America Is Literally In An Abusive Relationship With Donald Trump

Story updated October 8, 2016 to account for Trump’s latest abusive comments.

While watching the news and surfing Twitter after the debate earlier this week, I quickly picked up on a major theme: Donald Trump’s lies. We’ve never seen a candidate like this before — one who will just blatantly lie about something that’s easily proven false. Trump does this so often, in fact, that we’ve almost become desensitized to the phenomenon.

People keep responding to these bald-faced lies with incredulity and disbelief. But to me, as someone who’s lived through an abusive relationship, they feel totally familiar. Trump is engaging in a tactic called “gaslighting” — manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. And it’s a sign of abuse in a relationship.

This realization got me thinking about all the other ways my feelings about Donald Trump are familiar. Another question I keep seeing a lot — “How did we get here?” — echoes one commonly asked in abusive relationships. And it mirrors the questions and thoughts I had when I was in an abusive relationship myself: “How did I get here? This all happened so fast, and now I’m somehow trapped in a dangerous situation. How did this happen? I’m a smart person!”

We’re a smart country, and yet here we are, trapped in a potentially dangerous situation, not sure how it happened.

I decided to look up the signs of an abusive relationship and see how many of them fit the situation between America and Donald Trump. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website’s guidelines, America is definitely being abused. Here are the signs:

1. Telling you that you can never do anything right

Trump’s campaign strategy is centered around the idea that America is a complete disaster. America used to be great, early in the relationship — but now, she’s a mess. If she would just get in line — just do what he says — maybe he wouldn’t have to admonish her so much.

Speaking at the convention, Trump said America was in “a moment of crisis for our nation . . . violence in our streets . . . chaos in our communities.” And in the debate this week, he described America as a “living in hell because it’s so dangerous . . . Our airports are like from a third-world country . . . we’re a mess.”

If America could just get it together, he would stop criticizing her.

2. Insulting, demeaning or shaming you with put-downs/Humiliating you

Donald Trump is a classic name-caller. He diminishes and humiliates Americans (and everyone) constantly, using shaming to bolster and validate himself. He came on to the scene during the primaries with “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?” When he wanted people to get behind his immigration policy, he led with “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” When someone dared to stand up to him, he nicknamed her “Crooked Hillary.”

These classic bullying tactics disrupt our footing, put us on the defensive, and instill fear.

3. Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do

So much of Donald Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies involve trying to control the movements of others. He dictates who can come into America, and who can move freely within its borders once they’re here. “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds betters walls than me, believe me,” he boasts. Under his watch, there will be a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”; he will “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism.”

Trump is demanding the right to decide whether America can have her Mexican friend over for dinner, or go to a party at her Muslim friend’s house. He knows her password and he’s checking her texts (well actually, the NSA is . . . but he’ll have security clearance).

4. Preventing you from making your own decisions/Preventing you from having an abortion/Threatening you if don’t comply with their wishes to continue a pregnancy

Trump’s stance on a woman’s right to choose is severely restrictive. In his words, “You have to ban [abortion]. There has to be some form of punishment.” His desired control over a woman’s body was further emphasized when he called pregnant employees “an inconvenience.”

5. Threatening to harm or take away your children

Obviously, Trump’s immigration policies would decimate innumerable families, ripping parents from children throughout the country. But his threats aren’t just reserved for those who are undocumented. During a discussion of Trump’s support of torture as an effective tactic to fight terrorism (during which he said waterboarding wasn’t “tough enough” and we needed to get behind torture that is almost “unthinkable”), he said “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families.” Will he harm your children specifically? Well, there’s certainly no guarantee he won’t, if he decides you’ve crossed him.

6. Intimidating you with guns, knives, or other weapons

In his vision for a “great” America, Trump promises that a NRA-backed mob of open-carry enthusiasts will serve as a new militia in our stores and restaurants, working to keep America safe — and possibly taking out Hillary Clinton. Twice, weapons have played a role in threats against his opponent: “By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” And: “I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons . . . Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay. It’ll be very dangerous.”

7. Pressuring you or forcing you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with

In the “October surprise” release of hot-mic footage from a 2005 Access Hollywood episode, Trump was heard bragging about (unsuccessfully) propositioning a married woman and kissing and groping women without their consent because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

Allegations of sexual abuse have plagued Trump for a long time, though up the media has typically been hesitant to report on these incidents, and no charges have been made. Ex-wife Ivana Trump allegedly told her friends that Donald raped and violated her. Another woman, Jill Harth, has said Trump attempted to rape her as well. And Trump is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with a woman who says she was turned into his sex slave at age 13, during which time Trump “sexually and physically . . . engaged in various perverted and depraved sex acts” with her.

