If You Were a Leftist Teenager During the Iraq War, You Were Gaslit 24/7 by Everyone
Someone needs to write a book about how literally insane it made you being constantly lied to about Iraq by sloppy propaganda as a teenager.
Right now, I’m slowly working my way through Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream, a meticulous deconstruction of the media’s response after 9/11. In it, Faludi argues that producers, pundits and executives colluded in propagating the mythic binary of imperialist cowboys and the shirking violets and children they rescue.
In my own lived memory as a teenager growing up with this fuckery, I remember feeling how much of it wasn’t journalism but rather pathetic theater. Pundits like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly were not so much news anchors than actors performing machismo. This realization that the news was less about facts than absurd method-acting is what The Daily Show and later The Colbert Show would respond to in satire.
Meanwhile, while the star of Glenn Beck rose to new heights, Faludi observed that the number of female pundits and bylines written by women plummeted. Producers and editors turned to masculine voices to assure America that the invasion of Iraq was legitimate, necessary for our national security. In turn, the anti-war movement was feminized, juvenilized, and even queered by the media voice which became husky, white and male.
To build the stage for this new reality, journalists chased wild interpretations of poll data, like insisting 9/11 made women desperate for marriage and babies. They ran dozens of stories predicting a post-9/11 baby boom that never actually materialized. Magazine writers would interview three or four women desperate for marriage and generalize from them that ours is a nation of women who want to drop out of the workforce to go back to a better, simpler time when women knew their place.
Faludi’s underlying contention is that social progress was reversed during this administration. The media found it immensely profitable to cooperate in staging George W. Bush’s theater of war — the ultimate reality TV. To put it another way, we grew up in a decade of fake America.
Then, over this past weekend, my friend Andrew had me watch Hypernormalisation by Adam Curtis. I can agree with its thesis: it’s no secret that the government knows how to program a docile electorate.
Psychiatrists will tell you that being lied to about your reality is a form of abuse. Children are particularly vulnerable to this kind of abuse because when you’re a child, you look to others you look up to for validation that you’re interpreting the world accurately. So kids ask their parents and teachers a ceaseless cascade of stupid questions hoping to triangulate from their answers that their perception isn’t broken. But adults are fallible. Many unconsciously lie to children because as adults, we don’t have all the answers and it’s often times easier to lie than admit ignorance.
So if you were a bright kid, you knew adults were lying to you all the time. The post-9/11 world was so complicated, so tortuous that no adult knew what was going on geopolitically. Much like today, when very few actually understand what is going on in Syria, very few then understood the logic that had go from being attacked by Saudi hijackers to invading Iraq.
But it didn’t just stop there. Adults didn’t know what the GDP was so they made something up about supply and demand because it sounded right. They didn’t want to have the difficult conversation of explaining why school segregation keeps happening. So they lied to you. All the time. About everything. This is gaslighting.
Gaslighting is “a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”
Every time you questioned the inertia of unthinking, you were made to doubt your sanity.
If you’ve been keeping up with Leftish media lately, gaslighting as a concept is getting a lot of play. Lauren Duca published a piece for Teen Vogue explaining how Donald Trump is gaslighting America by lying about things he most definitely said and did on tape. BBC’s Adam Curtis diagnoses the official manipulation of facts under conditions of nonlinear warfare as gaslighting in his films.
Where we have to go from here is hard. We have to admit that the agents of gaslighting aren’t the Right, but many who claim to be moderate, in what I call the mayonnaise middle. A huge reason why I despise David Brooks is because he played such a major role in normalizing our invasion of Iraq to Democrats. He coached my teachers and professors to believe that the invasion was in our best interest on virtually no other evidence than the flag looks pretty in the breeze. He used his platform to bludgeon with his credentials — I KNOW BETTER BECAUSE I WORK AT THE NEW YORK TIMES was always his unspoken sentiment.
And it wasn’t just Brooks. It was Kevin Drum who now works as a senior editor at Mother Jones. Jonathan Chait who writes for New York magazine. Andrew Sullivan. Matt Yglesias. Ezra Klein. All of these dudes made their careers being wrong about Iraq and yet continue to be rewarded handsomely for their opinions. And they quite often use their masthead leverage to fingerwag at Colin Kaepernick and millennials for being too left.
That these *same* white men came out to gaslight Bernie Sanders’ millennials during this past campaign is why I decided I had to start writing my own political column in the first place. The place of authority these men speak from is post-9/11 artifice. They’ve been wrong when it matters. I don’t trust them. Neither should you.
If you believed in your heart after 9/11 that the Iraq invasion was wrong, you were gaslighted by virtually everyone: your teachers, the media, the government itself. If you were a kid after 9/11, you likely realized at a very young age that adults are too busy to ever think very deeply about the world in which they live. Even your teachers are fairly pacified by shallow answers to deep questions.
I grew up in an era of post-truth. The facts didn’t matter because the lie was too powerful. And any child who couldn’t make sense of it was gaslighted, told they were crazy. It took years to recover.
And it wasn’t just me.
We’ve been here before.
We prepare for it again.
Don’t let your guard down.