Real Estate in My Head: DJT as Predator
The greatest power of the predator/abuser is to find what it is you love and hope for…and take it away. This past week, we have watched our president work to do exactly that.
For a decade of my life, I worked with children who were groomed and victimized by sexual predators. The work was never easy, and required a patience to allow a child to come to his or her own understanding of the situation. I listened to a lot of the stories of how the connection grew, and one thing was always clear: the grim reality is that the predator was successful because he made his victim an accomplice. That was the central part of the predator’s work, to create in his victim not only a victim, but a helpmate.
From the outside, as I heard the stories of these young victims, I could hear how each was made an accomplice to his or her own helplessness, and an accomplice in despair. The particular genius in all of this was the predator’s ability to identify what his victim wanted most, what his victim hoped for, whether it be love, attention, warmth, or safety. The predator’s specific skill is to be sensitive to this, to control access to it, and to finally take it away. By offering up their fear, anxiety, and rage; by giving access to the very tools which might have fueled them to find their own escapes from loneliness, these victims gave their abusers the tools to make them accomplices.
Trump has been working to make us all accomplices in this way. This past week’s refusal to concede and accept the outcome of the 2020 election is only the latest example of how he has actively used the tools of a predator/abuser to leverage his power over our will, consciousness, and agency.
For me, one of the most damning aspects of all of this, is that even with my experiences with these tactics, I am also being made an accomplice. I am also being fed my own fear and complicity, having my rage turned against me, and fear for losing my own autonomy in this moment. Perhaps, you are as well.
How are we complicit? By allowing Forty-five a central role in the discussions of how our democracy moves forward and putting himself in “power” over the transition; by allowing him to frame the debate; by making it a discussion of decency on his terms; and by meeting rage with rage, our energy meeting his energy. In giving him our precious energy and rage, we squander our best tool for creating our own escape.
I often heard stories about how this was done, how the predator became the center of everything the child knew, then everything the child trusted, and then the only one upon whom the child could rely. When I spoke with children who were being groomed, the child never put himself in the center of the story: their predator was the center of the narrative, and often in a way that had a chilling vibrancy and expectation. The Predator wasn’t feared, he was loved. The Predator placed himself in the middle of a Moebius Strip of Reality, traveling along with the victim in what seemed to be a straight line. As they traveled, the child offered up confidence, angers, fears, hopes, walking in this straight line along with the Predator. However, as the predator led his victim along, the Moebius Strip twisted, and everything the child knew and felt was inverted and reversed, and a new experience delivered to him by his abuser. The child cared deeply for the Predator, and listened carefully to whatever the Predator said or did. I heard stories of waiting for when the child might see the Predator again, looking for the glance or smile, any clue that the child was important to the predator; looking for the story the predator wanted to give the child, and attention the predator had perverted to stand in for “Love.”
The abuser comes to own the truth on this Moebius Strip, and there are at least two central messages of this journey. The first we may feel is reserved for those who always put their trust and rage into Trump’s hands, and viewed him as their protector:
“I am here for you. I love you.”
The second, is delivered to us all:
“No one is coming to save you.”
The helplessness is the goal. The reliance on his tools, his insight, his timeline, his narrative. The difficulty in hearing these stories from the outside was recognizing that the young victims were willing and even excited to do so. Even as we started down this Moebius Strip with our current president, I could still watch that journey of refracted truth from a distance. Now, perhaps, I am understanding it from the inside.
Our president is and always has been obsessed with campaigning, in owning the message, in being the loudest voice in the room. Even now as I open my computer each morning, and see the myriad of stories all using his face and words, He is the only voice in the room, and we are all living in Trump’s world, his word, his actions, his whims, and as the air lessens and lessens, his reality. Yes, I may want to laugh at some of the reality which is put forward, but then I look at the reality which has been created
· Defunding the World Health Organization
· Rush Limbaugh’s Congressional Medal of Freedom
· Support for the movement to “Liberate States” and remove the closures advocated by state governments (and public health authority)
· Dismantling the Coronavirus task force
· Demonizing and dehumanizing American citizens exercising their rights to protest
· Wildly decrying legitimate voting processes, and attacking a state’s rights (as well as that state’s legitimately elected officials)
These actions aren’t done idly, or without consideration, although they may seem mercurial. Yes to a certain part of our president’s audience this is a way to take a sort of revenge, or to “Own the Libs,” as the battle cry goes, and some part of it is a battle cry for that demographic. But for others of us, I fear we are too quick to discount that these actions are calculated to impact on us as well. They are done because, well, they can be done. The abuser tests the limits of what the victim will accept, and in doing so grooms his victim to accept even more. The abuser puts forward the image that there is nothing that can be done to stop these actions. The abuser teaches his victim that the frustration and anger he feels- that helplessness – will not change anything. Grooming his victim to know and accept that feeling.
That helplessness is key to the success of the abuser, and accepting that fallacy is the journey of the Moebius Strip Reality. A reality shaped by denying responses (“Fake news!”), Accusing sources (“Why are you so nasty?”), and reversing who is the Victim and who is the Offender (“No one ever talks about the good work we are doing, working so hard here.”). This deflects the accusation, but also stops the ability to accuse, and undermines our own belief in the judgements of our own ethics, and our own emotions. It is not that he refuses to listen to criticism: it is that he will not give it air, and will not allow my judgements of him to be registered, not even allow us our own emotional experience.
That is the Moebius Strip of the reality he creates, standing in the center of all facts and turning them inward to himself. I fear I am walking that Moebius Strip with him now, with an abuser who draws and then manipulates my rage, working to rob me of tools for my own escape. Rather than looking beyond my helplessness to that escape, he turns my focus to looking to him to guide me through the helplessness he has created.
We are in an abusive relationship with our president. This is a man who is a shitty businessman, an uninterested leader, a ham fisted politician, and an impatient strategist. Perhaps the only role in which he is successful is that of abuser. These are the tools he has. He understands how to use them very well. I have read in many places that our president is a casebook Narcissist, concerned only with himself and hearing himself lauded. I think however to credit only his narcissism is to discredit his ability to be aware of the feelings of other, to know the emotion, rage, and helplessness he creates in others. To do that, to have that understanding requires empathy, and a skill for using it effectively…even maliciously.
Donald Trump cares deeply about your feelings- but he cares about owning them, and directing them. They are the only things which matter to him. Understanding the pain and confusion he causes is his greatest tool, and the only thing he has done successfully throughout his career.