Looking back on the past three years of Donald Trump’s presidency, there have been several noteworthy patterns to his actions which are easily picked up on. These patterns, when put under the microscope, draw plenty of parallels to the repetitive behaviors of people who are abusive towards their partners within a relationship. Looking at conversations with Trump’s supporters as dialogues with victims of emotional abuse might shed some light on how to proceed in a country that sees increasing hostility between those with different views. By approaching those who Trump has convinced to be afraid of the world and hostile towards different ideas within it with a sense of compassion and understanding, they might come to understand that they aren’t as alone as our president would have them believe.
Isolation from those who have the victim’s best interest in mind:
Trump’s interactions with groups and individuals that bring valid criticism to his behavior and policies consistently center around trying demonize anyone who disagrees with him. This abusive tactic, designed to distance the target from those that might wake them up to the reality of their situation, is applied over and over again in Trump’s rhetoric, the clearest example being his treatment of the press.
While the main goal of journalism is to be an advocate for the people, Trump’s continued attempts to invalidate the press are designed to keep his supporters from accessing the information on his various failures that the press supplies. Whether it’s rhetoric surrounding immigrants, Democrats or even other Republicans, Trump’s “us vs. them” mentality is designed to isolate his supporters and nurture dependence.
Threats and fear-based tactics keep victim brainwashed and unaware:
Insecurity and self doubt can be seen in abusive partners and many politicians, such as Trump, alike. When this insecurity is present, the most common and effective way to keep people under their control is to project those uncertainties and keep the person, or people, afraid of the unknown.
In the same way that an abuser will spin the world to seem like a dark and scary place without their presence, Trump feeds his supporters false narratives in an attempt to keep them fearful of things they do not have experience with.
The only time Trump recognizes the pain of others is to endear himself to his supporters.
For example, Trump is notorious for painting the most horrific and fabricated pictures of immigrants coming to the United States, trying to frighten citizens into ostracizing those who come here from places they are not knowledgeable on.
Repeated false promises and apologies:
Abusers string along their victims not only with threats, but also with false promises and praise. Trump forces a sense of security and optimism into his supporters with promises of change that he has no power to bring. Whether it’s about the “big, beautiful wall” that he has promised since 2015 or the city upon a hill-style inauguration promise that “from this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America first,” Trump consistently promises change to the vulnerable and weary that he can’t enact. In the same vein, he constantly praises his supporters for their integrity, loyalty and commitment, creating a reliance on his validation to avoid being seen as an enemy.
Use of the partner for an ulterior motive:
In the case of both Trump and abusive partners, what is almost always the source of concern is gaining power. The part that is often overlooked by citizens and those in abusive relationships is the fact that the partner doesn’t actually care about you, despite how often they deny it. You are a pawn in the abuser’s game.
While they may frame everything in a way that looks something like love, it is all part of the ploy to get you to give them whatever they want.
Looking at Trump’s campaign for 2020 specifically, it is clear that he’s willing to latch onto anyone (Kanye West) who he thinks could get him more votes and therefore the presidency, even when they are members of communities which he blatantly disregards.
Lying and gaslighting:
One of the biggest hallmarks of an abusive relationship is continuous and blatant lying. Even dating back to his business career in the late 1970s, Trump has always told his audience what they want, regardless of any relationship that may have to the truth. According to fact-checking site PolitiFact.com, over 60% of Trump’s statements are false. He lies so boldly and consistently that he creates a new reality for his supporters where anyone who tries to disagree with him are the enemies of the American way.
In short, Trump gaslights America.
This new reality is built on lies to spread fear and dissent, like his claim that thousands of “Arabs” were celebrating in the street when the World Trade Center fell on Sept. 11. The lies are so constant and blatant, a critical flaw that Trump has managed to manipulate into one of the biggest selling points of his campaign to disenfranchised Americans: “he just tells it like it is.”
Lack of empathy and disregard for pain:
As much as Trump likes to act as if he understands and represents the situations and needs of the American people, he has continuously demonstrated a near-psychopathic lack of empathy when presented with suffering and pain. In the days following the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings, he turned a visit to the victims into a campaign ad-style video and a photo-op, amidst a Twitter storm against those calling on him to enforce stricter gun control. The only time Trump recognizes the pain of others is to endear himself to his supporters. When, for example, mocking the disability of a reporter or insulting a Vietnam prisoner of war for being “captured,” Trump completely disregards the pain of his victim because it isn’t useful for him to exploit.
Victim blaming and avoiding responsibility for actions:
When cornered about their actions or behaviors, abusers will most likely redirect the focus of the narrative to place blame on the other person, the victim, for what is happening to them.
Following the horrific shooting in August that took 22 innocent lives in El Paso, Texas, Trump was quoted saying, “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events,” essentially blaming immigration as the cause of another white-supremacy-fueled terrorist attack which he did nothing to prevent.
Accountability is something that is never present in the practices of an abusive partner. Nothing is ever their fault; it’s always everyone else’s.
Ali Kochik is a second-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in journalism. AK908461@wcupa.edu
Brendan Lordan is a third-year student majoring in English writings. BL895080@wcupa.edu