Some recent time I’ve spent with friends and family has suggested to me that alarming similarities exist between the way Donald Trump has operated to win the presidency and the way abusers treat their victims. I have relatives who have been abused by their husbands, relatives who have been abused by their parents, relatives who have been abused by their dogs. Strange as it may seem, the pattern is similar. The abuser usually tends to be charming or winsome in a way that allows him or her to carve out a place in the heart of the victim. He will flatter, cajole, cuddle or lick the victim to the point where she falls in love—or at least thinks she does. Sometimes a story is told outlining the difficult life the abuser has had, and it is sympathy over this past life that cements the relationship. The victim then is made to feel like a rescuer, the one person who can retrieve the abuser from a life filled with pain. The more the abuser can elicit this kind of reaction, the stronger will be the resulting emotional bond.
Then, usually when things appear to be going well, an unexpected explosion occurs, when the abuser suddenly turns on the rescuer or someone dear to the rescuer. The abuser lashes out and strikes without warning for seemingly minor infractions of his or her rules or patterns. In the case of a husband, this can take place in any circumstance, but almost invariably while the couple is alone. He strikes out with a blow usually calculated to leave no marks, or at least no visible marks; though sometimes, and this precipitates the crisis, the blow does leave a bruise or a broken bone and the secret is out. In every case, though, the abuser expresses deep remorse and begs for forgiveness. He will claim he lost control or didn’t know what he was doing, and is very very sorry, so sorry it won’t happen again. With a dog, of course, the abuse is usually less subtle: the dog snaps and growls at anyone coming near his chosen one, and is only prevented from inflicting serious injury by the control the victim exerts restraining him on a leash. But this so terrifies all in the vicinity that the victim—the dog owner or rescuer—is completely prevented from any displays of affection with friends or family. Herein lies the abuse in such cases. The dog has won a place in the victim’s heart, and routinely goes through the same affectionate licking or tail wagging to reinforce this place—essentially apologizing for having acted out. Then the victim is persuaded that rehabilitation is indeed possible, and tries all over again to figure out ways to train the dog to be nice. To not lash out. But invariably, the same pattern is repeated again and again and friends and family grow wary if not terrified, while the victim grows isolated.
The more one thinks about Donald Trump and his wooing of the portion of the American electorate that voted for him, the more we see a similar pattern. The Donald knows how to charm. He flatters voters, he “speaks their language,” he appeals to their prejudices and fears, and he promises that he will “make America great again.” He will ‘bring back the jobs’ that once sustained them. Get rid of the ‘pesky regulations’ that have forced American companies to ship their operations elsewhere. Close borders that he says allow foreigners to steal American jobs, even the American way of life. Stop possible terrorists (read “Muslims”) from entering the country at all. Get tough with nations that supposedly steal our jobs and get tough with American companies that ship their factories to cheaper shores. All of this plays into the simple-minded notions of his constituents—the victims—who thirst for simple answers to solve their problems, even if it only amounts to someone actually appearing to listen to them, confirm their prejudices.
But, like the abuser, Trump can suddenly be found wanting. Videotapes appear showing him to be a literal groper of attractive females, a serial “grabber of pussies.” Outed, he simply denies, he makes excuses, he implies that it was only locker room talk. He turns on the charm or bluster in a different arena. He attacks those who attack him—reporters like Megyn Kelly, whole networks, major newspapers. He warns that the reports of his miscues are creations of a media that hates him and his followers, that the election will be rigged by the powers that be, powers that hate him and his attempt to “drain the swamp” that sustains them. And soon, his victims—including American women—are making excuses for him in the same language he and his defenders have used. It’s all media lies, they insist. He didn’t really mean it. He’s not really a racist or a misogynist. His bankruptcies were only the natural outcome of a born risk-taker, part of the American DNA. He deserves another chance, deserves a free pass in spite of his abuse, deserves to be believed when he says he alone can change the corruption of government. And as always, the abused one is desperate to believe, to credit the arch-corrupter with sincerity and honesty despite the long record of his calculation and dishonesty and contempt for her in everything he has ever done.
How can this happen ask the pundits, the rational observers. Just as those who surround and care for the victims of abuse keep asking, “How can you take him back? How can you believe him after so many beatings and betrayals? How many times can you believe that the dog will somehow get cured and stop attacking your friends?” And the answer is always the same: a victim is someone who is predisposed to believe. A victim is someone who needs to believe in something, is desperate to believe in someone, and that someone is too often an abuser. For the abuser is expert in one thing above all: spotting those in need, those who are desperate for attention.
Now, America is about to find out how gullible and mistaken and abused it has collectively been. It is going to be used and abused in a way never before seen in its history. And the abuse of this particular abuser may rival the abuse of those other serial abusers in history, the Hitlers and the Mussolinis and the Stalins, and yes, the Kings and Popes and politicians and corporate bigwigs who have always done the same thing, followed the same patterns, made, endlessly, apologies for the murders and wars and corruptions and catastrophes they inflicted on their followers (“I only did it for you, for all of you,”), and sunk into everlasting shame and infamy. Though there will always be some, devoted to abuse to the very end, who will try to excuse them even from the depths of the hell into which they have been discarded.