In early 2017, I was one of a group of experts on violence, psychopathology, and authoritarianism who wrote the bestselling book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Professionals Assess a President.” Dangerous is a word used increasingly to describe Trump and for good reason.
As an expert in abusive relationships, I can state that Trump’s behaviors throughout his presidency and especially following the revelations of the Ukraine scandal track exactly with what we expect from volatile, unstable personalities.
Danger comes in many forms. In my chapter in the book I compare Trump to an abuser, yet not all abuse is physical. Victims often consider emotional or psychological abuse more harmful and long lasting. The terror that they felt was real and traumatic, even if they were never hit. Many struggle for years to overcome the soul-destroying messages from their partner or parent. The difficulty is that many victims do not recognize emotional abuse as harmful, often because it is so insidious and because it escalates so slowly. Abusers know how to mask their destructive comments in ways that confuse the victim and make the victim assume blame.
The real danger of Trump is not necessarily that he is going to punch someone (although he may if his impulse control gets any worse!). His violence has always come in the form of bullying, bombast, blame-shifting, name-calling and verbal abuse.
Trump’s recent parroting of a threat by a Christian TV evangelist that impeachment will cause civil war is a perfect example of what abusive partners do. When their spouse threatens to leave they may escalate to even more intimidating threats, such as that they will make the divorce very difficult, they will take all the money in the bank accounts, they will refuse to move out of the house, they will fight for custody of the children, and they will make co-parenting a nightmare for years. My ex-husband shot at my dog twice as a way to intimidate me and then he falsely threatened suicide.
Trump is making the same threats, that if the country “divorces” him, he and his followers will make it so miserable it will turn into a civil war and we will regret impeachment. Threats are commonly used by sociopaths, narcissists, authoritarian personalities and abusers to ensure submission and compliance in their victims.
With a national leader, these threats also stoke violence in his party, in what is called stochastic terrorism, in which the leader does not actually perform the violence, but incites others to do so.
Trump is also inciting his cult followers to threaten the life of the whistle-blower, causing him or her to seek federal protection.
Trump is a deeply insecure and frightened personality driven largely by the emotions of shame and fear. Predictably, he is going to behave in impulsive, illogical, and dangerous ways. To protect himself from feelings of inadequacy and shame he will go to extremes to avoid being held accountable, such as stubbornly clinging to false conspiracy theories, refusing to listen to advisers, and behaving as if he is above the law.
I am concerned that Trump’s abuse will scar this country for generations because of the psychological wounds he is creating. Just as a psychologist would recommend that a victim leave an abusive relationship, Trump needs to be removed from office immediately. Certainly, we must follow the rule of law, but please congress members, act swiftly to save us from this abusive relationship.