One of the most frustrating things about Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential run is his ability to unflinchingly deny facts in front of thousands of people. He has been dominating headlines for a year-and-a-half, more often than not repeating his du jour controversial statement that has been refuted again and again (and again and again and again times infinity). You'd think that by this point I would be used to the incessant lying, but no matter how many times he opens his mouth, I will never be OK with Trump gaslighting America.
It really hit me during Wednesday night's debate when moderator Chris Wallace brought up the half-dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual assault. Trump has denied all of these allegations. In a section all about the candidates' fitness to serve as president, it was a completely appropriate question. After first denying the accusations, then blaming Clinton's camp for planting them, Trump finally turned to his usual superlatives: "Nobody has more respect for women than I do."
That's right, world. No one. No one in the world has (or probably ever will have) more respect for women than Donald J. Trump, the man who encourages men to call his oldest daughter a "piece of ass," and denigrated female reporters trying to do their jobs.
The audience, at least, seemed to see some of the absurdity in that statement — Wallace had to ask them to quiet their laughter. But I'm too tired to find it funny. With every unfounded and completely ridiculous thing that Trump says (Mexico will pay for the wall, no one is more reasonable than Trump, denying things that can — and will — be fact checked) he is forcing my mind, for at least a split second, to process the fact that maybe it's me who has the facts mixed up. And not just me, anyone else who disagrees with what Trump is saying.
That is the very definition of gaslighting. In fact, I'm convinced that Merriam-Webster will change its definition of the word to a picture of Trump in the next edition. Gaslighting is harmful enough when it happens on an interpersonal level, but when you're doing it to an entire country it becomes particularly dangerous.
Trump has either the short-term memory of a goldfish or he is willingly engaging in the psychological warfare with the aim of capturing more votes. Given his ability to chronicle the every misstep of his opponent, I'll go ahead and bet that his strategy aligns with the latter. Still, as shocking as it is for a presidential candidate to deny what are, at times, absolute truths, there is nothing funny about Trump's gaslighting or the impact that it could have on the American people. Trump may not ever make it to Commander-In-Chief, but he's certainly cemented his role as America's gaslighter.