When Political Spin Becomes Gaslighting: The Necessity of Truth-Telling in Policy Advocacy

In recent days, some very troubling developments have happened in federal government that threaten to deepen the level of policy violence already happening to racial and ethnic minorities, especially among individuals and households with low incomes. It is crucial that policy advocates take note of these and organize in diverse coalitions with personally impacted people in order to challenge these injustices.

First, on September 22, the Trump Administration issued an executive order, prohibiting “the federal government and its contractors from teaching that the U.S. is fundamentally racist or sexist; that an individual should bear responsibility for actions committed by past members of the person’s race or sex; that an individual should feel guilty as a result of their race or sex; or that an individual has privileges because of their race or sex,” according to a Wall Street Journal article by Paul Kiernan and Andrew Restuccia. The authors further state, “To help identify such curricula, the White House recommended searching training materials for keywords including ‘white privilege,’ ‘systemic racism’, and ‘unconscious bias.’”

Secondly, on October 6, President Trump announced the end of negotiations for an additional package of coronavirus relief, even though Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned earlier that day that the economic recovery remains fragile and additional economic stimulus is needed. Stock markets immediately fell and so did the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Missouri families who are hurting due to the pandemic-related economic downturn.

Both of these actions go beyond “political spin” to an area that I can only call “gaslighting.” According to Dr. Stephanie A. Sarkis, “Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.” Such manipulation of truth works against evidence-based public policy and erodes the possibility of acting in unity toward a common good.

The executive order on training about structural racism invites us to stick our heads in the sand and to pretend that decade after decade of racist policy did not occur. A brilliant summary of decision after decision is made in the book The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. Rothstein concludes in the book’s Epilogue: “Undoing de jure segregation will be incomparably difficult. To make a start, we will first have to contemplate what we have collectively done and, on behalf of our government, accept responsibility.”

Instead of accepting responsibility, the Trump Administration is ordering us to deny our history and refuse to make amends. This can only lead to further decline in living conditions for communities that have historically been disadvantaged.

The refusal to pass additional coronavirus relief is unacceptable. The pain is widespread, but it has a racially and ethnically disparate impact. According to a report that Empower Missouri co-released with the Coalition on Human Needs on 09/15, forty percent of Missouri households include someone who has lost income between March 31 and August 31. In the homes that lost income that have children, more than one out of five (22 percent) reported not having enough to eat sometime or often during the last week, according to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey of early September. More than 13 percent of households also reported inability to pay rent, with housing instability especially high among Black and Latinx families.

Of course, by the next day, perhaps startled by the Stock Market decline, President Trump was hinting that a relief package of some type might still come together. This is more gaslighting, designed to keep us off-balance and confused. As Dr. Sarkis writes: “Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability and normalcy. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything.”

We must refuse to be fooled, tell the truth about our history, accept responsibility for repairing harm done by our government. We must continue demanding that our federal officials take action on coronavirus relief now. Families cannot wait until November for federal stimulus, rental assistance, and an increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. We have updated our message to Senators Blunt and Hawley to reflect the latest information, so please take action HERE.

In solidarity,

Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy and Organizing

Leave a Reply