In case you missed this, President Donald Trump has declared October 15 – 21 National Character Counts Week. In all fairness, the White House has observed this week of educational events for 24 years. Which must have presented a dilemma.
The White House had two choices: Quietly abandon the aspirations of Character Counts and drop the event, or pretend there is no obvious role conflict here and press on.
Keeping with the spirit of the times, White House staff chose denial. No problem here. The Narcissist-in-Chief is our role model. Let’s all pretend that’s normal.
And so, in honor of National Character Counts Week, I’ve decided to point out that America is stuck in an abusive relationship with a malignant narcissist.
There were plenty of red flags, but we walked into it anyhow. We gave Trump the benefit of the doubt. We felt that so long as he focused his abuse on others, we would be safe. When he gave a halfway normal speech from a teleprompter, we convinced ourselves that he had maybe changed.
But now the abuse has escalated and become harder to ignore. We live under the daily existential threat of nuclear war. We are threatened with loss of health care and eventual environmental collapse. Daily attacks on women, people of color, immigrants and others assault our human integrity.
Like most abusers, Trump has taken our denial as license. He is unaccountable and emboldened to continue. He believes he is entitled to act this way and that he will continue to get away with it.
That we will put up with anything. That we will never leave him, because we can’t.
As the abuse rolls on, we become desensitized. Bad things happen, and we disassociate. We read, for example, that Trump has threatened nuclear war over Twitter while a bomber is near North Korea, and we proceed with our day as if all were normal.
We might be stuck, but we don’t need to be victims.
Given all this, the standard advice for those in abusive relationships applies. We might be stuck, but we don’t need to be victims. These tips will help keep you sane.
1) Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. Choosing to overlook bad behavior will only increase its frequency. Moreover, he will never return the favor. In Trump’s eyes, the targets of his abuse are always guilty. Our forgiveness and denial only encourages him.
2) Remember that when an abuser shows character flaws in one area, these traits will likely exist elsewhere. First it’s the Mexicans and the Muslims. Next thing you know, he’s attacking war heroes, football players, disabled reporters, pregnant women and his own White House staff. With people like Trump, no one is safe. Not you. Not anyone.
3) Understand that abusers thrive on seeing themselves as victims. The witch hunts. The fake news. The enduring of constant ridicule. Poor Donald. He has to act this way because we make him. Did Trump get the love he needed as a child? Probably not, but that’s never an excuse for mistreating others.
4) Always live in your own truth. See the things your abuser says and does. When you feel numb and find yourself disassociating, take a deep breath and bring yourself back to the present moment. Keep yourself tethered to reality and let your thoughts and feelings happen. There is truth in your own emotions.
5) See the “apologies” for what they are: a strategy to keep you hooked. When Trump says he’s sorry for supporting Nazis or whatever, those words are meaningless unless they are backed by sincere remorse and action to make amends.
6) Remember that hope alone is not sufficient. Everyone wants to believe their abuser will somehow change. This is because it is easier to hope and keep things the same than to admit we are stuck in a cycle of abuse and commit to the years-long work of change. Don’t settle for hope. Demand action.
7) Finally, build the support network you need to maintain your sense of reality, and never lose your ability to laugh. This, combined with other basic self-care, helps us all stay healthy while we wait out the abuse.
Tim Harris is the founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded the Spare Change homeless newspaper in Boston in 1992 while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full October 18 issue.