*Note: This article has been corrected to show that Bernie is trademarked with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
If anyone has ever found themself as the victim of narcissistic abuse, they know how impossible it can seem to explain the abuse to other people in the narcissist’s circle. Usually the best option is to not try to explain anything and simply walk away.
But what about when the narcissist won’t let you walk away? Or what about situations in which walking away is not an option?
This piece will discuss the current sociopolitical atmosphere in terms of trademark infringement, gaslighting, and what the Nazis did to the citizens of Germany. Then it will circle back and discuss what this means for the current state of affairs in the United States.
Instead of just hopping into the aspects of narcissistic gaslighting, I would like to first discuss what Express Reverse Passing Off is in Trademark Law. The situation is quite similar to gaslighting although it applies to business. And I find that many people can follow business topics more easily than mental health topics. I myself have experienced narcissistic abuse, and I have also experienced extreme Express Reverse Passing Off of registered trademarks. I find the two situations to be nearly identical.
Express Reverse Passing Off in Trademark Law: What Is It?
Express Reverse Passing Off is a form of trademark infringement. It’s covered by the Lanham Act and it can also be called Reverse Palming Off.
A trademark is a type of intellectual property. Trademarks cover names, brands, logos, and slogans. Copyrights cover written or visual works, audio works, and performances. Usually when someone thinks about trademark infringement, they think of someone using another person’s slogan or logo or pretending to be affiliated with a trademark. In the case of Reverse Passing Off, the culprit takes a trademark’s goods or services, erases the name of the trademark, and then passes off the goods or services as their own. Express Reverse Passing Off is when the culprit has the ability to sell the stolen goods or services more rapidly or to a larger audience than the brand or entity they are stealing from.
The result of Express Reverse Passing Off is that the entity stealing the goods or services from the source does not give credit and gets those stolen goods or services circulated throughout the world at a faster rate than the originator. It results in people often mistaking the actual source of the goods and services—the entity who created them in the first place—as the entity who steals them. This is because of the “express” aspect.
Sometimes Reverse Passing Off isn’t “express.” Express connotes that the junior entity (the one that steals) has an ability to promote or sell the stolen goods faster than the senior entity due to a number of factors including customer base, public relations, and publishing capabilities.
The end result is the senior entity becomes violated in a very big way. In my case of having my trademark’s goods and services passed off rapidly, it was so extreme it actually felt like narcissistic abuse.
So How Is Reverse Passing Off Like Gaslighting?
To start, a narcissist who preys on another person does so in a number of ways. You can search for “gaslight tactics” or “narcissist tactics” and find years of reading material on the subject. Enclyclopaedia Brittanica describes gaslighting as:
Gaslighting, an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,” on a single victim over an extended period. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in his own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from appearance, thereby rendering him pathologically dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings.
*Note that this definition says “usually practiced by a single deceiver…on a single victim.” Gaslighting can occur en masse as well, both practiced by and on multiple people, such as what happened in Nazi Germany, which I will get to in a second.
Donald Trump is a great example of a gaslighter or narcissistic abuser because he and his administration practice gaslighting on a daily basis to the entire country. We are all witnessing this together. This article by The Guardian does a decent job explaining what it is like experiencing Donald Trump and his administration’s behavior through the eyes of someone who has experienced narcissistic abuse. I could add a few things to this, however.
Gaslighting is based in the act of lying. Other common techniques include projection, denial, and imitation. There is no one set way that a person gaslights. It’s completely dependent on the victim involved. In fact, I would go so far to say that gaslighting has almost unlimited potential due to the nature of every person being unique; because the abuser seeks to distort the reality of the person being abused, they always have to adapt to the victim’s personal circumstances. I think that a narcissistic abuser who practices gaslighting is generally focused on their victim/victims to an extreme. The more they study them, the more potential they have to psychologically abuse them.
An example of gaslighting through projection is when a narcissist places blame onto the person or people they are gaslighting. That blame is almost always blame for something that they experience within or personally practice. Stephanie A. Sarkis, Ph.D. describes projection as the “signature technique” of a gaslighter in this article by Forbes.
Denial is important to the gaslighter because above all else, they will never, ever admit that they are gaslighting someone or someones. Even when faced with facts, they will deny what they did or said. For a gaslighter to admit to their abuse would mean for them to have a breakthrough moment of self-reflection, and that is extremely rare for a narcissist.
