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Blame-shifting

politicalwords

Just a joke? Sounds like gaslighting to me.
► internet meme

A Google search results for blame-shifting also brings up the phrase “blame-shifting and gaslighting,” which suggested that an opening word about gaslighting also is in order.

It entered our common vocabulary in 1944 with the movie Gaslight, a thriller in which a treasure hunter who has committed murder is at risk of being found out by his bride – who he attempts to manipulate by adjusting her perception of reality to the point that she begins to doubt her own sanity. (The “gaslight” here is a reference to his ploy of turning up or down the light, then denying it had happened, leading the bride to think she was misunderstanding reality.)

Wikipedia lists these as the most common strategies a gaslighter may use:

“Hiding: The abuser may hide things from the victim and cover up what they have done. Instead of feeling ashamed, the abuser may convince the victim to doubt their own beliefs about the situation and turn the blame on themselves. Changing: The abuser feels the need to change something about the victim. Whether it be the way the victim dresses or acts, they want the victim to mold into their fantasy. If the victim does not comply, the abuser may convince the victim that he or she is in fact not good enough. Control: The abuser may want to fully control and have power over the victim. In doing so, the abuser will try to seclude them from other friends and family so only they can influence the victim’s thoughts and actions.”

The concept has been richly mined over the years, mostly in fiction (it was even turned into an episode of the old Dick Van Dyke Show), but it has become a significant factor in politics. As an article in Vox explained, “The term ‘gaslighting’ has gotten thrown around a lot over the past year, mostly in reference to political campaign tactics – when candidates claimed something had (or hadn’t) happened, and refused, when confronted with contradictory evidence, to acknowledge otherwise. Lauren Duca most famously wrote about the term for Teen Vogue in a piece titled ‘Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,’ for which she caught some heat and also raised the profile of Teen Vogue.”

Blame-shifting, an age-old device in human personal relationships, adds a small twist into the concept.

In this version, the viewpoint of the victim (or observer) is changed not only to disorient, but to shift guilt from the actual perpetrator to someone else – often the victim. This too increasingly has come to the fore in politics. A definition (from the psychopathfree.com) on the personal level: “Blame-shifting is when a person does something wrong or inappropriate, and then dumps the blame on someone else to avoid taking responsibility for their own behavior.” The article lists five techniques – tactics for this mental jujitsu – including playing victim, minimizing feelings, arguing about the argument, telling self-pitying stories and “the stink bomb” (a major, loaded, counter-accusation).

All of this has clear political application; look around many ideological web sites and you’ll find larger or smaller examples of it.

One such case was raised by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, after the Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, when his accuser Christine Blasey Ford fielded criticism from Kavanaugh’s defenders:

“Right-wing male politicians such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have the audacity to declare that Ford has been victimized … by Democrats. (Maybe ask her?) Even if you thought that, why would anyone say such a stunningly condescending thing? Telling someone who has said she is the victim of a sexual assault whom she should and should not hold responsible for her pain represents a new low in Senate Republicans’ twisted exercise in blame-shifting.”

On any given day, check the political news out of Washington and count the instances of blame-shifting. You may be surprised at the number. (Warning: Don’t try this as a drinking game.)
 

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