Ed Driscoll

Gaslighting, Then and Now

“Bill Clinton is the greatest gaslighter in modern American politics,” Jonah Goldberg notes in his latest G-File. Click over for the Wikipedia definition of the term if you’re unfamiliar with it; after which Jonah writes:

A truly sociopathic liar (though his sociopathologies hardly end there), Clinton has a gift for making other people feel like there is something wrong with them for objecting to his deceptions.

At the outset of the 1990s, liberals had worked themselves into a moral panic about sexual harassment. If anything, it was a bigger obsession than the campus-rape panic we’ve been witnessing over the last few years (no doubt in part because there was more factual basis to the problem). Male politicians — Bob Packwood, John Tower, et al. — had their careers summarily ended because of their “womanizing” — a term popularized by Tower’s predations. (Ironically, the original meaning of the word was to “make effeminate,” i.e., to turn into a woman. Given the mainstreaming of sex-change surgery, maybe it’s time to rehabilitate the older definition?)

Then, the country was presented with proof, incremental and suggestive at first, overwhelming and indisputable by the end of the decade, that Bill Clinton was an irrepressible and irresponsible sexual predator, at least by the moral and evidentiary standards established by feminist activists and the press corps that loves them. And, rather than face the consequences of applying their own principles consistently, they prostrated themselves to the Oval Office. Gloria Steinem raced to the pages of the New York Times to advance the “one free grope” rule. Susan Estrich, Susan Faludi, and countless other professional feminists defenestrated their principles in a desperate attempt to defend Clinton.

It was a perfect example of what Lord Acton really meant by power corrupting. He didn’t mean that rulers are corrupted by power, he meant that intellectuals become corrupted by their worship of the powerful.

When Bill Clinton had to “apologize” to his cabinet for playing baron-and-the-milkmaid with an intern and lying about it, he asked if anybody had a problem with it. Donna Shalala foolishly assumed he was being sincere. She chimed in and said she had a problem. He berated her for her effrontery, explaining that her prudish standards would have prevented JFK from being president. And while those of us not ensorcelled by the cult of that charismatic mediocrity might respond, “Yeah, so?” this was a debate-settling argument for many liberals.

Clinton’s sexual exploits were only one facet of his full-spectrum gaslighting of America. He sold pardons. He sold the Lincoln bedroom. He lied and cheated in innumerable ways, large and small, and he successfully made the people who objected, or even pointed out the truth, seem like the weird ones.

Jonah mentioned the campus rape panic in the second paragraph quoted above; in her latest column, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Readers know of the phenomenon at college campuses regarding charges of ‘microaggressions’ and ‘triggers,'” and adds, “quite a bunch of little Marats and Robespierres we’re bringing up” — or actually, being programmed by their socialist teachers and professors. Noonan’s column is on the censoring of classic books and epic poems such as Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” which students at Columbia University attempted to suppress:

The class read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, which, as parts of a narrative that stretches from the dawn of time to the Rome of Caesar, include depictions of violence, chaos, sexual assault and rape. The student, the authors reported, is herself “a survivor of sexual assault” and said she was “triggered.” She complained the professor focused “on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text.” He did not apparently notice her feelings, or their urgency. As a result, “the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class.”

Safe is the key word here. There’s the suggestion that a work may be a masterpiece but if it makes anyone feel bad, it’s out.

That goes as well for public speakers who risk harshing the kids’ collective mellow, Mark Hemingway writes in the Weekly Standard:

At [Christina Hoff Sommers’] speech in April at Georgetown University, multiple undercover policemen were placed in the audience. At Oberlin, also in April, uniformed police officers never let her out of their sight and after her speech escorted her in a police car from the campus to a dinner. In May, she was the guest of honor at a Washington, D.C., meetup of “Gamergate” supporters—video gamers concerned about radical feminism’s influence in the video game industry (more on that later). In response, Salon and Daily Beast columnist Arthur Chu started a social media campaign to pressure the bar where the gamers were meeting to drop the event and sent emails to the venue accusing them of hosting a “right-wing hate group.” Despite the pressure, the owner of the bar, Local 16, emailed Sommers to tell her they “would never keep any group out. This is America.” A bomb threat soon followed, necessitating a heavy police presence and a tour of Local 16 by bomb-sniffing dogs.

