Putting Trump past us is like exiting an abusive relationship: it takes time | US news

For millions of Americans and nervous election viewers around the world, the month of November has been a seesaw of emotions. Tentatively able to envision a life outside the Trump shadow, many could finally name the mental, emotional and physical toll the past four years have had on them, reflecting on the feelings of depression, insomnia, restlessness and anxiety that, for them, have defined the president’s term in office for so many.

Emboldened by the promise that in a few short months they would no longer have to live in fear of a national security-threatening tweet or Fox News-induced meltdown, millions of people are beginning to process their feelings.

On Twitter, the actor Lauren Holly lamented: “I’m still gonna have to self soothe myself for months to get over my Trump trauma.” The writer and cybersecurity expert Rodney Caston was more blunt, tweeting: “Whether we like it or not, we’re all trapped in an abusive relationship with Trump at the moment.” The sentiment was so popular that the hashtag #trumptrauma trended for days.

There are certainly many parallels between the end of Donald Trump’s presidency and a psychologically violent relationship. Think about the temper tantrums, the refusal to accept reality, mood swings, fear of reprisal and a sense of looming danger: all are hallmarks of controlling and abusive behavior.

Farrah Khan is a gender-based violence expert and member of the government of Canada’s Advisory Council on the Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence – and she echoes how Trump’s time in office has often mirrored domestic violence.

“Throughout his time in office, Trump would belittle communities, enact state violence through policies, act out in vengeful ways when he felt slighted and cut off access to supports or protections, isolating communities from each other,” she tells me. “I feel that under Trump many of us had a collective hypervigilance and anxiety of what he might do next. This has shown up in things like night terrors or constantly scrolling on social media for real or perceived threats from him to your community.”

One of the most common ways an abuser exerts control is through isolation, cutting their partners off from the support of their communities and loved ones. Through his most despicable policies on issues like race, immigration and LGBTQ+ rights, it can be argued that Trump has pitted Americans against each other, sowing discord and creating rifts that push his supporters further from their family and friends.

For years, Trump has managed to isolate his most fervent followers from reality, creating a parallel Maga world where Covid-19 is little more than a hoax, mail-in ballots don’t count (unless they do) and behind every pizza place lurks a pedophile ring. And like many coercive partners, Trump refuses to let go.

Like many, Khan’s immediate reaction on election night was one of suspicion and worry. She wrote that the “most dangerous time in a violent relationship is when you leave”. She’s still concerned that Trump’s violent rhetoric is escalating rather than declining. “As someone that works daily with survivors of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence, I know that the risk of violence is often highest during the period of separation. People who cause harm will use anything available to them from coercive threats, lies or pleading to force the partner to stay,” she says.

Those are hardly words normally ascribed to the transition of power from one US president to the next, but prescient given the lengthy and increasingly futile legal battle Trump continues to wage in hopes of denying the reality of his loss and his increasingly tenuous grip on power. In a recent Guardian article on his increasingly unhinged behavior, Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota said: “This behavior is even more erratic than usual and he has retreated. He has put himself in a form of psychological isolation. His emotional state is clearly abysmal.”

Breaking up with an abusive person is unnerving – they leave little room to breathe or to imagine a life without them. The fear they instill is meant to undermine your sense of self, your sense of safety and your connection to the world around you. They erode your trust in your community and the institutions designed to keep you safe in an effort to tether themselves to you. They normalize violence.

But there is indeed life on the other side. So how do we unpack these past four years and reckon with the scars this presidency has left on our collective psyche?

Khan suggests facing the damage head on: “Go to therapy: understand that trauma can result from community violence, state violence and interpersonal violence. You are not alone and there is nothing you should be ashamed of.”

Trump can see his control on the American people waning and so continues to lash out but whether he chooses to accept it or not, this relationship is over.




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