Imitation is my favorite aspect of gaslighting and narcissistic abuse to discuss. As I mentioned earlier in this paper, I have been on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse before. My first experience with narcissistic abuse was probably also the worst—aside from having Donald Trump as a president, because that is awful, too. It included my abuser starting to imitate me while simultaneously putting me down for who I was on a regular basis. The combination was terrible, and it was akin to psychological identity theft. In fact, that same person later actually did attempt a form of identity theft as it is defined by law when they used my social security number to take out a credit card.
I was lucky enough to have other witnesses to that narcissistic abuse, who were also on the receiving end of being gaslit by that person. Because of that, we were able to heal later on, after separating ourselves from the abusive situation. I spent years trying to get them to open up to me and now, about twenty years later, we can sanely look back and recognize what happened for what it was.
That same early experience of being gaslit actually was a blessing in a way. It gave us the ability to recognize the same kind of gaslighting behavior in other people or situations, sometimes early enough to avoid the worst kinds of repeat abuses. It also enabled me to look at the current sociopolitical atmosphere in the United States with objectivity while separating myself from Donald Trump’s insane gaslighting techniques.
When Donald Trump was elected, actually, the two other witnesses to the previously mentioned narcissist and I all said, “Oh no, Trump is like _____ only stupider.” No joke.
Nope, not funny at all. Because after one has experienced narcissistic abuse and gaslighting, they know how serious it is and they never want to experience it again. So to have the “leader” of the “free world” continuously lie to and gaslight the populace is actually quite traumatizing. And to anyone who still possesses an inkling of integrity, it’s a call to action to help those who are being gaslit —yet do not know they are being gaslit—understand.
How Does Everything I Just Discussed Relate to Nazi Tactics?
The Nazis rose to power along with Hitler due to propaganda. If you are not familiar with the Nazis, they were the racist, xenophobic, violent regime under Adolph Hitler that was responsible for the deaths of at least 6 million Jews and about 15 million to 20 million people whom they deemed “undesirable.” Of course, we all expect everyone to know this already but a surprising number of people don’t. The Nazis did this while using propaganda tactics to convince the citizens of Germany that what they were doing was righteous and good.
If you are not familiar with Joseph Goebbels, he was the man behind most Nazi propaganda.
Goebbels advocated for lying.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” —Joseph Goebbels
Goebbels advocated for denial.
“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.” —Joseph Goebbels
Goebbels advocated for closely studying perceived “enemies,” and co-opting / imitating their viewpoints:
“Political propaganda, the art of anchoring the things of the state in the broad masses so that the whole nation will feel a part of them, cannot therefore remain merely a means to the goal of winning power. It must become a means of building and keeping power.
This requires alert attention to the events of the day, and a trained and lively creativity that must include a complete knowledge of the soul of the people. The people must be understood in its deepest depths, or intuitively understood, for only then can one speak in a way that the people will understand. Propaganda must be the science of the soul of the people. It requires an organized and purposeful system if it is to be successful in the long run.
That is what we lacked during the war. That is where our enemy was superior to us. We must make up for that. We must take the techniques and dominance of the other side’s opinion apparatus. Which is all they really had, and fill it with the fire of the soul and the glow of new ideas.” —Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg, 1934 speech
It’s this last part, the imitation aspect of gaslighting in narcissistic abuse, the imitation aspect of Nazi propaganda, and the imitation aspect of Express Reverse Passing Off in trademark law that I would like to circle back to.
How does this relate to Donald Trump?
Donald Trump tells a lot of lies, let’s just start there. He lies about things he said on camera, he lies about things he said the day before. He lies on TV, he lies in interviews, and he lies on Twitter. His administration lies about Trump’s lies. Trump has said lies upon lies. His total lie-count is over 12,000 since his 2017 inauguration, as of mid-August. CNN keeps a weekly false-claim analysis. This past week counted 48 false claims. Last week, 84 false claims were made.
Donald Trump tells so many lies, it’s hard to find anything he says that is actually true. And, I know comparing his administration to Hitler’s regime grinds some people the wrong way, but I think that those people need to learn more about the Holocaust. I think anyone who truly understands what happened during the Holocaust sees what is happening in the United States as truly terrifying.
People around the world see what is happening to the United States as terrifying.
It’s not just the concentration camps at the border (which are now practicing involuntary DNA testing and refusing to allow members of Congress to visit after inhumane conditions were revealed there).
