Over the last few days, I started seeing more parallels, though: It wasn’t just that he was acting so familiar. How people were reacting was also all too familiar. Then, I realized that I can share some of what I’ve learned from grappling with having been in an abusive marriage and then repeating that pattern in a couple of other relationships. I encourage other survivors to do the same to prevent that we normalize this moment in history.
A lot of people, the media and President Obama included, seem to be confused by DT’s seemingly conciliatory acceptance speech. In addition to failing to see what was glaringly absent (actual apologies), we also need to understand this in the context of behavioral patterns of abusive men. Jekyll and Hyde are an often used analogy. DT just had a major victory! He doesn’t lose anything by playing nice for a while. As many a battered woman has learned the hard way, though, that’s what it is: Play. He has not changed. The real Donald Trump has already stood up (one of the people interviewed for this podcast asked for that to happen – it already has). His Twitter handle starts with that word, after all. It is also very clear from past behavior, not just his campaign rhetoric: Blatant disregard of people’s property rights and the environment. He is a man who is only interested in advancing his own self-interest; has autocratic alt-right leanings (at least, if not beliefs); and he doesn’t care about protecting anyone or anything other than himself and, possibly, his immediate family.
The other thing I’ve learned through painful experience: Actions speak louder than words. Yes, DT gave a nice acceptance speed (again if you ignore that he didn’t apologize for anything), his actions over the last few days have shown crystal clear that he has not changed one iota. He is surrounding himself with people who are arch-conservative, some of them alt-right, and include family members (more feudalistic dynastic than democratic rule). He continues to show his love of ignorance.
The Donald Trump I saw during this election season was an irrational, self-absorbed, rich white man who lashes out when he feels attacked. Just because he’s now presenting himself as Dr. Jekyll should not lead us to overlook his actions.
There is another painful parallel between what is happening in the US right now and my experience with abusers: The reaction of other people is to normalize the abuser and his actions. While I appreciate the grace with which Obama met DT, I do not appreciate his calls for a normal transition. This kind of complacency and normalization has led so many people to stop voting. It’s all the same anyways. As Senator Harry Reid pointed out, it’s not and we need to stop making it look like it is.
Some people are also calling on us to empathize with Trump-voters. In my last relationship, I practiced that: Develop love and empathy for a man who held views that I now consider immoral, especially in light of what they’re leading to, in addition to their logical inconsistency. Well, it nearly destroyed me. He took all my love and empathy to heal himself and once he had sucked me dry, he went on to something else. While not all DT voters are like that, there are a whole lot more people who deserve and need our empathy far more urgently right now: Those people whose very lives are threatened by the man who has been elected by people who either supported what he stands for or didn’t care about the implications.
I am very much hoping that I am still overreacting, that I am still on PTSD-time (as a friend of mine called our timezones on Tuesday), and things won’t be as dire as I fear they’ll be soon. I hope the United States of America will survive this and the forces that this eventually unleashed are those forces that move the USA forward to live up to its ideals for all peoples, not just rich, married, white men. I fear we might be heading toward the United States of Trump.