Trump's America: Surviving a Powerful Abuser
In the months following the 2016 presidential election, the internet has seen a flurry of words. Pages upon pages of journalism, reactions, calls to action, and detailed analyses of exactly how awful and authoritarian Donald Trump will be, all of it exceptionally well-written. I'm not going to try to repeat the words of others, or convey the same message. But as I reflect on the rise and reign of Mr. Trump, it stirs some feelings that I'm not seeing much discussion about. Feelings of personal familiarity.
My father was one of the most charismatic, charming, entertaining, and likeable people I've ever known. Everywhere he went, people loved listening to him. He could charm anyone; I once watched him talk his way out of a rather serious altercation with military police guarding a naval base. He made people laugh and smile, often by doing something wacky and unexpected. And, he used his gift of gab for personal gains, too; he talked his way into jobs that were far above his skill level, he wrote and published a book, and he ran several small businesses.
Donald Trump and my father are the same person.
Not literally, of course. I desperately hope Mr. Trump and I have zero crossover points in our respective family trees. But when it comes to personality? The two are so indistinguishable that hearing Mr. Trump speak often prompts PTSD flashbacks.
My father and Mr. Trump share more than just their more positive qualities. Like Mr. Trump, my father was an uncompromising authoritarian. He wanted the entire world to function his way, and he wouldn't take "no" for an answer, nor would he even consider bending his will to better align with someone else's. In my father's mind, he was the only person who knew what was best for anyone, and he wouldn't rest until his will was sufficiently imposed. And he never approached this in a constructive way; his narrative was always "you're broken, but I can fix you", or "you're doing it wrong, I know the right way", or "you're worthless without me". On top of this, my father's view of reality was a stark warzone of right and wrong, where he was a noble hero in a world of adversaries bent on personally taking him down, and his "facts" were carefully crafted to reflect his own version of reality, rather than ours. Sound familiar?
Countless journalists and writers have pointed out that Mr. Trump's reality doesn't quite line up with our own, and his "facts" are rarely factual. This is a man who will shout that the sky is red with such confidence and fervor that millions of people will start to question whether they even know the difference between blue and red. However, few people seem to know how to deal with this sort of person; there are plenty of ideas floating around, but little agreement. I'm not going to claim to have The Answer either, but I do want to offer my own perspective, because in some ways, I already have 15 years of experience living under the control of this sort of man.
One of the biggest issues with this sort of person is the way they distort reality. For most of my life, I couldn't distinguish between my father's fictions and actual reality. When someone in an authority position can deliver false information without the slightest hint of deception, it's difficult to maintain one's grasp on reality, because you start to feel like you're the one who's wrong. We have to find something (or someone) to hold onto in order to resist. It'd be nice if the press could fill that role, and some will certainly do a good job, but we'll need more than that. We'll need to hold onto each other. We'll need to help each other stay grounded. And, beyond that, we can also help ourselves with a simple exercise. Starting right now, write down your own values and things you know to be true. Things like "I believe that everyone should be able to get healthcare", or "The United States is an ally to the European Union and the United Kingdom". Then, when you find yourself questioning whether you're actually the one who's incorrect, check your personal fact sheet while doing other fact-check research. It may seem like a small or superfluous step, but trust me, it will help you stay sane through this.
Another primary tool for someone like Mr. Trump is to break down the self esteem of his subjects. This is one of his main campaign strategies, and he's already used it in many of his official speeches. He dedicates large amounts of time and energy toward telling us how broken we are, and how we should trust him to fix us because he's the only one who knows how. This is a brutal, awful tactic, but it's also extremely difficult to survive. When a person is subjected to this sort of negative energy constantly, they'll eventually start to believe it, unless they're reminded that it's not true; for most of my life, I assumed I had no creative talent, because my father spent the first 15 years of my life telling me that everything I did was garbage, and no one told me he was wrong. It's important to resist this onslaught, and to help each other resist it. We are not broken, and we don't need to be made "great again". We're already pretty great. And we're beautiful.
Above all, we need to know who we can depend on during the next four years. Under the Trump regime, government agencies are not here to help you. The police are not on your side (even if you're white). Instead, turn to your family and friends for support and validation, to survive this man's reign. And then, with every ounce of strength you have left beyond mere survival, try to offer support, validation, and love to anyone who needs it. Especially communities and people who are less privileged; Mr. Trump is a master of punching down, and people of color are going to need all the white allies we can get during this presidency.
Lastly, remember that you are strong, and beautiful, and if we love and support each other, we can survive this authoritarian abuser, and we'll see better days together.