Gaslighting In the Flames: Is Australia in an abusive relationship with its PM?

Is Scott Morrison gaslighting Australia and can it fight back?

Gaslighting is a term to describe tactics used to control others through undermining the victim’s sense of reality and sanity. The term originates from a 1938 play, that was made into a film in 1944, in which a husband makes his wife doubt her grip on reality and sanity in order to control her and ultimately swindle her out of a small fortune. One method he uses is to make the gaslights flicker. When she asks what is wrong with the lights, he denies there is any flickering at all. And so, the term gaslighting was born. This article will help explain it further and help identify if you, or someone you know is being gaslighted.

Although gaslighting is most commonly associated with personal relationships, the tactics are played out in many settings, including work places and governments. The manoeuvres can and are employed by any narcissist looking for a way to gain and maintain control while serving their own agenda. Trump for example has been accused of gaslighting since his inauguration.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline Factsheet cited in this NBC News article gaslighting strategies include:

· Withholding (meaning he or she refuses to listen or says they don’t understand)

· Countering (when the abuser questions the gaslight’s memory of an event)

· Blocking/diverting (when the abuser changes the subject or questions the victim’s thinking)

· Trivializing (making the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant)

· Forgetting/denial (when the manipulator pretends to have forgotten what actually happened or denies something he or she had previously agreed to)

There are clear examples of Morrison employing most of these tactics, particularly withholding, blocking/diverting, and trivializing as means to create uncertainty in the national psyche, create confusion and ultimately preserve his own position and agenda.

Morrison and his government are world renowned climate change deniers. While most of us can see the causes of the devastating fires as clearly as the nose on Morrison’s smirking face, he has perpetuated misinformation about the causes of the catastrophe, saying in December that “it’s not a credible suggestion to make that link” between climate and the bush fires.

The PM at Cobargo

His blatant disregard and refusal to meet with a contingent of 23 former and current fire chiefs from around Australia about their dire concerns for this fire season and lack of preparedness, not once, but on two occasions is a textbook example of withholding. Then there was the secretive holiday in Hawaii, his shrugging off the toll on volunteer fire fighters, and his awkward lack of compassion to devastated fire victims.

Morrison has been spinning untruths for a while, claiming Australia doesn’t have a climate or emissions problem.

In September, Morrison claimed in a speech to the UN General Assembly on the subject that his government was meeting all its moral obligations to reduce emissions. The arguments he put forward were fact checked by the Climate Council and found to be erroneous at best, deceitful at worst, stating that contrary to Morrison’s claims, “Australia has the highest emissions per capita in the developed world.”

In October, even the International Monetary Fund urged Australia to do more to reduce greenhouse emissions.

But Morrison has doggedly stuck to his lies, going so far as to label the fires a “natural disaster” that “happen all the time,” even in the face of contrary statements from former NSW Fire Chief, Greg Mullens who said: “they are NOT.”

Morrison used the blocking/diverting tactic, combined with a little withholding to hush up Greta Thunberg when she called out Australia’s climate record. Instead of directly addressing Thunberg’s arguments he focussed more on her age, repeatedly referring to “kids” and saying climate debate “raised anxieties of children.” He then implied she was just a mouth piece for some nefarious puppet master sparking fear into all the little children, saying “we’ve got to let kids be kids.”

Closer to home we see these gaslighting measures being used, sometimes blatantly, against our own citizenry.

After the Cobargo incident Morrison told reporters: “I don’t take it personally, I just see it as a sense of frustration.”

Morrison’s response trivializes and demeans the reality of terror, complete devastation, and biting sense of betrayal down to an outburst of temper and attempts to deflect the blame from his own pig-headed inactions. This smacks of gaslighting.

But he doesn’t stop there. It could be argued that he employs diverting with his release of a glossy TV advertisement celebrating his government’s handling of the bush fire crisis.

As political reporter Katherine Murphy points out, even before the fires took hold the PM used the diversionary tactic of the “Canberra bubble” response as a regular weapon “to deflect questions he doesn’t want to answer. Anything not to the prime minister’s liking can also be confined to the bubble.” To awkward questions he would answer, “That’s a bubble preoccupation. A bubble question.” In other words, “Don’t waste my valuable time. Don’t expect an answer.”

In short, if you saw your friend treated the way Morrison has treated Australia, you’d tell them to flee: run for the hills and don’t look back.

What is his agenda?

Every gaslighter has an agenda. Morrison’s is simple: greed. He likes to dress it up as working for a “strong economy” but it still spells greed and, as we see now, the economy and environment are inextricably intertwined.

This greed comes principally in the form of profits generated from coal. Propelled by economic rationalism the Government has been chasing a budget surplus as if it were the holy grail of political success and immortality. In order to achieve said surplus they’ve sacrificed many social and environmental programs, while at the same time amped up the mining and export of coal.

Of course, the problem with this agenda is that it flies directly in the face of current climate science data, evidence and global sentiment. This is where gaslighting comes into its own as a means to establish control and affect the desired outcome: profit.

Of course, Australians voted for Morrison’s government, but that is another case study in gaslighting.

