As a scientist, I like to simplify a situation. Instead of trying to figure out why Trump’s base is so steadfast and loyal to someone who is clearly mendacious, manipulative and just plain mean, let’s look at the one-on-one relationship between an abusive spouse and his target.
The behavior of the abuser is well documented. Check out the 21 Warning Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship. How many of these behaviors does the president exhibit towards the press, his wives, our allies? What do all the abused have in common so that they enable this behavior to continue?
Abusers and bullies are often quite charming when they want to be. That’s why unsuspecting potential victims fall in love. They are seduced by courtship behavior, which validates them and gives voice to their own frustrations and inadequacies. It makes them feel special. Trump throws them red meat and keeps up the courtship in his campaign-style rallies. This emotional connection stands up to all sorts of transgressions. A dairy farmer in Nevada, who sells milk to a local cheese manufacturer who sells to European clients, sees bankruptcy on the horizon as her buyer’s market is shutting down because of tariffs. The empty promise of a wall goes unfulfilled. Children are torn from their parents. Yet they stick with him. It’s hard to admit that you’ve been blind-sided (gas-lit) by love.
Abusive relationships have a way of wearing down the abused so they can’t or won’t see a way out. As the abuse gets incrementally worse and more obvious day by day, the abused double down on the excuses that keep them in the relationship. I was once in such a relationship. I had been a competent, kind and generous person who was reduced to hand-trembling when putting a plastic liner into a garbage can because my abuser had told me I didn’t know how to do it correctly. That was the point at which I suddenly had a moment of clarity: this situation was ludicrous. I looked at all my accomplishments and thought, “Who cares how I put the liner in a garbage can!” Full stop. I knew I had to get out of my situation and I knew I needed help to do so. Extricating myself to start a new life was the hardest thing I ever did. It was also the making of me.
There are many good people who voted for Trump who don’t see their Fuhrer clearly. He has seduced them into believing that he “alone” can save them and they are blind to the hole he is digging to bury them. The beauty of a democracy is that we the people have our own salvation in hand. It’s called the vote. It’s called civil discourse. It’s called the greater good.
Trump followers ignore their wake-up-America-call at our peril. It can’t come soon enough. But Trump has unlimited inventiveness to show us his hollowness. You can see it in Melania’s eyes. And she’s still there.