Bullied Bullies: Shifting blame and whipping up the troops
Having been raised by a physically and verbally abusive man, myself—and having been victimized by other abusers throughout my childhood and teens—I have a little bit of insight. Among the common tactics of abusers—particularly narcissistic abusers—are scapegoating and gaslighting.
When scapegoating, they blame other people for their own failures, no matter how improbable it is for the named person to have done that thing:
- Donald Trump blames the media for his own failure to run a general election campaign
- Did Trump blame his casino failures on dead employees? One executive thinks so
- Trump Blames Fellow Republicans for RNC’s Low TV Ratings
When gaslighting, they try to convince everyone that their victim is crazy, or the actual abuser, or is otherwise mentally or morally deficient. This is often combined with projection—accusing their victim of having motives that are actually the abuser’s:
- Trump on Clinton: ‘She took a short-circuit in the brain’
- Donald Trump Calls ABC Reporter “A Sleaze” During News Conference About Veterans Fundraiser
As Amadi Lovelace sums it up in the screenshot: “Trump uses abusive tactics and reinforces marginalization of women with children by yelling at mother with baby.”
At this point you might be saying, “Fine, Gene, you’ve made a good case that Trump is not just a narcissist and a liar, but that he is specifically an abusive narcissist. But how does that explain the people who support him?” That’s simple: abusers are extremely good at manipulation and are especially good at finding people who are ripe for manipulation. The reason an abuser can get away with outrageous blame shifting in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is because there are always people looking to hurl some blame around, themselves.
It’s like all those messages of condolence that I received from certain relatives a few months back when my abusive father died. One person said, “I remember when your parents found out they were going to have a baby, how excited he was and how much he was looking forward to being a father. He loved your mother so much. He was so happy the day you were born! I hope that you can focus on memories of those good times, before the troubles began. Don’t dwell on the bad times.” It’s subtle, but the clear implication is that it’s my fault that I don’t feel love and admiration for my father, because I focus on the bad times. But look at the most ridiculous part of that argument: it’s wrong of me to even think about his bad behavior which was going on for as long as I can remember instead of remembering his alleged good and loving actions which occurred before I was born. (Also, the first time my father beat me badly enough I had to be taken to an emergency room, I was four years old; so the bad times were well underway by then; how much of your life to you remember–really remember–before the age of four?)
To be clear, most of the relatives who made comments like this, are the same ones who during previous discussions of my dad’s issues, always pointed to an incident that happened to him about three months before I was born as the beginning of “the troubles.” It’s hard to get more ridiculous than blaming a person for not remembering things that happened before they were born. They don’t see that contradiction because reality doesn’t match their narrative that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes. Admitting that he was a bad father especially during the years I and my siblings were young and most vulnerable would mean admitting that they didn’t do anything to protect us.
People aren’t rational. They will ignore facts that contradict their chosen narrative. Trump’s appeals repel a lot of people who recognize the falsehoods and inconsistencies of his statements. But the exact some statements appeal to people who want to buy into parts of his narrative. Whether that narrative is that immigrants from south of the border are the cause of the stagnation of middle class earnings, or that muslims are the cause of every mass shooting, or that thug culture is to blame for the perceived (but fictional) increase in violent crimes, and so on. People who are afraid for their future and are angry at their perceived loss of privilege are looking for someone to blame. Even more, they are looking for someone who will assure them that there is someone else to blame. They are looking for someone to tell them that they aren’t wrong to hate people who have different skin colors, or different religions, et cetera.
Trump gives them that. He gives them targets for the anxieties and fear. He fans the flames of that fear into outrage and tells them that it is all right to blame other people. He tells them it is all right to resort to violence (“I’ll pay your legal fees” or “the second amendment people could stop her”). He tells them that anyone who disagrees is crazy, sleazy, immoral, and the enemy.
Abusers are good at finding victims. But they’re also good at finding others willing to hate those victims. And that’s what is “going on” with support of Trump.