Donald Trump won the US presidential election in November 2016, a fact that has reverberated coldly through the marrow of many marginalized people in the United States. The shared feelings of fear, dread of the future, and paralysis in the face of so many wrongs have blanketed our emotions, blocking out other feelings and experiences.
But for many of us, more than anything our president-elect personifies abusers and abusive experiences that we have fought to overcome and put behind us. Now, triggers of these experiences are everywhere, populating social media, mainstream news outlets, and conversations at work, at home, and in public. Personal issues that, in the past, we have been able to keep private if we chose are now painted in broad strokes across every public platform, like sexual assault and emotional abuse. I am one of those Americans struggling to address these issues because the personalities of my father and the president-elect share so much in common.
My father is a strong man. He grew up in a family with too many children and weathered unthinkable tragedy: molestation, neglect, and the loss of his father to suicide when he was eighteen. He learned to cope with this tragedy and improve upon the model his parents demonstrated to him. As my father, he surpassed his parents in his ability to show his children warmth, love, respect, and consideration.
And it wasn’t good enough.
His unaddressed personal hurt and anger have colored his sense of entitlement, religious views, and filtered through every aspect of his life. He may suffer from undiagnosed mental illness, a struggle he will not recognize or accept help for. My father is strong—strong enough to stay alive for his family, provide a home, food, and clothes for us, but not strong enough to confront his own pain. This pain manifests in his continual abusive behavior to his wife and three daughters, in warped spirituality, and in a constant, unquenchable need for love and attention.
This dangerous combination of characteristics results in self-righteousness, blindness to the suffering of others, and a confused sense of truth, of reality, of what is. It results in dehumanizing those who look different, think differently, or move through the world in different way than the straight, white male. The misogyny that ruled my home growing up manifested itself in my father admiring his daughters for our beauty, how thin we were, or what we wore. My father relates to women as his accessories, and I think that he truly believes his assessment of us as objects is for our good.
I see these characteristics in our new president-elect. Although many people are heartbroken and scared, those of us who have lived, grown, fought, and share DNA with men like Trump have a unique insight into the workings of our future president and his potential to manipulate, diminish, and harm. This knowledge empowers and paralyzes me because what was once only personal has now become national. The problems I sidestep in my family are now no longer avoidable, and each time I watch the news, read the paper, or even scroll through Instagram, I am confronted by this awful convergence of private and public distress. I keep returning to the same question: What do I do?
As of yet, I don’t have the answer. In the last month, the perspective I have gained toward my father over many years and the compassion I have come to feel for him have been tested. Right now, I don’t know if the growth I have managed is sustainable. I don’t know because I, like so many others, am bombarded by the same unfounded lies, abusive actions, and bigoted worldview of Donald Trump, the man we have elected to be president of the United States, the man who shares so much in common with my father.
Although I yearn to take action against the pervasiveness of post-truth politics and harmful divisiveness, I feel deflated and knocked down by the recent election in the US. More than that, I feel shaken to my core to see a man, just like my father, discarding the humanity of those around him in favor of his own base need for unquestioning love and attention, leading this country.
I don’t know if my dad relates to Trump. I don’t know if similar men see themselves in the president-elect. But I do know that my father’s tendencies to bully and degrade have been validated by this election and by a large portion of American voters. The fact that Donald Trump is the new president proves that his way—the way of narcissistic threats and dehumanization of others—works.
Growing up, I always daydreamed and planned for the time I would escape my father and his financial and emotional manipulations. After a brief window of freedom, just a few years, I find myself under the rule of a man just like him. The difference is this time all of us are.