The “gaslighting” of victory

The “gaslighting” of victory
The “gaslighting” of victory

“Won or not won? Since Monday morning and the strange little tune that has been playing after the announcement of the results of the second round of the legislative elections, we could almost start to doubt. Of course, no camp has clearly won, if we place victory at the level of an absolute majority alone. But the attitude of the majority and of the President of the Republic is increasingly beginning to resemble that of a a forceful person who has been told no on multiple occasions and who persists in his attitude despite everything. Since Monday morning, there has been a scent of gaslight In France.

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The indices have been consistent for several years now. He who boasts of having conversations and “man-to-man trust relationships” with his ministers, as it were, overturned the dinner table on Sunday evening, June 9, by decreeing a sudden acceleration of the political tempo. Here and there, it has been said “annoyed” of the result of the European elections, to the point of precipitating an idea that had already been in the pipeline for some time but which was not supposed to happen until September, before the budget vote: the dissolution of the National Assembly. As a man who cannot stand contradiction, he sent the cutlery and dishes packing. It was up to others to clean up and repair the damage. And above all to try to understand: what could he possibly have in mind? For a month, analysts have been exhausting themselves in the exegesis of the presidential gesture, always assuming that he was “master of clocks” and Jupiterian. But if we focus more on the method than on the intentions, we observe all the characteristics of a strategy of masculinist manipulation: the gaslighting.

The term comes from a 1944 Hollywood film directed by George Cukor, Gaslight (Haunting a VF). A man tries to manipulate his wife into losing her mind in order to recover an inheritance: what she sees is not really what she sees, nor is what she hears, perhaps she is even responsible for the wavering, or even the chaos that gradually surrounds her. Helen Frappat described the formidable springs of this smokescreen effect in an essay published last October, Gaslighting or the art of silencing women (The Observatory, 2023), linking it with current themes of post-truth and information warfare. From the bedroom and the marital home to the political arena, the gaslighting has made its way, notes the author, who suggests analyzing “the continuity between the manipulation ofa person and the manipulation ofa fairly large number of people. Both forms of manipulation engage in a similar sleight of hand trick aimed at persuading that a fact that exists does not exist.”. It is less about lying outright than about making the other person doubt what he or she perceives of reality. By what means?

First, invisibility. As soon as the New Popular Front was formed, most Renaissance executives refused to use the new name of the union of the left, which was undoubtedly too loaded historically and symbolically. Instead, they preferred the old term Nupes (New Ecological and Social Popular Union), coined in 2022 on the occasion of the legislative elections. Implied: nothing new or extraordinary under the sun. Moreover, since Nupes recently floundered in the fall, it is better to conjure up an image of failure. This is of course evident from the language elements, but also relates to a blurring of the meaning of words which leads, according to Hélène Frappat, to a “simulacrum of conversation between political leaders and citizens”.

Then comes the reversal of responsibilities. The goal of the gaslighting is indeed to make the victim of manipulation believe that they are responsible for what is happening to them, by making them lose all their bearings. Throughout the campaign, the New Popular Front’s program was attacked on its credibility (which is quite normal) but was also accused of potentially plunging France into chaos, with economic decline and receivership as the key. This is to forget a little too quickly that France’s poor financial and budgetary situation owes everything to those who orchestrated the weeks of upheaval that we have just experienced. “Regime crisis” : this is nevertheless the warning that was issued Bruno Le Maire has Emmanuel Macron when the latter informed him of his decision to dissolve. Nothing that prevented him from “balancer [s]a grenade with the pin pulled in the legs”as the president is said to have boasted in Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10. If this does not have all the makings of a strategy of chaos…

Denial also comes into play. In the case we are dealing with, it is not frontal but operates quite subtly. For example, Gabriel Attal who is pleased on Sunday evening to see “the political camp that I represent […] alive and well”forgetting that the rescue of the “Ensemble” furniture owes much to the proper functioning of the Republican barrier and the withdrawal in their favor, in the second round, of the other candidates opposed to the RN. If this is also true for the left, the figures show that the transfer of votes and Republican discipline were more evident in one camp than the other (spoiler alert : not that of the former majority). So, if the maintenance in the post of his Prime Minister for a few more weeks can be justified, the long silence of the president, just broken today by a “letter to the French”, raises questions. In formulations as sibylline as the day after the first round, he claims that “Only the Republican forces represent an absolute majority”arguing that “the blocs or coalitions that emerge from these elections are all minorities”. Way of pretending nothing happened, or “let the dust settle to see clearly”in the words of one of Macron’s advisers – as if the smoke that one had thrown up oneself was returning to the sender? Because that is the whole trap of gaslighting : he who believes he has mastered the artifices runs the risk of mistaking shadows for shadows. »

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