When I first saw Trump speak after being shortlisted as a GOP candidate, I was struck by an odd sense of familiarity. There was something about the way he smirked, his smug and entitled tone, the seething hatred for his political enemies brimming to the surface. As the light struck his blond swoop of his hair and his lip curled in contempt, I realized what it was.
My sense of dread increased as we hurtled toward Election Day. When the results came in, I stared at the TV in shock. I’d gathered with friends at a local bar, hoping to celebrate our first female president. Instead, I was stunned into silence, and my heart began to race. While I was concerned about Trump’s positions, I had a specific reason for not wanting to see Trump on TV every day.
Trump was my abusive ex-boyfriend all over, and now, I’d have to be reminded of the worst year of my life every day for the next four years.
My ex was ugly inside and out. He was much older than I, but he swept me off my feet with unfettered adoration and claims of unprecedented feelings for me. He seemed like a talented, smart, and charming man, and ultimately, that matters more to me than good looks. I didn’t see the monster inside him until it was too late to escape.
Like Trump, he was immensely narcissistic. Blond with blue eyes, he constantly talked about what good genes he had and expressed concern that my brown hair and short stature might “spoil” our offspring. Every time Trump tweets that he has the biggest and best [insert item here], I am reminded of my ex’s insistence upon his own grandeur. And like Trump, he would become furious about “witch hunts” or “smear campaigns.” As I struggled to escape the torment, my ex was quick to dismiss my calls for help as attention-seeking. “I have a good reputation in this community,” he screamed in my face. (He did not.) “You’re ruining my life!”
With each of Trump’s tweets screaming about how people are jealously trying to take him down, I’m reminded of the year I spent walking on eggshells and losing friends as my ex smeared my name to people as “payback” for my “behavior.” He’d follow these reigns of terror with nights of forced sex and grand displays of apology, saying he didn’t mean it. With each Trump tweet, I tremble as I recall the bouts of suicidal ideation I experienced as my avenues of escape from my abuse narrowed.
My ex loved manipulating his friends, whether it was through “harmless” pranks or triangulating them to create drama. I saw the mirth in his eyes when he hurt people’s feelings or when his friends got into spats that he orchestrated. I saw that look again when Trump encouraged his followers to target protestors and imprison his enemies. I saw it reflected in the mob’s eyes as they screamed, “Lock her up.”
My ex was a compulsive liar, spinning yarns about where he’d lived, the people he’d dated, the horrible things he’d witnessed. As a reason for why he mistreated me, he gave a graphic description of how his friend had been cut in half by his motorcycle and had his brains scattered across the road. Not two months later, when I brought that up, he looked at me like I was insane and insisted that he’d never told such a story.
When Trump claims that Muslims were cheering when the World Trade Center fell, when he says that rapists are crossing the border in droves, when he describes brutal “post-birth abortion” procedures, he’s doing the same thing my ex did. He’s crafting an alternate reality in which pain is supreme. I don’t want to hear these horrible stories even though I know that they’re lies. I don’t want to live in a world shaped by this constant indulgence in horror. What’s worse was the sick glee that I saw in both Trump’s and my ex’s face as they related these incidents.
They wanted the world to be miserable.
Too many people assume that narcissists are secretly self-loathing. They are not. Like their namesake, Narcissus of the Greek myth, they’re obsessed with themselves. When I began dating my ex, I had just started my master’s research on bullying. Despite my immersion into a rich body of academic work, I wasn’t able to identify bullying behaviors in my own life until he had control over every aspect of my life. He was quick to mock my path of study and discourage me from pursuing it. “Everything is about bullying to you, isn’t it?” He rolled his eyes. He’d often demand my attention when I was trying to study, calling incessantly and threatening suicide. Eventually, I dropped out of school.
Before Trump joined the presidential race, I’d suppressed a lot of these memories. As another narcissistic blond man with a penchant for abuse suddenly become impossible to escape, I began to experience flashbacks. I felt a constant sense of sickness, like the poison placed by my ex had finally started to circulate.
The worst moments that I do remember, I’m unable to put into words, but I feel them with each misspelled Tweet, with each spiel to the cameras about how his immense brain will save us, with each mockery of anyone who challenges him.
When Trump kicked off his reelection campaign in Orlando, I felt especially violated. His supporters mocked and insulted my city as they gladly swarmed it and left it covered with red hats and beer cans. “Mayor Dyer, we’re taking your shitty city back from the libtards,” one trumpeted at the cameras.
Trump claimed that massive crowds came to see him. In reality, the arena wasn’t even filled. There were no masses waiting on the lawn, unable to fit inside the venue. Like my ex, Trump had crashed my house with a pity party and laid claim to it. Like my ex, he insisted that normal people would receive him with endless adoration.
In time, I went back to school and completed my master’s degree. It was hard to separate the academic study of bullying from discussion about Trump. Like my ex, he’d infected every part of my life. You might assume that Trump provided good material, but by that point, the fatigue had set in so deep that bullying from the White House was hardly fascinating.
It was devastating.
I know that any impeachment proceedings are no guarantee that Trump will be removed from office. But a huge weight lifted off my shoulders when I learned that the process had started.
I was never able to report my abuser. He said he’d kill me if I ever talked to police, and I believed him. A few years later, I did reach out to a detective, but he said that he could offer me only minimal protection while they investigated. I was too afraid of being shot dead when I came home. Now, I’m past the statute of limitations.
I heard that Trump is upset that his “legacy” will be tarnished by impeachment, and I was happy to hear it. I don’t care if that sounds vindictive. I don’t care if the impeachment is not explicitly based on the offenses I listed above. I suspect my ex felt vindicated by having someone like him in the White House, and I hope that talk of impeachment makes him feel nervous, as though someone is going to come after him next.
I wish I had been brave enough to do the right thing. I had to seek justice by forgiving myself. I let the worst memories slide into the amygdala as I reshaped my brain into survival mode. My energy had to be solely directed at my defense, and I hid behind impenetrable scar tissue.
I wish that I could find the power to fight, to protest, to speak out, but all I can do for now is appreciate those who are taking action. I believe that an impeachment inquiry would send a strong message to all abusers, that they are not forever immune to punishment for their bad deeds.
On behalf of all who are shuttered by their trauma, all who have been retraumatized by Trump’s presidency, I hope for justice. And in time, I’ll be able to fight for it as well.
Before you go…
Go behind-the-scenes of my writing journey and get my weekly newsletter. It comes with one exclusive story per week, special visual content and photo essays, and a dose of writing advice.