Could the Morrison gaslighting be coming to an end?

The lights started going out for him at the UN Climate Summit where his attempts to withhold, block, divert and trivialize were obvious and ungainly. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “the issue just would not go away and Mr Morrison’s attempts to divert attention from it have only exposed the contradictions in his position.”

Since the fires started Australia has collectively woken up to Morrison’s deceptions.

Woke is an up-to-the-minute word relating to being awoken, or aware of injustices in society: Stay angry, stay woke. Australia is now woke to the gaslighting and Scott Morrison should be nervous.

While the fires in Australia may have eased briefly, a new fire is raging in the Australian people and it’s aimed directly at him, or Scomo as he used to be affectionately known. Now he is referred to as Smoko, or Scumo and the affection is gone.

On the left Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese cooks food for the volunteer fire brigade that he bought with his own money. On the right Scott Morrison.

Condemnation of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s leadership has grown in intensity with the fires. His litany of misdeeds has brought on the wrath of Australians as they struggle to deal with the ongoing disaster that is far from over.

Granted, he has now deployed troops, released government funding and offered some reassuring rhetoric. However, these measures have been described as “too little, too late,” with that hashtag becoming popular on social media to describe the PM’s initiatives.

Is the writing on the wall?

The anger in Australia is palpable. The scenes in Cobargo, beamed across the world represent the feelings in many parts of the country, but it’s important to hear from more than one town to get a clear understanding of the pain, the rage and the loathing seething in this country.

The rage is widespread and has taken a variety of forms. Back in December, while he was in Hawaii, hundreds of people gathered outside his house calling for his return to address the fires. More protest marches have been held across the country, with some placards calling Morrison the “liar from the Shire.” Now there are organised, simultaneous protests planned in nine cities across Australia specifically directed at Morrison and with calls to “sack scomo.”

Thankfully Morrison’s propaganda TV advertisement was so blatantly self-serving and atrocious in its execution that no one fell for it.

A parody of the advertisement sprang up within days of the original, a testament to the disdain felt toward the original. You can see the parody here.

In other areas street art mocks the PM’s cavalier attitude to Australia’s crisis and some creative folk designed a Hawaiian style shirt with Morrison’s face embedded in the hibiscus.

Hawaiian holiday scandal immortalized in a shirt: ‘Mahola ScoMo’. You can buy one for only $70 with 100% profits going to volunteer fire fighting organisations

But none of these actions compare with the raw emotion of those on the fire fronts. This clip shows a fire fighter from Nelligen using the media to tell Morrison to “get f****d” and another calls emphatically for the Prime Minister to “stand down now.”

Raw anger of the Nelligen firefighter

Morrison’s responses are not what Australia wants or needs from him. Regional journalist, Bill Hoffman wrote a recent article titled: “Please take it personally, ScoMo” in which he implores the Prime Minister to become more personally accountable for “his government’s tardy, inadequate response.”

When asked about the security of his leadership he dismissed any concern, saying: “There has been plenty of criticism, but I can’t be distracted by that.” I think that’s called blocking in the gaslighters handbook, isn’t it?

He seems to be the only person not concerned with his leadership. Not only has Syria, Bolivia and Somalia labelled Morrison’s leadership as “lamentable” and “reckless,” but even Bette Midler has called him out.

Bette labels Morrison “an idiot”

Mr Morrison should look to history if he thinks his future is secure as Australia’s leader. Australian’s are renowned for being an easy-going bunch but get us riled and you’ll know about it. We have a long and glorious history of protests which have had much success in bringing about social, environmental and political change. Our protests go back to convict rebellion and have brought changes in women’s rights, racist policies, laws against homosexuality, and wars.

The ire of this nation is ready to call for change in leadership and it will not go gentle into the good night.

Scott Morrison has lost both political and moral authority. Already campaigns have begun for not just a Parliamentary Inquiry or Royal Commission, but for the sacking of our Prime Minister, with people being urged to use the hashtag #dearyourmajesty as a call for the Queen to use her supreme powers to bring Morrison down. Just as an aside, the campaign would be better off calling on Governor General, David Hurley, to get involved rather than Her Maj., as she never interferes directly with state business. The infamous 1975 sacking of the PM is a point in case.

Of course, there is the slimmest chance that Morrison will claw his way back into the hearts of Australians, but some would say he’s got Buckley’s chance, which brings me nicely to Nathan Buckley. Australian Football League star, turned coach, who has offered some advice to the PM in a Tweet which would behove him to heed:

“Leadership is hard. Put your hand up and accept what could have been done better, by you and by others. Then accept the vitriol, the hurt and the pain. Listen, understand and empathise, then take action. Firstly for today and then for tomorrow.”

I’ll leave you with this from Bernie Sanders in his Tweet on the bush fires, but which has relevance to every one of us and our planet and to Scott Morrison:

“Our futures are all connected.”

If you enjoyed my article please let me know with lots of clapping. I live for applause. For more nomadic tales and experiments come see me at Coolfooting where life is a journey not a race.

A teacher, writer and traveller, but not necessarily in that order. Writing on life, both real and imagined.

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