As a woman who’s experienced various kinds of emotional abuse from more than one man in her life, covering this election has been incredibly taxing. Like many other female journalists, such as my colleague Emily Crockett, many of us have had to listen to a man who looks, speaks, and feels like the abusers we’ve encountered over the course of our lives.
In fact, after Donald Trump described bragging about assault on a tour bus as "locker room talk" millions (yes, that’s millions) of women came forward with their own stories of assault. These women, by virtue of paying attention to an election in which they have a heavy stake, have been forced to listen to someone who sounds oddly familiar: their abuser.
Although Donald Trump has spent his entire campaign exhibiting many of the classic traits of emotional abuse, examining his behavior simply through the prism of Sunday night’s debate is enough to make it clear as a bell.
Humiliation and deflection are two of the most common ways emotional abusers exert control over their victims. Before the debate even started, he performed an impressive combination of both, using the women who have claimed Bill Clinton raped them to shame Hillary Clinton (and involved us all in this shaming act by broadcasting it).
To deflect from the fact that he was caught bragging about sexual assault on tape, he held a surprise press conference with these women, who he has insulted and demeaned in the past. This sort of behavior may sound familiar to some as gaslighting, another textbook abusive behavior when the abuser manipulates information to the point of causing the victim to question his or her own sanity. If you feel like you’re going insane during this election, that’s probably Donald Trump gaslighting you over and over again.
Another example of gaslighting: Trump falsely asserting once again that Hillary Clinton started the Obama birther conspiracy, even though he’s the one who built his entire political career on the falsehood.
But perhaps most shockingly, Trump used direct threats and physical displays of intimidation at the debate by warning he would put Clinton in jail, and positioning himself physically right behind her in a way that made some watching at home feel just a little uncomfortable.
And to be clear, Trump’s behavior shouldn’t be labeled as abusive just because his victim happens to be a woman, although it seems necessary to point out how ironic it is that the first woman within an arm’s reach of the White House has to deal with such conduct. But in the primaries, Trump was abusive against his male opponents too. Humiliating Jeb Bush by calling him weak and instructing him to "be quiet" is just one example.
So when you look at Donald Trump through this lens, ask yourself: If he were dating your best friend, wouldn’t you stage an intervention?
Good thing America is having one on November 8.