Photo: Sue Ogracki, AP

Photo: Sue Ogracki, AP

Great gas lighters are born, not made.

Either you have it or you don’t. No amount of training or mentoring, reading or watching film can replace the rare God-given ability to tell extraordinary lies so fervently and frequently that people begin to doubt their own knowledge and beliefs.

I’ve had some experience with gas lighters but they were amateurs. Their efforts were valiant but fell short. Oh, they could lie well enough. They also did well on the repetition, unwavering front. Tell the same lie, exactly the same way, until you have to modify it somehow to give it new life. It’s the cute little twists that make gas lighting worth doing.

What these amateurs lacked, though, is gas lighting’s essential oil.

Audacity.

Audacity as defined by Merriam-Webster as “the quality or state of being audacious: as a: intrepid boldness; b: bold or arrogant disregard of normal restraints.”

Donald Trump has audacity of the latter type. Fortunately (or unfortunately) none of his other playmates are so lucky. They are found wanting on the audacity front, even though a few of them like Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio have started to find their audacity footing. It’s too late, though. It’s like they’re walking up Mt. Everest in flip flops while Mr. Trump is wearing crampons on his thousand dollar boots.

People without audacity get creamed by people with it. This goes for political opponents, the media and the public. The audacity-less person just can’t believe anyone would tell such incredible lies and, once discovered, repeat and expand the lies, chisel the lies in stone, and threaten to punch or sue anyone who doesn’t buy the lies. Audacity paralyzes people because, lacking audacity, they don’t have the tools to respond.

This is when audacity morphs into another nasty A word.

Aggression.

It’s not like Americans are so dainty. We’re a pretty rough people. You get callouses from all that bootstrap pulling, you know, so we all have good strong farmer’s hands. Except we don’t.

There’s a reason why we have problems with bullying in school, cyber-bullying on the internet, bullying at work, lane-changing bullying on the freeway. Bullies of all types know that the rest of us are scared to death of aggression. They know it and they count on it. A victim who is scared won’t retaliate. No retaliation. No risk. No regard for normal constraints on behavior. No limits on audacity.

The toxic combo of audacity and aggression ties regular people in knots. Some of them start to erode and corrode, making space in their brains for lies they never would have believed a month or two ago. The lies move in to the spaces left empty by the exit of reason and they flourish there. All someone like a Donald Trump has to do is walk by and wink once in a while to keep all the lies burning briskly.

You have to admit that Mr. Trump’s talent is a rare one, to be able to advance such extraordinary, outlandish deception, to create alternative realities that become populated by people who, a few short months ago, would have argued that day really was day and not night as Mr. Trump declared.

And we thought it could only happen in the movies.

 

 

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Wikipedia defines gas lighting as “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”