CSotD: Gaslit Nation

If you’ve never seen the 1944 classic “Gaslight,” it’s worth the $3.99 at Amazon Prime, if only for the cast. But watching it will also help you understand why people keep throwing the term around in political terms today.

In the movie, Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) marries Paula Alquest (Ingrid Bergman) and then attempts to make her think she’s going crazy through various small things like hiding a brooch he had given her as an important sentimental gift so that she’ll think she lost the precious, irreplaceable family heirloom.

I won’t spoiler the rest, but that’s enough to indicate why people are using the term to indicate lies intended to make us think we’ve gone mad.


An important part of the challenge is in sorting the knaves from the fools. For instance, does Chip Bok (Creators) genuinely not know that the money shipped to Iran in 2016 was their own, the previous regime’s payment for weaponry that was frozen at the fall of the Shah, then returned to them as part of an easing of sanctions?

He may, himself, be a victim of Donald Trump’s gaslighting, since Trump revived the old falsehood.

And then, given Trump’s inability to focus on his briefings, it’s hard to know when he was deliberately lying and when he was simply repeating some foolishness he’d heard on Fox News.

So it’s a lie, but it’s hard to pin the blame on Bok or Trump except that commentators and politicians have a moral responsibility to confirm their statements.

And the difference between intentional falsehoods and either laziness or incompetence doesn’t much matter if it leads voters to believe things that simply aren’t true.

It’s like comparing the inexperienced young fellow who has one too many at an office party and causes a fatal accident to the person who drinks to excess regularly and is driving on a suspended license when he plows into another car.

The distinction doesn’t matter to the victims.


And even First Amendment absolutists might ask Kirk Walters (KFS) if he has specific information indicating that terrorists plan to target the United States moreso than they did a month or a year ago?

It’s fair commentary to say that we should have stayed in Afghanistan, propping up the government, if you believe that’s why there have been no attacks from that quarter in 20 years.

But it’s also reasonable to worry over stirring up Islamophobia at a time when we are on the verge of welcoming 50,000 well-verified Afghani refugees, given the number of armed nutcases we’ve already seen murdering Latinos under the impression that immigrants are damaging the nation.


Gary Varvel (Creators) even includes immigrants as one of the disasters being visited upon the United States by an angry and vengeful God, along with mandates by which I assume he means vaccinations and masks.

Well, maybe we’ve forgotten God.

And maybe Varvel has forgotten Leviticus. You want some mandates? Look there.

Check off the ones you have not been obeying. Or, if it’s easier, the ones you have.

And don’t forget this one:

33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.


There’s nothing in Leviticus about ice cream, but Bob Gorrell (Creators) is only one of several rightwing cartoonists to jump on Biden for liking the stuff. Again, I don’t know if that makes it a conspiracy or a mass delusion or simply a case of playing follow-the-leader.

It apparently stems from a time when the president got an ice cream cone and the press asked him about it, to the horror of Fox News and its adherents.

I’ve criticized the White House press corps often enough that I’m not going to disagree that they should address weightier matters, but I don’t think they dwelt much on this: I never saw the ice cream story and, when it popped up on cartoon after cartoon, had to look it up to see what the deal was.

But, yes, this was the first time in American history that the press had ever covered presidential ice cream.

Well, perhaps not quite the first.


Or maybe I’m crazy. Keep telling me until I believe it.


Jeff Stahler (AMS) points out that Fox News and other anti-vax spreaders are out of touch with what made American great, which was a loyalty not to political parties but to, as the Constitution puts it, a shared mission among Americans “to promote the general welfare.”

He’s hardly the first to point out the number of vaccines we readily accept and the good they have done, but his accusation against Fox is an excellent fit for discussing the topic of gaslighting.

The Miami/Dade school district has already, in the first two weeks of their year, seen 15 deaths among teachers and support staff.

Thank god they’re defying their governor and insisting on masks, but they didn’t, apparently, impose a vaccination mandate, and so now the children are learning a lesson that isn’t in the curriculum.


