could be cut off, according to a report from the news website WAMU.

It turns out the board will let this one slide.

“We are not turning off water to the White House,” Vincent Morris, a DC Water spokesman, said in an email.

Why not? Nothing is what it seems. Is this the most powerful and admired and richest and best-run nation that ever was? Is this the land of the free and the home of the brave that welcomes all those huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Who says such things now? What was now isn’t, and what isn’t now is. America has been gaslighted again.

How did that happen? Mexico paid for it. No? Yes? Who knows? But someone drove the nation mad.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Lit by Gas

  1. Rick Brown says:

    I presume that what Trump means is, Mexico will be paying for the wall through his fancy new NAFTO 2.0 that will go into effect in 2020, and that Congress has yet to approve, to be disbursed out of U.S. tax revenues that will come from an anticipated reduction of our trade deficit with Mexico?

    But that would only be true if tax revenues rise because of that happening, assuming it will, which apparently economists are not so sure will. But if it does, it could be argued that he got Mexico and Canada to pay for it! Oh, well, we may never know if that ever happens, which probably suits Trump just fine.

    But a more important issue that we all should be talking about right now, during this shutdown while Americans are paying attention, is that all Americans need to agree that these government shutdowns need to just stop.

    They not only needlessly hurt our government employees, they also deprive access to crucial government services that citizens depend on, they hurt the economy, they end up costing us rather than saving us money (which too many Americans erroneously believe), and probably the most significant of all, the fact that some politicians think it’s okay to blackmail the country into passing bills that the country can’t seem to pass the normal way — because Americans are not in favor of them — is a symptom of the failure of America and its constitution.

    And while, in fact, any one of these arguments ought to be enough reason to stop the practice, it’s especially true of the first one, which wreaks serious and sometimes irreparable havoc on the lives of people we hire to do our work. We treat this issue casually, but in truth, it’s a serious case of wrongdoing on our part, and it needs to stop.

    Although there’s probably no way to outright outlaw government shutdowns — google the Antideficiency Act of 1884, which says it’s against the law to spend government money that hasn’t yet been allocated, and which is what supplies the legal groundwork for all these shutdowns — we might at least try to make it unacceptable in the collective brain of Americans to do so.


    We Americans need to insist that both parties make sure whatever our government buys or rents is fully paid for in advance. This means that well before these deadlines arrive, neither side puts any “poison pills” (that is, nothing that the other party would refuse to vote for) into the spending bills. In other words, keep the controversy out of these last-minute appropriation bills, safely put off to the side to be discussed at a later date.

    Nobody should “proudly” own a shutdown, and everybody should shame anybody else who forces into any bill a poison-pill rider that they know will be rejected by the other side.

    Another way of looking at it:

    Do not lard appropriation bills with those riders that wouldn’t pass Congress without the extortionate cloud of a government shutdown hanging over it.


    Because shutdowns were not part of the design of the founders. The people who invented this country back in to 18th century came up with a way to govern it that relied on the good will of all to vote for or against bills in ways that reflected the collective will of the governed, without having to resort to such gimmicks as threatening to shut everything down if the minority doesn’t get its way, as a way of overruling the will of the people.

    Yeah, you say, but that’s never going to happen.

    Okay, I’m not predicting that it will happen, only arguing that it should. I’m pretty sure the founders were not so stupid as to think the system of governance they designed would be automatically protected by an all-powerful God, but instead knew it was a design that, by necessity, would only survive if future generations (that’s us!) understood how fragile it is, and would have the common sense to make sure it did not fall apart.

    In short, all these government closings that we have blithely been accepting as business-as-usual politics, are really just a sign that we have forgotten how to govern ourselves according to the original plan. Starting right now, we all need to just stop allowing these shutdowns to happen.

    Pass it on.


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