It’s not just the fact that Trump is telling the military to seize private property so they can build his border wall:
“President Donald Trump is so eager to complete hundreds of miles of border fence ahead of the 2020 presidential election that he has directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules, according to current and former officials involved with the project.”
It’s not just the fact that Trump denies climate change is real. And that he refused to participate in the G7 Climate Meeting in France with other foreign leaders (he actually lied and fabricated a story to get out of it).
Of course all the climate denial is actually extremely terrifying and upsetting, because we have a rapidly closing window of time to address the issue or our planet is going to become inhospitable very, very soon (within our lifetimes).
Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive. “Right to life is likely to be undermined alongside the rule of law, special rapporteur says” — The Guardian
Human Civilization Will Crumble by 2050 If We Don’t Stop Climate Change Now, New Paper Claims — Live Science
(You should definitely read that last link I posted)
What makes Trump so particularly harmful—despite his physical violence towards people who aren’t white, towards women, and towards the environment— are his lies. His propaganda. Trump is especially dangerous because he is acutely aware of how to use Nazi propaganda.
“According to a 1990 Vanity Fair interview, Ivana Trump once told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that her husband, real-estate mogul Donald Trump, now a leading Republican presidential candidate, kept a book of Hitler’s speeches near his bed.” — Business Insider
Leading Civil Rights Lawyer Shows 20 Ways Trump Is Copying Hitler’s Early Rhetoric and Policies — Common Dreams
Trump’s gaslighting is particularly harmful because it affects almost everyone. Anyone who doesn’t have nerves of steel, hearts of gold, and who isn’t acutely aware of psychological manipulation tactics is prone to some domino effect of Trump’s lies and propaganda. He tells his followers lies, then his followers repeat them. And he has been working with armies of trolls (Russian and American) to spread disinformation.
It’s Trump’s psychological manipulation and psychological abuse that is the most harmful to U.S. citizens and the planet because without knowing what is going on, we cannot make educated decisions. We cannot act on things like climate change when we are being told that it is not real. We cannot address racism and prevent genocide at the border when we are convinced that toddlers are criminals. I mean, I can. I can resist all that shit, but that’s because I know what is happening. About 40% of the population seems to be unaware of what is happening (or condones it).
How Does This Relate to Bernie Sanders?
Trump has a habit—or a tactic—of ripping people’s ideas and words off and twisting them into his own version of their meanings. Sanders is like a polar opposite of Donald Trump, and a million times smarter. If you had the two of them in a room together, Trump would be exposed as the idiot that he is because Trump never says anything of substance and Sanders loves facts and statistics. The two men are practically from different planets. Sanders is sharp as a whistle and honest down to his mitochondria, and Trump is like a walking whoopie cushion.
But Trump has taken a couple of things that Sanders or his campaign has said, and it’s resulted in gaslighting. This is a real issue because as a result of concerted online trolling, people are trying to say Sanders is like Trump—which is absolutely illogical and not true.
So to start, Sanders was bringing in massive crowds during his 2016 campaign, just like this current campaign. However, the mainstream media never showed his crowds. His grassroots movement was almost entirely online. Here is an example from a 2015 event:
And here is a photo from a 2016 event:
Here is a photo from this year:
Here is another recent Bernie event:
Now, as this article points out, Sanders draws HUGE crowds. But he doesn’t bask in them.
“The Sanders ego. By which I mean its overt absence. When any other candidate hears a crowd chant their name, a grin starts at the corners of the mouth. Enjoying the adulation is basically irresistible. Not him. It’s as if he’s impatient for them to stop so he can start ranting about issues. The only other extremely famous figure I can think of who lacks that kind of visible ego is Noam Chomsky. I have no idea how they do it.” — Rick Salutin
Contrast that to Trump. Trump puts on a huge smile and pretends he’s Jesus when people cheer at his rallies.
So this is an important point to note: Sanders supporters were pissed in the last election cycle that the mainstream media never showed his crowds. Ever. They still don’t this time around. They do their best to ignore him. And that’s anger-inducing. We are in the right to be upset with news cycles purposefully omitting evidence of Sanders’ support in numbers from cable television. They showed Hillary Clinton’s tiny rooms full of old people. They show Biden’s tiny rooms full of old people. They show Trump’s rallies. But they never show Sanders’ rallies.
