Want To Stop Trump? You Need To Stop Domestic Violence First

If we can end domestic violence, we can stop people like Trump from becoming president. I’ll explain why.

Want To Stop Trump? You Need To Stop Domestic Violence First

by Janey Stephenson |
Published on

It’s barely been a month since Trump became President, but there have already been huge protests across the globe. The world is still reeling from the shock, and the U.S. left is trying to fight against restrictions on basic freedoms like migration and abortion.

But if we really want to stop Trump and his cronies from holding power, we need to do more than protest.

We need to get to the heart of what brought him to power, which means radically shifting public attitudes on domestic violence. If we can end domestic violence, we can stop people like Trump from becoming president. I’ll explain why.

What people voted for

It has long been established that the general public don’t vote on policies. They don’t make decisions rationally; they vote with emotions and values, choosing leaders who activate the strongest feelings. In a ground-breaking investigation into the role of emotion within US politics, messaging strategist Drew Westen concluded that a ‘dispassionate electorate’ is a myth. Instead, ‘networks of association’ within voters’ minds, triggered by pointed emotional appeals from politicians, drive people to polls. Republicans know that feelings matter more than facts; Newt Gingrich was mocked when he said people’s feelings on crime matter more than FBI facts, but he was onto something.

In the US, people vote with a deeply personal frame of reference in mind. Discourse analysts and cognitive linguists have identified that US politics is modelled heavily on the family; after all, it’s a nation built on ‘founding fathers’. It’s why Obama’s publicity prominently featured Michelle and their daughters. It’s why Hillary highlighted her identity as a grandmother.

In a patriarchal society, where power centres on fathers as heads of households, family (and national) politics are defined by the type of father in charge.

George Lakoff, an American linguist, identifies a defining feature of this family reference: ‘the major moral divisions in our politics derive from two opposed models of the family: a progressive (nurturing parent) morality, and a conservative (strict father) morality’. In other words, votes are informed by people’s opinions on healthy family dynamics.

In Lakoff’s terms, Trump is the USA’s strict father. The ultimate patriarch.

Lakoff details the ‘strict father morality’ as one that holds control by ‘claiming protectiveness’ through ultimate authority; in political terms this translates to “national security”. He states how Conservative women perceive male authority as protectiveness, which would explain the Trump supporters who are white (supremacist) women – ostensibly idolising Trump as a “protector” against people of colour and immigrants that they already vilified after decades of racism in the USA, but were encouraged to openly hate through his racist election campaign. Control dressed up as ‘protection’ is further exemplified by Trump’s delight in ‘law and order’; a known euphemism for racist segregation and oppression, best articulated by the civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander.

The underpinning principle of the ‘strict father’ is that authority is justified by conservative morals, and that a ‘well-ordered’ world is one where historically dominant groups oppress others. Lakoff details this order as: ‘Men above women, Whites above non-whites, Christians above non-Christians, Straights above Gays’. This explains how, without even needing to be explicit, Trump’s candidacy openly encouraged sexism, racism, islamophobia and homophobia. This also explains why black women were Hillary’s most reliable voters.

Power and control

Given what is now happening in the White House, ‘strict father’ is an understatement. Parallels between the power and control that domestic violence perpetrators demand, and the power and control that Trump seeks, is stark. Domestic violence is a small-scale dictatorship after all, evidenced through an exercise I used to run in domestic violence survivor support groups called ‘The Island’.

During ‘The Island’, I’d ask the women in the group to imagine a dictator’s island and list the types of controls that he would have in place. The island is an obvious metaphor for the abusive home, and survivors reeled off all the things that a dictator would control: how money is spent, who can travel on or off the island (i.e. in and out of the house), the media (what ‘reality’ is) and how his rules are enforced. Across these various spheres of control, the entitled attitude of a domestic violence perpetrator is “my home, my kingdom”. When you compare this to the USA right now, the exercise stops being a metaphor.

Domestic violence is about power and control, illustrated in the Duluth ‘Power and Control Wheel’ that shows how perpetrator tactics vary, but intentions are fixed. People who seek power and control are, by nature, opposed to others having freedom. This is the case for domestic violence perpetrators and Trump, as autonomy might inconveniently get in their way: remember Trump’s infamous comment about assaulting women: ‘grab them by the pussy...you can do anything’?

Two key areas of control within abusive relationships are on freedom of movement and reproductive control. At the domestic level, this means stopping a survivor leaving the house, or prohibiting friends visiting; also in encouraging a woman to stay vulnerable through pregnancy. In Trump’s case, it’s travel bans and blocking abortion.

Perpetrators on both scales are ferociously controlling of freedoms, and retaliate when challenged. Perpetrators consider themselves as above criticism or accountability (in Trump’s case, above the courts). Their worldview is the only view, and they remove or rubbish other perspectives. At the domestic level, this means isolating a woman from friends or family who criticise his behaviour; at the political level, it means denigrating the media, whom Trump calls ‘the enemy of the American people’.

The attitudes and behaviours are identical, despite the scale of execution. Lundy Bancroft, a workshop leader who has spent his life working with domestic violence perpetrators, summarises: ‘abuse grows from attitudes and values: the roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control’. With 1 in 3 women experiencing domesticviolence in the USA, attitudes that facilitate domestic violence are a deeply ingrained part of society. It’s unsurprising that Trump’s values and behaviour have been encouraged. To truly stop Trump (and politicians of his ilk worldwide), these attitudes need to be challenged everywhere, every day.

The solution

The metaphor is not absolute; love plays an integral role within domestic violence, as did white supremacy and islamophobia within this election. However, the parallels are so remarkable and the psychology of voting so well established, it would be foolish to dismiss the likeness when a solution lies within. By identifying how Trump has come to hold authority, we must look at how male entitlement and a relentless (and often charismatic) drive for power and control is lauded, instead of questioned. For example, Trump supporters praise his ‘directness’ (read: aggression) in getting his own way. This traditional show of masculinity reinforces the concept of a patriarch having a right to get his way, even by force.

Abusers are not born; they are made. Making sure people like Trump don’t end up in power demands an interrogation of public values: why do people want men like this in power? To help answer, we must look within homes and communities, and in the worth patriarchy has placed on “strict fathers”. We must reshape cultural attitudes towards power, control and patriarchy at the domestic level. What’s more, we need to scrutinise what ‘protection’ really means when it has swiftly gained public consensus for mass surveillance across the world.

It’s pointless to spend a couple of days placard-waving at ‘stop Trump’ protests, then spending the rest of the time ignoring the prevalence of domestic violence and the deeply rooted attitudes beneath. It’s a much harder task, but if we can transform public consensus and cultural norms around men displaying controlling behaviour, we can dismantle abuse of power from the ground up. If we can stop domestic violence and veneration of ‘traditional’ values, we can genuinely stop Trump.

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Follow Janey on Twitter @rebeljelly

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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