Through all this, Sommers says, “I didn’t feel threatened. I’d never known feminists to be violent.” Her calm in the face of feminist extremism is in marked contrast to the fury of her critics. “I am a threat to their health, to their mental well-being. That attitude is new,” she says. “Before, they might have thought, ‘Oh, her views on feminism are reactionary.’ But now it’s that her views are a threat.”

Indeed, an inability to distinguish between threats and disagreements seems to be a hallmark of this contemporary feminism. Sommers is scary precisely because she doesn’t shy away from heightening the contradictions. Where op-ed writers have patiently picked apart the discredited “wage gap” statistics feminists insist on recycling, Sommers shows up in the proverbial lion’s den, calmly points her finger at the scolds-in-training, and challenges them to prove their commitment to female equality by changing their major to the lucrative and male-dominated field of petroleum engineering.

These days, campus feminists make no attempt to debate Sommers on substance. Instead, she routinely faces attempts to shun her, silence her, or distort her message. After her Georgetown speech, there were demands that the student group that had hosted her remove the protesters from video of the event. A university administrator warned that if the upset students weren’t edited out, “Georgetown [would] need to step in.”

Got that? Protesters showed up at a public event to draw attention to their message—but then realized that footage showing ostensible adults holding signs saying “Trigger Warning: Antifeminist” was an embarrassment to the students and bad PR for the school, so they wanted it censored. Another embarrassment is young feminists’ ignorance. When Sommers joked at Oberlin that the Junior Anti-Sex League had occupied campus feminism, a voice from her audience yelled, “What the hell is that?”

For the most part, Obama and Hillary love keeping already high-strung college kids on emotional tenterhooks, ready to swing into action at the latest perceived racial or sexual “microaggression,” and anyone who dares commit doubleplus ungood Emmanuel Goldstein-esque thoughtcrime. But isn’t there a huge, equally Orwellian contradiction here? Hillary is counting on those same college kids, who see sexism, male oppression and rape everywhere to swing enthusiastically into action to support her. (Presumably, as is Obama, as Hillary is a far safer bet to preserve his “legacy” than a Republican president.) Completely ignoring the fact that she’s the enabler of a former president whom Rand Paul dubbed one of Washington’s most prominent sexual predators. As Paul noted on C-Span last year:

Democrats are being hypocritical by criticizing Republicans as waging a war on women while at the same time embracing Mr. Clinton, who was impeached for lying about a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

“They can’t have it both ways. And so I really think that anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do. In fact, I think they should give the money back,” Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican, said. “If they want to take position on women’s rights, by all means do. But you can’t do it and take it from a guy who was using his position of authority to take advantage of young women in the workplace.”

Or is the assumption that because Hillary will do “good things” (read: expand government and restrict freedoms — including, as she herself admits — freedom of speech) the same college kids obsessed with rape and sexual predators will overlook Bill’s serial macro-aggressions?

It’s too bad that Lord Acton is yet another dead white European male; because as Jonah wrote above, the Clintons really are the perfect example of what Acton “meant by power corrupting. He didn’t mean that rulers are corrupted by power, he meant that intellectuals become corrupted by their worship of the powerful.”

And young, self-styled wannabe intellectuals as well, as yet another generation of leftists are gaslighted.

I know the aforementioned Rand Paul did a fair amount of battlefield prep last year by pointing out Bill’s past, noting that “Mr. Clinton’s settlement with Paula Jones in 1999, in which he paid $850,000 to settle Ms. Jones’ claims of sexual harassment, is an admission of guilt by the former president.” Not to mention Bill’s “friendship [with] seedy billionaire and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein,” as Sean Hannity discussed this past February. But I’m surprised more Republican candidates aren’t mentioning this enormous contradiction, which seems ripe for exploiting.  And/or anyone on the left who’s serious about opposing her. Isn’t it time for the spouse of the man who made “Sister Souljah” a verb to experience a “Sister Souljah moment” of her own from one of her fellow Democrats?

We’ve mentioned the left devouring its own several times in recent months. The “campus rape epidemic” seems like a bizarre intellectual climate to serve as the background for Hillary’s campaign — and she has no one else to blame but her fellow Democrats for creating it. Or am I simply gaslighting myself?