The Politics of Abuse
I know I’m not alone in being a woman who has survived abuse and assault and is now completely triggered by this election season. I am so grateful for the voices of all the other women calling this out, Amanda Duarte, Kelly Oxford,Amber Tamblin, and many more, surrounding each other with community and sanity and truth.
I have a strong never again philosophy about any kind of abusive relationships. I will quit a job rather than have an abusive boss, for example. I’ve trained as a self defense instructor. I’m doing everything in my physiological power to reprogram my primordial instincts from having a freeze response to having a fight and/or flight response.
‘Let’s make sure he doesn’t get elected’: that’s fight
‘Let’s move to Canada’: that’s flight
‘WTF is happening’: that’s freeze
Welcome to my world.
Watching the second debate, I kept getting this hot tingly feeling on my skin. Hillary was actually in the room with Trump, being abused by him in real time, in front of an audience. It reminded me of the silence that falls over a crowd when domestic violence or child abuse bleeds into a public space. I wanted to call 911 for her. I wanted her to elbow him in the nose, or knee him in the groin. I wanted folks in the audience to rush the stage and restrain him.
The thing about abusers is they always come back harder. You’ll never be the loudest, you’ll never get the last word, because they are willing to go past where you are willing to go. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you know how their lashing out comes from a place of feeling victimized. Donald Trump showed that over and over last night, that he felt put upon, misunderstood, bullied by the media and by Hillary’s campaign. That is what gives him ‘the right’ to lash out. He thinks he’s defending himself, and that gives him permission, in his mind, to do things that we know are crossing the line. Waaaay the fuck across the line.
Watching Hillary, I wondered if she was triggered too. The thing is, and I know this is going to be very unpopular with my liberal tribe, I don’t think Donald Trump is totally wrong that Bill Clinton is part of this conversation. I’m not talking about his infidelities, or holding Hillary accountable for his actions or anything, but the accusations out there of rape and sexual assault seem pertinent. When it comes to rape, I am a believer of women. If Juanita Broaddrick has been saying privately and publicly for over 20 years that Bill Clinton raped her (even if she recanted once under oath) I believe he probably did. If more than one woman claims independently that a particular person sexually accosted them, I believe that person is usually actually a rapist. So, I do think Bill Clinton is quite likely in the vein of Bill Cosby or Woody Allen, an affable famous person who did some real good and also, it turns out, is a dick and a predator. And Bill Clinton’s reaction when he was initially called out on all this, it’s familiar territory, right? When he was being impeached, Clinton got to be the one who was being mistreated, just like Trump, just like Bill Cosby. In fact, at that time, Trump sympathized with him, I might even go so far as to say identified with him, saying Bill was really a victim of the situation.
Now, I absolutely don’t blame Hillary for her husband’s behavior, and I think it’s totally fucked up that people have tried to do so. But I’m watching her last night, and I’m thinking how this must be for her, particularly if it’s true that she is in fact married to a rapist and has had to somehow make that ok inside herself. I’m not judging, I’ve done internal aerial arts to make unacceptable things acceptable in someone I loved. But just how triggering must it be to see things in Donald Trump that she’s denied or downplayed seeing in her own husband, and then be required to call Trump out on these things in front of millions of people. To have Trump drag her heart across the public stage while she is required to keep a light listening face. I felt for her.
It reminded me of going to court with my abuser. Being required to be in the same room, being required to listen to bullshit, blame, lies, threats. Being required to hold my tongue in order to be seen as sane and legit. Trusting the judge to recognize gas lighting, addiction, and stalking. It reminded me of the lucky few whose rapists or abusers actually make it into a court room for their crimes (as opposed to the majority who are never prosecuted) who are then blamed and dragged through the mud in their search for safety, not to mention justice. Watching the debate was like sitting in family court, and I identified deeply with Hillary.
But the person I felt the most kinship with over the weekend was Melania. See, I know what happens when you are in an abusive relationship and your abuser has a bad night. It can begin with anything, any slight, any difficult encounter, any experience of embarrassment or hurt. They have this rage, this building sense of injustice, affront. At first it’s moving around, like a lighthouse spotlight covering a range of ground — Hillary, the media, the republicans condemning and abandoning him. But there is this inevitability. No matter what you do, how fast you dance, at some point, as the spouse, the spotlight will land on you, and it will stick. There is no way to avoid becoming the object of the rage, but you try anyway. You dodge, you console, you avoid. In my case, it never failed to land directly on me. No matter what ignited it, I could never escape it once it started escalating, once it was set in motion. I thought about Melania on Friday night, after the sexual assault story came out, and I wondered how she was faring. If Donald Trump loses the election, I honestly fear for her safety. He’s already had one wife accuse him of grabbing her by the hair and arms and forcibly raping her. If he is sexually assaulting strangers, I can’t imagine what his own family is facing.
I tell people I’m obsessed with the election because I’m east coasty, grew up inside the beltway. I say I’m tracking it because if Donald Trump won it would the end of safety for so many Americans, maybe the end of America altogether. And all of that is real, but none of that is really true. I’m obsessed with the election because I’m an abuse survivor. I’m having trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating on anything else, because my PTSD is activated, and I’m bracing for impact. I keep seeing this moment in the debate over and over in my mind. It’s not the physical intimidation piece, not the name calling, not the attack on her marriage. It was that moment when he said if he won he was going to put her in jail. I know all the things that moment meant, how it’s undemocratic and dictator-like, all that, but that isn’t what chilled me about it. It was the gleam in his eye, circling his prey, his rage locking onto target. I’ve been looked at like that. It’s completely, horrifyingly familiar.