THE BLOG
12/29/2016 10:39 am ET Updated Dec 30, 2017

2017 Imperative: Counter Trump's Political Philosophy Of Abuse

Carlos Barria / Reuters

There is no more important political and moral agenda for 2017 than to counter Donald Trump's political philosophy. This philosophy is modeled on domestic violence and it breeds a dangerous politics of control.

You can see this model in how Trump performs power over others by ritual humiliation and intimidation, but that is not the limit of the analogy.

Domestic violence is called violence for a reason.

Trump has moved to the threat of ultimate violence, the death not only of individuals, but also of the planet by raising the specter of an accelerated nuclear age, and an increased nuclear risk. Unlike some who think Trump's departure from decades of nuclear policy was a blunder, I believe it is a deliberate attempt to ratchet up the level of intimidation to the ultimate threat, the threat of annihilation.

The trajectory from humiliation to intimidation to threats of violence is a classic pattern of domestic abuse and it is now the reigning political philosophy of the incoming administration. Our current Department of Justice defines domestic abuse as "any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone."

This is horrifying in abusive personal relationships, and it is equally horrifying when seen as a broader pattern of an abusive political philosophy.

Humiliation and intimidation are warning signs of this trend, both relationally and politically.

Recently, Newt Gingrich was publically humiliated by Trump for daring to pull back the curtain and expose that Trump's campaign rhetoric about 'draining the swamp' was not to be taken seriously.

But prior to that, there was the cruel body-shaming of Chris Christie, and who can forget the extended and excruciating public shaming of Mitt Romney up to and including getting dumped, apparently at dinner.

Romney getting dumped at dinner was like every caricature of a guy breaking up with a woman at dinner 'so she won't make a scene.' Except in Romney's case, the scene was the point. A message was sent to other potential political critics: 'Public humiliation will result if you criticize me. '

This is how we know this is a political philosophy. The humiliation and intimidation are done for specific political ends.

And we know it is a political philosophy modeled on domestic violence because now Trump has threatened not only the country but the world with a new nuclear arms race. In domestic violence, the threat of death is always there, ratcheting up the fear factor. As moral ethicist Mary Pellauer has so wisely noted in her chapter in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside 'I could have died' is the existential crisis women who have been subject to violence report.

The nuclear threat is a real death threat. There are enough nuclear weapons in the world to destroy it several times over. The fear of death is the ultimate way abusers wrest control away from their victims.

Just to refresh your memory, here is Trump's nuclear Tweet.

And we need not necessarily go to DEFCON 1 (defined as "imminent threat of nuclear attack") to see how certain groups in the U.S. will be increasingly threatened. Here's just one example: the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General is a threat to equal treatment under the law. The threat is tangible and potentially lethal. African American communities will lose recourse to the Justice Department when a member of that community who is unarmed is summarily executed by police or a vigilante. Police and vigilantes may consider themselves even more above the law than they do now.

Unless we effectively counter this political philosophy of abuse starting right away, the effects long term will be devastating for democracy.

In my experience as a domestic violence counselor and teaching seminary classes on sexual and domestic violence, I have seen the psychological damage of exposure to the pattern of domestic violence. The person who is ritually humiliated, intimidated and threatened with death over and over can come to doubt their own ability to make decisions and can become more and more dependent and submissive.

Submission and dependence are learned from repeated domestic abuse. People become far more inclined to obedience and they can lose the capacity for independent thought and action.

In a political sense, this is antithetical to a democracy where citizens need to hold their political leaders accountable, critique them and even remove them when necessary by the power of the ballot.

The abusive political philosophy of the incoming Trump administration is therefore subversive of the democratic process itself.

There is a way out of this. The way to resist a political philosophy of abuse is the same way those who have been subject to domestic violence have successfully rejected abuse and become survivors.

Recognize that this Behavior is Abuse

Raising awareness that there is a reigning philosophy of political abuse is crucial. Teen Vogue has an excellent article on how Donald Trump is Gaslighting America through systematic denial of the truth we can see right before our eyes, like the psychological abuse in the Victorian era drama "Gaslight." Denial of the truth is a form of psychological abuse, and it is critical to the maintenance of a political philosophy of abuse.

Here's how you stop this: Use every opportunity to call out #FakeNews and help one another recognize and sustain the truth about what is happening.

Take Away the Weapons

There are federal and state laws to prevent domestic abusers from having access to lethal weapons such as guns. These must be improved as there are often loopholes, but such laws tend to prevent domestic violence from becoming lethal.

In the same way, the Trump administration needs to be prevented from a first-strike capability with nuclear weapons. Congress must push forward with a no first strike bill to take away Trump's capacity to 'shoot first and ask questions later' when it comes to the nuclear trigger.

Trump must be prevented from being able to credibly threaten the world with a nuclear first strike.

Get Legal Help

I have often helped women who are being psychologically and physically abused to recognize that what is being done to them is illegal. Their abusers will try to reinforce the idea that it is perfectly fine for a man to beat or humiliate his wife or partner. It's not. Women in this situation are often helped by securing legal advice.

In the same way, an abusive political philosophy tries to wrap itself in the cloak of legality, but often its actions are completely illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union has named this clearly in their campaign "See You in Court," launched the day after the election. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund with its long experience in defending civil rights cases is another line of legal defense. As it becomes clearer and clearer that the recent election has empowered neo-Nazis, the Southern Poverty Law Center is essential organization. They have successfully fought the Ku Klux Klan in the past, and they will be needed to counter the rise of a spectrum of hate crimes. Planned Parenthood remains an essential line of defense of women's right to self-determination about their bodies.

Support these organizations and volunteer as you are able. There are many other worthy ones, of course.

It will also be crucial to lobby against extremist judges being appointed to our courts.

Support One Another

The domestic abuser tries to isolate his victim. Support groups are crucial to counter this tactic. I have formed bible studies in churches that have become support groups for domestic violence victims and survivors.

The online Twitter attacks and harassment are a leading characteristic of this abusive political philosophy. President-elect Trump has been called "Twitter-troll-in-Chief for his Twitter attacks or Cyberbully-in-Chief when President.

When Trump attacks someone on Twitter, I have proposed (and I follow my own advice) that those who would be moral actors in this society Tweet or send online messages of support those whom he, or his minions such as the neo-Nazi groups, attack. I call this campaign #LoveOneAnother and I use that hashtag when contacting those who have been attacked.

Twitter attacks by Trump model incredibly abusive behavior and there has been a huge increase of cyber-bullying as well as face-to-face bullying since he was elected.

A political philosophy modeled on domestic violence is very dangerous for the United States and the world.

There is no greater imperative for 2017 than to oppose and defeat this abusive philosophy.

Your life, my life and the life of the planet depend on it.