- TheJan. 6 committee zeroed in on Trump’s “dereliction of duty” during its public hearing on Thursday.
- But a politics expert said the panel has been most successful in highlighting Trump’s manipulation methods.
- “Trump is a master gaslighter,” Matthew Schmidt said.
Donald Trump’s actions and inactions surrounding January 6, 2021 took center stage at Thursday’s Congressional hearing. But its the former president’s manipulation methods that stole the panel’s six-week show, a politics expert told Insider this week.
The House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol has hosted eight public hearings since June 10culminating in a primetime hearing on Thursday evening — the last before the panel breaks for an August recess.
Lawmakers in the last month and a half have presented copious amounts of evidence suggesting former President Donald Trump Trump’s “dereliction of duty” that day and featured bombshell witness testimony highlighting the former president’s erratic behavior as a mob of rioters descended upon the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
But the primary point the panel has succeeded in proving thus far has little to do with Trump’s actions — and everything to do with Trump’s mindset, according to Matthew Schmidt, an associate professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven.
“My big takeaway is that Donald Trump is able to do what he does because he’s a gaslighter,” Schmidt told Insider. “Trump is a master gaslighter.”
Gaslighting — a form of psychological manipulation — involves sowing doubts about someone’s perception of reality by distorting facts and truths. The perpetrator often employs lies, denials, and fabricated memories to exert power and control over a victim. The term has grown in colloquial usage in recent years.
The panel’s hearing on Thursday focused on the many steps Trump failed to take amid the chaos of January 6 — he refused to call off his supporters for hours, ignored his many advisors’ strategic advice, and refused to say the 2020 election was over.
But there’s a subtle, yet significant, difference in acting immorally and failing to act at all, Schmidt said, and Trump’s acts of omission during and after the Capitol riot, are his own form of gaslighting.
“[The January 6 panel] has shown that he did not act the right way, but most people need evidence the person acted in the wrong way,” Schmidt said. “Action by omission is always less powerful, and Trump is a master of action by omission.”
Schmidt also pointed to Trump’s tweets during and after the siege as further proof of his careful calculations. More than an hour after the first group of rioters overran police officers outside the Capitol, Trump tweeted about the attack.
“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country,” he wrote.
A former White House aide on Thursday tested that Trump initially didn’t want to include any mention of “peace” in his response to the mob. But even his ultimate inclusion of “stay peaceful” calls into question the real message Trump was aiming to send, the politics expert suggested.
“‘Stay peaceful’ is gaslighting,” Schmidt said. “It could mean ‘stop attacking,’ because attacking is the opposite of peace; or it could mean ‘invade the Capitol, but stay peaceful as you do it.'”
The politics professor also posited that Trump’s tweets leading up to the riot, in which he invited his supporters to come to DC to protest the election results, as well as his “Stop the Steal” rally speech that preceded the attack, were examples of dog whistling—another form of gaslighting.
The term has taken on a new meaning in the sphere of politics, representing a coded message that can only be understood by a certain group of people.
“I think many instances were unambiguous calls to violence, but they were unambiguous dog whistles,” Schmidt said of Trump’s pre-riot communications to his supporters. “You can always claim to not have known the dogs would hear it, or that you meant ‘dinnertime,’ not ‘eat the vice president.'”