If not, maybe they’d learn better with one of those fables in which animals demonstrate the moral of the story. This one by Bruce MacKinnon seems apt, though it reminds me of my dismay when my boys brought home textbooks in which Aesop’s dire warnings were softened so as not to be unpleasant.

The one that put me over the edge was the classic story of the fox in the well, in which, trapped and facing doom, he shouts up to a passing goat that the water down there is wonderful and invites him to come try it. The goat jumps down for a sample, and the fox then springs upon his back and thence to safety, leaving the goat to perish for his gullibility.

In their new, more cheerful version, the fox says “I’ll help you out this time, but, next time, look before you leap!”

Teaching our children to trust upon the good nature of foxes is how we raise a generation of gaslit goats.

Yes, it’s time we guessed your name, and the nature of your game.


12 thoughts on “CSotD: Gaslit Nation

  1. FYI, as recently as a few months ago Gaslight could be seen on one of the free streaming services (perhaps it was Peacock), as well as a 1940 British version.

  2. So the hurricanes are metaphors for other bad things, but the wildfires are just wildfires that represent wildfires. Wellll, okay, but only if everything is labeled.

    They’re some scary hurricanes. They go from “yeah, so what?” level of nothingburgers to the outright imaginary. But Violence is in there with them, and Pandemic, so those must be two more things to blame on liberals somehow.

  3. Don’t know if anyone here follows Slactivist by Fred Clark, but he had an essay a few years back in response to Pat Robertson or some such saying that whatever hurricane that was in the news at the time was due to the sin that was permitted in the affected city.

    Clark told the story of the atrocity in Waco, TX during the Depression, in which a black man was falsely accused of a crime and then tortured and burned alive over several hours while the whole town watched. Interestingly enough, the good Lord did not visit any natural disasters on Waco that day, nor did he seem to punish any of the other towns where similar things happened. I would wonder whether Mr. Varvel feels that folks have “forgotten God” any more than those people back the .

  4. You’re highlighting some real winners today, but Varvel really takes the cake. Like Tara wrote, all it’s missing is a weeping Statue of Liberty. Still, the ways of God are subtle, and maybe He really would punish a nation from turning its eyes away from Him by increasing its inflation rate by a few tenths of a percent. God’s a sneaky one.

    Of Varvel’s other tornadoes, most sane people would consider Government Mandates (which, like you, I take to mean vaccines and masks) a good thing. What greater modern miracles are there than vaccines? And what’s wrong with Immigration? I was brought up to believe that Good Americans (TM) welcomed the world’s wretched refuse. Or, as Bill Murray said in “Stripes” (paraphrasing from memory): “We’re Americans. We’re mutts. Our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world!” What’s wrong with Critical Race Theory? Can Varvel even define it, any more than he could define Quantum Macroeconomics because, like CRT, it’s a discipline only taught in graduate schools? Because if he thinks it’s all about making White children feel ashamed for being White, he’s wrong.

    But mostly I’m horrified that Eisenhower ate what appears to be an Eskimo Pie ice cream bar using a plate. How a man like that ever got to be president I’ll never know.

  5. “Gaslight” also shows up on TCM fairly regularly, and is probably available On Demand.

    Why, yes, Gary Varvel, we’ve turned away from God by continually turning up the heat on His creation. But you go ahead and blame it on us not stoning mediums to death any more.

  6. Sure, but where can you find “Autolight”? The Jack Benny parody was so dead on the “Gaslight” people took him to court. Benny eventually won, but the whole process was so costly that parodies had to be extra careful they didn’t resemble their targets (Hi, Carol Burnett!).

  7. Autolight is on YouTube. A lot of what seemed funny in the fifties is no longer funny today. Jack Benny is still very funny.

  8. For those who get TCM (Turner Classic Movies), it will be showing “Gaslight” on Sunday, September 19th at 8:00 am.

  9. You say “it’s hard to pin the blame on Bok” for his cartoon based on a lie, but doesn’t even a political cartoonist have some responsibility to verify that their opinion is based on the facts?

  10. Hank — the full sentence:

    “So it’s a lie, but it’s hard to pin the blame on Bok or Trump except that commentators and politicians have a moral responsibility to confirm their statements.”

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