Donald Trump as Abusive Boyfriend: 7 Similarities

Several years ago one of my former partners — with whom I remained friends — became involved with a man who was emotionally abusive to her. With increasing alarm I observed my friend — whom I had once loved — plummet into depression, question her self-worth, blame herself, feel lonely and helpless.

What should I do? If I encouraged her to flee this toxic relationship would I be accused of meddling or of jealousy? Because she didn’t seem to be in any immediate physical danger, was this situation really only between them and it was their responsibility to manage? After all, I had never met the guy. These were the questions with which I struggled. My ultimate conclusion was that, right or wrong, I felt compelled to help my friend. If she exiled me from her life for intervening, then I would have to live with that. But if she committed suicide because she felt trapped, isolated, and distressed because no one tried to help her, then I could never live with that.

The recording of Donald Trump nonchalantly tacitly approving of sexual assault, and his evident sense of sexual entitlement, reminded me of my friend’s abusive boyfriend. Then I realized that there were a lot more similarities. When I talked to my friend to urge her to end her damaging relationship, I cited behaviors of her boyfriend that I judged to be unacceptable. They were:

Unrelenting, verifiably lying. This guy lied about where he was, what he had been doing, and what he was planning to do next. Throughout this campaign, Donald Trump has lied promiscuously, unapologetically, and provably.

When challenged, attack. When this guy was called out on his lies or malicious behavior, the response was an onslaught of yelling, insults, denials, and recriminations. Days ago House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he would no longer defend or campaign for Trump. This “challenge” to Trump was akin to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “challenge” to Hitler at Munich in 1938. Yet, Trump’s response to Paul Ryan has been ferocious.

Never taking responsibility and shifting it toward others. This guy never did anything wrong. Ever. And for actions that merely were perceived as wrong by others (lying, cheating, emotional manipulation, etc.), others deserved blame: his parents, his siblings, his friends, or his girlfriend. In fact, he was the victim. Donald Trump never concedes error. If others “may have taken offense,” then blame really belongs to the “unfair” media, “’lyin’” or “crooked” opponents, “biased” moderators, or “losers” who just don’t understand (because it’s “locker room talk, etc.). Really, he’s the victim.

Conspiracy theorist. This guy argued that everyone was always out to get him, to make him look bad. He was, he said, a good guy — blameless — but his former partners, his parents, his co-workers, the police, and everyone else had a vendetta against him, and their collusion was responsible for his supposed misconduct. Donald Trump has promoted conspiracies about: President Obama’s birthplace, Hillary Clinton’s health, Ted Cruz’s father’s involvement in President Kennedy’s assassination, and his media coverage. According to him, if so many forces were not arrayed against him, then he would be the next president. Simultaneously, though, his main case for his candidacy is that he is clever and powerful enough to surmount all obstacles.

Prefers very complicated explanations to simple ones, especially if doing so protects his ego. This guy cheated, lied, criticized, was evasive, and more. Why? According to him — no joke — it was variously because he drank too much coffee and caffeine allegedly affected him malevolently; because of an ancient convoluted argument with his parents; or because or some other hard-to-follow reason. In explaining, excusing, or justifying his actions, the more confusing, implausible, un-reproducible the explanation was, the better. As my friend once said about his propensity to give preposterously intricate defenses for his conduct, “Things that are impossible for everyone else all happen to him.” Trump has signaled that if he loses the election, it will be because — somehow — the entire election was systematically rigged, not simply because more voters chose another candidate. Trump has suggested that his words and ideas have been manipulated by a biased media, so that every newspaper, magazine, and dozens of television networks, have coordinated to harm him. It can’t simply be that voters don’t like words that they actually watched and heard him utter. Occam’s Razor, essentially, is that the simpler explanation is likely to be the correct one. By contrast, what I’ll call the Trump Tangler is that the most torturously tangled explanation is likely the correct one.

Being vague and non-committal. You couldn’t get a definitive answer from this guy even about simple questions. Instead, it was always “I’ll try,” “We’ll see,” “Maybe,” and other qualifiers that could help avoid accountability. To say that Trump’s policy proposals — such as they are — lack detail is incontestable. Instead, his tax plan will be “great,” the economy, the military, and our international reputation will be “strong.” It’s appreciated that these are his goals for the country. But, without offering any detail, what’s the difference between enunciating achievable national goals and just uttering words? Voters may not need or want to read finished statutory language of a policy, but something beyond bland adjectives would be welcomed.

Never learning, never changing. When he felt he was losing control, he promised to learn, to grow, to change. But none of that ever happened. Indeed, as became clear, he had been the way he was for at least a decade. The unbreakable cycle was repeated promises of change and improved behavior followed by repeated violations of those promises. But next time would be different, he said. Just give him one more chance. She would, but the only difference would be more time had been wasted, more feeling invested, more hurt resulting. He never changed, never learned. Trump has repeatedly promised that he would eventually become “more presidential,” which presumably meant more disciplined, less vitriolic, and more deliberate. That never happened. Instead, and remarkably, he has just said that being abandoned by Speaker Ryan and other Republicans means that his “shackles have come off.” Does that mean, up till now, he has been acting presidential? Obviously not. Trump has failed to figure out how to remain true to his principles but also to appeal to people outside his base. Perhaps he’s never realized that such is even possible. But that’s the art of politics. Regardless, Trump promised to change, to rise to the occasion, to make Americans proud, and to “be a better man tomorrow” — again, vagueness. Sure, millions of Americans support Trump but far more people don’t. In that sense, predictably, he hasn’t done what he’s said.

Not being a fool, I realize that — sure enough — Hillary Clinton has manifested each one of these traits. It’s undeniable. But the degree to which these truths evince themselves and influence a person matters. We all know it: Someone who lies about his or her height and someone who lies about killing someone are both liars. But society treats the lies differently because of their impact. Hillary Clinton uses platitudes, verifiably lies, tries to obfuscate with complexities, has blamed conspiracies, and has probably not changed from a corporatist moderate to a progressive. Reasonable people can differ about whose failings are worse. But, based on the polling and the headlines, more people think that Trump’s are worse. I agree.

My friend escaped that destructive relationship. By doing so, I truly believe she saved her life. I’m adamantly not suggesting that Trump abuses his wife or has ever abused anyone; nor is this a commentary about his personal life past or present. Nor do I intend to equate the suffering of abuse victims to the experience of the American electorate. Instead, my goal is to share with others that the traits that I’ve observed in Trump are shockingly familiar to me — as I know they are to others. And those characteristics provide reason for reflection. The truth is that I don’t think Donald Trump is a malicious, evil person. But what history has demonstrated — frequently and powerfully — is that it’s not necessary for people to be evil to be abusive.

I’m not persuaded that a Trump presidency would be national suicide. But if we have a president who has explicitly advocated illegal torture, then we can expect to be abused.