In his words, meanwhile, he’s said he’d date his own daughter if they weren’t related.

8. Gaslighting

This has been written about by others already, I think because it’s one of his most obviously abusive traits. People who have never experienced abuse don’t expect someone to stand behind a lie when there is clear proof they are lying, but this can be a classic tactic for manipulation, making the person hearing the lies feel like they’re the ones in the wrong.

When we hear Trump deny things we know we saw — like his continued birtherism, or his stance on the Iraq war — we feel unsettled, questioning our reality. We think, “He sounds like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’s so insistent, maybe we’re the deluded ones.” Those of us who have been through it know that someone can look you square in the face and tell you that they only care about you being safe, while standing next to a hole in your wall made by their fist.

9. Trying to isolate you from family or friends

America has lots of friends. Twenty-eight friends, in fact. They’re kind of like a club, or a sorority — exclusive but fun. But Donald Trump doesn’t want America to be influenced by those losers who think she’s too good for him. He’d rather be her only support; he’d like to keep her dependent. He’s already laying the groundwork: “It’s possible that we’re going to have to let NATO go.”

10. Trapping you in your home or preventing you from leaving

White America doesn’t really have to worry about this one. But brown America better stay inside. And Muslim America, forget about it. Regarding a database of Muslim Americans, Trump says it’s “certainly something we should start thinking about. What I want is a watch list. I want surveillance programs . . . I would want to have a database for the refugees.”

11. Attempting to control your appearance

Much has been written about the way Trump talks about and to women. A few of the most egregious: “Sadly, she’s no longer a 10,” he said of Heidi Klum. He invited news crews to film Miss Universe Alicia Machado working out, because she had gained weight and he wanted to humiliate her. (He continues describing her body as “a problem” even today.) He also wrote to journalist Gail Collins to let her know she had “the face of a dog.” In America the Beautiful, a land that places such value on the appearance of women, and coming from a man whose career has included judging women based on beauty, this is more than misogyny. It’s putting someone in their place, shutting them down, and attempting to control them.

12. Telling you you will never find anyone better, that you are lucky to be with them.

Donald praises himself like no one else praises him. “I think my strongest asset by far is my temperament. I have a winning temperament,” he said at the debate. (This is also an example of gaslighting; it’s outrageously false, but intended to make us doubt our own perceptions.) “I will be so good at the military your head will spin.” “My I.Q. is one of the highest.” His words are the best, his health is the best, his policies are the best (he won’t tell anyone what they are, but they’re definitely the best ones, trust him). “I alone can fix it,” he announced during the Republican convention.

How can you walk away if he’s your only hope?

13. Placing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to it/Stealing money from you family or friends

As a businessman, Donald Trump has literally stolen money from hundreds of people. He’s taken services and refused to pay for them. He’s buried small businesses in expensive litigation, and blackballed them. All those unwritten paychecks, still in his bank account, are inaccessible to those who earned the money. He’s been sued countless times over this. According to USA Today, “hundreds of people — carpenters, dishwashers, painters, even his own lawyers” say that Trump neglected or refused to pay for their work.

14. Preventing you from viewing or having access to bank accounts/Living in your home but refusing to contribute to the household

I mean, have you seen his tax returns? I know I haven’t. He says there’s nothing to learn, so why can’t I see them then? Oh, it’s because he’s our housemate, but he’s not actually paying his rent. When’s the last time he pitched in on the electric bill or cable? Never? “That makes me smart,” he told Hillary at the debate.

15. Sending you negative, insulting, or even threatening emails, facebook messages, tweets . . . etc.

Thank God I don’t get emails from Donald Trump, but his Twitter account is full of name-calling, insults, even outright threats. “If dopey Mark Cuban . . . wants to sit in the front row, perhaps I will put Gennifer Flowers right alongside of him.” You know what that reminds me of? The time my ex called me to say “call me back in the next hour or I’m coming over.”

If you’ve ever been threatened, you know what I mean in your bones. If you haven’t, welcome to our world.


The reason Donald Trump feels familiar to me is because he is a perpetrator of abuse. The reason we, and the world, are scared of him is because we are being abused by him. And if he gets elected, it’s bound to get worse. Abuse is progressive, and escalates with time. Unchecked, it can be fatal.

If president, this guy will have the nuclear codes. He will make decisions about whether we go to war. That’s not a joke, that’s actually life or death, and I’m just scratching the surface with a few obvious consequences; there are many, many more insidious ones. And the danger is not just for America, but for her friends, too.

Here’s what the hotline recommends for victims: “A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe…”

Our country’s safety plan? Vote on November 8th. Make get out the vote calls. Volunteer in swing states.

We need to get our country, and the world, away from this abusive man and to safety.


Lead image: flickr/Gage Skidmore

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