Laura Kanter on Trump’s Gaslighting

Laura Kanter

Laura Kanter

Editor’s Note:  Laura Kanter is the director of policy, advocacy and youth programs at the LGBT Center OC in Santa Ana; this essay was published October 12 on Facebook and Laura is allowing us to republish this with her permission.  These are her personal opinions and do not represent the opinions of the LGBT Center OC in any way.  Her title is provided for identification purposes only.


I need to get something off my chest. Or my pussy, really. I have been in a funk since Sunday (well, on and off throughout this election season) and I realized today that like many women, I am feeling the effects of watching a narcissistic male sexual predator with tremendous power stalk, threaten and emotionally violate another woman on national television, and defend sexually assaulting multiple women, while others cheered him on.

As I write this, I wonder if I will be called names and accused of projecting some past sexual trauma onto this situation. Even now, this loop of systematically constructed internalized oppression, causing me to second-guess my insight and intelligence, is triggered.

There were a few moments, while watching the debate on Sunday night, when I, along with many others, became palpably uncomfortable with Donald’s behavior. It was very clear that donald did not like it when Hillary Clinton walked across the stage to respond to a question from a panelist. From what I can recall, this is often what she and others do at town halls – they go to the person who asks the question to address them directly. Donald’s nefarious, overbearing and entitled presence would make this a brave move for Hillary, even if it is something candidates normally do. But she did it, perhaps purposefully to set him off, and that it did. She also did the same when someone from the other side of the room asked a question, and in between, when it was not her turn, she politely sat or leaned on her stool. Even while donald relentlessly barked, pointed and threatened her. It is also just as plausible that he would have sulked and hulked over Hillary regardless, simply because he cannot abide being one-upped by a woman.

In addition to Donald’s attempt to physically intimidate Hillary, there were other moments when he said things that struck me at my core. I do not think there are many of us, especially women, who have not experienced to some degree an authoritarian man who feels so profoundly self-important and resolutely entitled to their own construction of the truth that they artlessly destroy any information that contradicts that truth. This happens all the time, in ways that are often so stealth, subtle and swift that we don’t even know what happened (as we have been well-taught to accept that “truth” and deny our own knowing – especially when it comes from a sulking, hulking, overbearing bully). This is what I was aware of when Donald said things like “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”

The word “gaslighting” has been used a lot to describe what Donald does, but seeing this happen on a national stage, while others just watched, really got to me. Perhaps also seeing how many other women accept and even admire this behavior.

It is not uncommon for us to see politicians try to deflect attention to their own abhorrent behavior, by making it about the person calling them out. So whenever it was his turn to speak, instead of answering the questions, donald repeated a list of accusations against Hillary Clinton, many of them lies, or distortions of the facts, that he constructed to make his case against her.

I found it especially distressing when, following questions about the pussy-grabbing video, Donald turned it around and brought up Bill Clinton (which everyone certainly predicted he would), and then said “And I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and she talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful, and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.”

I once had a boss who was often dishonest and defensive. When I finally questioned him once about something, he turned toward me in a rage that clearly signified that I had no right to speak truth to his power and said “Are you calling me a liar?” and then he went on to talk about something I had done, totally unrelated, but with such pomposity and self-assurance that I could no longer articulate what I was trying to bring up in the first place. These sort of interactions are not all unfamiliar to me and sadly, they often leave me dizzy and confused, like I have been spun around in circles. Perhaps one good that can come out of this is watching Hillary Clinton stay centered, inspiring other women to stand in our truth, even in the face of the biggest of bullies.

While much of this could be expected, there is something sick and menacing about donald, perhaps because it comes with the awareness that there are so many people who support him. Its upsetting. Disgusting. Sad. Scary.

There were so many times during the debate that donald seamlessly and without any misgiving, turned around and hurled lies and threats at Hillary, and I do think that as many women and some men too, watched, we could not help but be disturbed. If we are not, perhaps we ought to be.

So I am looking forward to this long nightmare that is Donald Trump to be over, so we can use Hillary’s presidency as a vehicle to lift up the conversation about sexism and misogyny, so that all women will have the pussies to stand up to bullies.