Last week I received a happy-talk email from a bridge club out of town where I used to play. This particular club hosted hundreds of players at a time in a big indoor space. It was a veritable petri dish of germs in the best of times; in the time of Covid-19, it would be a wickedly dangerous hot spot.
The club shut down in April because of the pandemic, and continued games online. The letter last week was from the owner, who said he was reopening because it’s all good. He had been out and about, in restaurants and stores, relieved to see people mingling and getting back to business. He said his bridge club would open immediately. He mentioned that he has rent to pay.
I wrote back, telling him that I was not willing to risk my life to pay his rent and, by the way, shame on him.
I mention this small incident because I believe the plan to breathe life back into the economy depends on a deal with the devil. The unspoken quid pro quo is that lives will be sacrificed for financial gain, and those lives will be mostly older people, those with underlying medical conditions and those who must go back to work in high-risk industries like meat packing in order to feed their families.
What’s happening is a kind of national gaslighting, led by the gaslighter in chief, President Trump. According to Psychology Today, “gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think.”
The term comes from “Gaslight,” the 1944 movie starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, in which an avaricious and murderous husband tries to make his new wife believe she is going insane. She insists she sees gas lights in their attic at night. He tells her she is imagining things, although he has indeed been up there every night, looking for her jewels. Slowly, he unravels her sense of herself.
The term is still used to describe manipulation and abuse focused on making people question their own perceptions. The gaslighter keeps shifting the ground under the victims until they lose their equilibrium and start feeling “crazy.”
Trump has refined the process of gaslighting during his tenure. In his version, let’s call it Gaslighting 2.0, he lies, or contradicts what he said a day or an hour or a minute ago. He dissembles right before our eyes. He tells us we aren’t seeing what we know we absolutely are seeing, like the strong-arm attack on peaceful protesters in Washington’s Lafayette Square two weeks ago.
He makes up stuff, like vaccines that are just around the corner and treatments that can work miracles. He touts his record on civil rights while every single word out of his lying mouth contradicts his claims. This is his trick: He says the thing, then he holds up a sign behind it saying I don’t really mean this. Over and over again, for more years than we can bear, he has been gaslighting Americans with half-truths and outright lies.
Now, he and his supporters are urging folks to toss away the masks, to shop and dine out and party. He is urging us to take one for Team America. He invites crowds to his rallies while requiring them to sign away their right to litigate if they get sick.
What I am observing is that even people who have been social distancing and wearing masks are coming under the influence of groupthink and starting to get together with friends and plan trips and get haircuts and enjoy dinners out.
My friends, nothing has changed since the pandemic began. Those of us who are vulnerable must take care of ourselves, because no one else will. There is no civil authority to make and enforce rules that will keep us safe.
According to The Washington Post, “More than a dozen states continue to show new highs in the number or coronavirus cases . . . The spikes provide disturbing data points in the ongoing tug of war between the economic costs of restrictions and the human cost of lifting them. ‘Worse times are ahead,’ said Joe Gerald, a public health researcher at the University of Arizona.”
Like the bridge club owner, our country needs to pay the rent. But at what cost?
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.