Yet whenever a Sanders supporter brings this up, a troll or multiple trolls (who knows, maybe they are not paid trolls but actual people who have been misinformed) pop up and start saying we “sound like Trump” or something along those lines. It’s hard to grasp this spin on reality, but I am going to try:
So we are upset that Sanders’ massive support from real citizens of the United States gets ignored and we can’t talk about it because Trump talks about the size of his rallies and so if we talk about it then we are copying Trump. Did I get it right?
Trump’s rallies in the 2016 election cycle weren’t actually as big as Sanders’. But as soon as people rooting for Sanders started excitedly passing around photos on social media about the immense grassroots movement we were forming, Trump upped his rally-size rhetoric to annoying proportions.
Appealing to The Working Class
Sanders’ presidential campaigns have been based on the same exact premises of his entire political career:
- The 1% keeps getting richer and the 99% keeps getting poorer;
- The fossil fuel industry, big-pharmaceutical companies, and billionaire class own the 6 corporations that collectively control almost all of the mainstream media in the United States;
- Every person is deserving of clean water, clean air, a livable climate, a livable wage, healthcare, and an education;
- And mostly, that if the 99% were to collectively join together and fight for our rights, we could win this fight against the 1%.
Trump took Sanders’ notion of appealing to the working class and tried to make himself seem like “one of us.” But the reality is he is not one of us. He is a billionaire con artist.
Trump also ran on the premise of “draining the swamp,” promising to rid Washington, D.C. of corruption. However, he has done the exact opposite. He has staffed unvetted heads of nearly every part of his cabinet. He has rolled back all the environmental protections the Obama administration put into place. He has obstructed justice innumerable times. And mostly, he is likely a Russian asset. There has been no swamp-draining. He has overfilled Washington, D.C. with swampy, shady characters who have zero interest in upholding the welfare of the citizens of the United States—unless those citizens happen to be in the wealthiest 1%.
Trump also absconded the notion that the 1% owns most mainstream media. But instead of discussing how mainstream media could be fairer and more ethical, he attacks every single news outlet that there is when they don’t lavish praise on him like sycophants. His issue isn’t the 1% and it isn’t that corporations have bought mainstream media’s narratives—Trump’s issue is that he wants to be able to continue to buy the media’s narrative (primarily through outlets like Fox and Breitbart).
Trump lies and then complains when the media calls him out on the truth. He reacts by insulting the media in large blanket statements about how the media lies. Trump calls all mainstream media that covers him honestly “fake news.”
Sanders tells the truth and then certain journalists (not all of them) who work for mainstream media outlets twist themselves in pretzels trying to come up with ways to smear Sanders. Such as recently, when Sanders quoted a peer-reviewed study from the American Journal of Public Health, and a journalist who regularly writes hit-pieces on Sanders blatantly lied while contradicting the Washington Post’s own reporting from this past February in an attempt to discredit Sanders.
Washington Post: The study Bernie cited on 500,000 medical bankruptcies was not “peer-reviewed”
Study’s author: Your Washington Post “Fact Checker” article falsely claimed that my article in the American Journal of Public Health had not undergone peer review. Demands retraction pic.twitter.com/84kMzvpNLR
— Warren Gunnels (@GunnelsWarren) August 29, 2019
The mainstream media is owned by the richest people and corporations on the planet. It does not cover all people the same way. There are hidden agendas behind how the media covers people, as my viral article about Naked and Afraid’s treatment and editing of me pointed out in great detail. This is also something that I wrote a research paper about in 2015. Media manipulation is not a new concept at all; however, it has increased in scope and severity over the last few years.
Publications like the Washington Post—which even as Sanders has said, do employ some ethical journalists—do not want Bernie Sanders to win the election because Jeff Bezos, the Post’s owner, would be targeted by increased taxes on the 1% while also forced to treat his workers better.
There is a very good reason why most mainstream media publications are terrified of Bernie Sanders winning. Please understand that none of the media’s reasons for hating on Bernie Sanders extend to concern for anyone but the 1%. The 99% absolutely should get behind Sanders on this.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media actually loves Trump because he is so unhinged that he provides meaty articles to write about on a daily basis. Additionally, Trump would never try to separate the 1% from its position of power.
This is incredibly dangerous because Trump has co-opted the reality of what is happening in the media. Trump’s general sentiment about the mainstream media being corrupt is actually true—it’s just not true in the way that he uses that sentiment.
Sanders’ notion of the media needing a paradigm shift is just that—that reality that Trump has co-opted and distorted to the confusion of the country.
