Stephanie Sarkis, a PhD therapist who has written a book on the phenomenon of gaslighting, has an article in Forbes about Trump’s pattern of inventing non-existent crises, doing nothing of any substance to fix the alleged problems and then declaring himself to have saved us all from the boogeyman he invented. She also takes a stab at explaining why he and others like him do this.
She points to several other examples as well — blaming immigrants for violent crime when the reality is that they commit far less crime than native-born Americans, blaming lack of border control causing the drug epidemic when the vast majority of drugs enter the country at legal checkpoints, the “crisis of patriotism” from NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. She leaves out one really obvious one — North Korea. Nothing substantive had changed in North Korea or their pursuit of nuclear weapons in many years, but when Trump took office he tried to turn this into some overwhelming new threat to the country. Then he held a summit that ended with an agreement that did absolutely nothing and declared that all Americans could sleep easier now that he had solved this “crisis.”
Gaslighters/narcissists create an enemy and crisis, then “solve” that same crisis. They then demand accolades after that crisis (that they created) has been resolved. Why do they do this? It creates support within their base. And with 2020 elections right around the corner, Trump knows the importance of manufacturing an enemy and then portraying himself as the only person who could “conquer” this manufactured enemy.
The most recent case in point is Trump’s tariffs on Mexico. Trump is touting himself as the key factor in getting a border agreement with Mexico. However, the New York Times reported that the U.S. and Mexico had reached an agreement on border policies months before Trump’s tariff threat.
One thing she doesn’t mention is the relationship between this behavior and demagoguery, which I think is quite obvious. Threats have to be vastly exaggerated, unjustified fear must be induced, to create the narrative of being a savior. I’m reminded of the line from the movie The American President when Michael Douglas says, “Whatever your problem is, I can promise you that Bob Rumson has no interest in solving it. Bob Rumson is interested in two things and two things only — making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen is how you win elections.” And so it is, because humans are prone to panic and react far more strongly to fear and hatred than to evidence and reason.