To Fight Corporate ‘Assault on Journalism,’ Sanders Unveils Plan to Stop Big Media Mergers and Bolster Independent News “We cannot sit by and allow corporations, billionaires, and demagogues to destroy the Fourth Estate, nor can we allow them to replace serious reporting with infotainment and propaganda.”
What Sanders is proposing is completely different from Trump lashing out at the media, it is coming from a different standpoint of wanting to help restructure the media. By no longer allowing billionaires and corporations (and demagogues) to control the narrative that the 99% hears, we would create a paradigm shift that allowed people to actually know what the hell is going on around them. As of now, that’s virtually impossible without making it a full-time job to double check every fact-check, looking into who funds every news source, and comparing every single article to the CRAAP test.
So as you can see, there are a few topics here that were a part of Sanders’ campaign in 2015 and still are—that Trump has twisted into his own narrative. What that has done is actually severely damaged many U.S. citizens’ ability to differentiate between the complaints although the complaints are not the same. Some have called Sanders and Trump two opposite sides of the same coin, however I disagree. I think that Trump stole that coin out of Sanders’ bag and scribbled his face on it.
This co-opting of viewpoints and talking points that relate to the 99% is how Trump made himself appealing to the masses. Except, he did so in bad faith.
You could call what Trump and his administration have done a massive practice in narcissistic power plays. You could also call it following Hitler’s playbook.
But in what could perhaps be an easier analogy to grasp, it is similar to Express Reverse Passing Off in trademark law.
Both Bernie and Trump are trademarked with the USPTO. The act of passing off another’s ideas in a rapid fashion or to a larger audience applies here as it does in trademark law. And while Sanders ran on these premises earlier than Trump did—Sanders has been advocating for equality and taking big money out of politics for 40 years now—citizens of the United States who were not following Sanders’ campaign prior to the 2016 election may not understand this.
Sanders’ campaign doesn’t sound like Trump at all, but Trump has tried to sound like Sanders. That is the nature of Reverse Passing Off.
By becoming president and having a large social media following through the White House Twitter account, Trump has the ability to pass off any kind of idea, concept, or rhetoric to over 60 million people in a second. And it’s the domino-effect of his psychological manipulation tactics spreading throughout his base and eventually into other people’s realities that is the problem. It is vital to remind each other that “other people” includes journalists and talking heads on mainstream media.
The last three years has seen a dramatic decline in journalism ethics. If you are not aware of what standard journalism ethics are supposed to be held to, please read The Pulitzer Center’s Ethics and Standards Policy and the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Another good source for understanding basic journalism ethics is the Ethical Journalism Network. Here is a quote from the EJN:
“Five Core Principles of Journalism
1. Truth and Accuracy
Journalists cannot always guarantee ‘truth’, but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. We should always strive for accuracy, give all the relevant facts we have and ensure that they have been checked. When we cannot corroborate information we should say so.
Journalists must be independent voices; we should not act, formally or informally, on behalf of special interests whether political, corporate or cultural. We should declare to our editors – or the audience – any of our political affiliations, financial arrangements or other personal information that might constitute a conflict of interest.
3. Fairness and Impartiality
Most stories have at least two sides. While there is no obligation to present every side in every piece, stories should be balanced and add context. Objectivity is not always possible, and may not always be desirable (in the face for example of brutality or inhumanity), but impartial reporting builds trust and confidence.
Journalists should do no harm. What we publish or broadcast may be hurtful, but we should be aware of the impact of our words and images on the lives of others.
A sure sign of professionalism and responsible journalism is the ability to hold ourselves accountable. When we commit errors we must correct them and our expressions of regret must be sincere not cynical. We listen to the concerns of our audience. We may not change what readers write or say but we will always provide remedies when we are unfair.”
None of those lists of ethics applies to most mainstream media publications these days when it comes to coverage of politicians who are deemed as “too far left” of “the establishment,” which of course, is owned by a handful of billionaires.
Let’s get this straight: Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who is willing to take on the billionaires and the 1%. He is the only candidate who gives a shit about you. Keep this in mind next time someone tries to gaslight you for bringing him up. Just because the mainstream media wants to pretend he doesn’t exist doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. He’s rapidly catching up to Biden in the polls.
And he will defeat Trump.
In the meantime, I recommend learning some anti-gaslight techniques.
The revolution will not be televised.