The Double-Edged Sword: Fear and Apathy in Donald Trump’s America

*Disclaimer: This blog post utilizes the author’s experience with abuse as an illustration of the dangers of apathy and fear to individuals suffering under the control of a malignant personality. It is not the author’s intention to identify a specific individual, or to make libelous or defamatory statements against any individual. All efforts have been made to shield the identity of any and all persons involved in the author’s personal narrative, aside from the author herself. The author requests that any individuals posting comments on this blog post, here or on social media, refrain from using any identifying markers of the individual referred to here as “abuser.” These may include, but are not limited to: name, gender, age, race, physical characteristics, and relationship to the author and/or individual commenting. This is for the protection of both the author and the individuals involved in these events. Libel is a serious thing, folks.

“On November 9th, 2016, I woke up with a distinct certainty that the time for inaction was over. Yet the gulf between feeling the need to act and acting is wide, and filled with the fog of uncertainty and indecision. The fog is particularly thick when the feelings are ones we tend to classify as ‘negative:’ anger, bewilderment, grief. Anger is a great motivating force – provided one is certain of the direction in which we want to point the flamethrower – but without that inner compass, the flamethrower tends to go haywire, spewing its rage all over Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. The result is a rather charred, unproductive online landscape. And, more importantly, an ignored physical one. On November 9th I walked into my 1 o’clock English Comp. class with the election of Donald Trump hanging over my head like an enormous Weeble which wobbled aplenty, but refused to fall down. And I stuck to my lesson plan, as if nothing had happened. Because it didn’t seem appropriate to address politics in the classroom. Because I didn’t want to get ‘off track.’ Because I believed it wasn’t ‘my place’ as an educator to air my personal views. We got through the class just fine, but the room was subdued, and thick with fog.

On November 21st, 2016, I went with my husband and two of our closest friends to see Bernie Sanders speak about his new book. New Hampshire caught Bernie-fever bad during the Democratic primary; the Capitol Center for the Arts was filled to the rafters, and raucous. That first standing ovation cut through the fog like a thunderclap. Nearly every sentence out of Sanders’ mouth for the next hour and a half inspired a whoop, a burst of applause, a pocket standing ovation. Uncertainty is impossible in such an environment. I’m sure a similar effect impacted the audiences at Trump’s rallies. Such speakers make apathy seem like an impossibility: a vague dream the details of which we’ve already forgotten. For many Trump supporters, apathy shifted naturally into activism: if you define activism as hate speech, violent threats against minorities, and the resurgence of white nationalism. For the rest of us…well, apathy was pretty tempting before the election. It’s the reason why so many chose to stay home, rather than tick the box next to a name they didn’t fully support. And now? Now that the election is over, and we’re squinting through the dust, trying to find a path that even remotely resembles the one we’ve left behind? What role does the liberal academic play in such a red haze?

Well, my friends, it seems to me now quite clear, and quite simple. We pick up a role many of us dropped a long time ago – and some of us never adopted – but a role which all of us are obligated to play. We lead.”

This is where I stopped writing.

On January 21st, 2017, I participated in the N.H. Women’s Day of Unity and Action, one of countless events around the globe organized to protest Donald Trump’s presidency; but more importantly, to take a long-needed stance against our slowly-eroding civil rights. The 5,000 crowding the Capitol Center steps reinvigorated me after months of hopelessness. The speeches reinforced my decision to stop pursuing a full-time academic career, and shift my focus to non-profit work. The young man who gave Daniel Webster a feminist makeover made me shout with childlike glee, and think of a thousand things I could say about re-visioning the white, male, hetero-normative “Founding Fathers” mythos.

And still I didn’t write.

I proceeded to not write for about three months. Why? The short answer is: “Fear.”

There’s been a lot of talk about fear since Donald Trump’s Inauguration. The world-wide protests in response have been a reaction born of fear –and the desire to not become its victim. I began this article with the intention of writing about bringing social leadership to the classroom, but we can’t get to leadership in the face of oppression until we work through fear of that oppressor. And I know a little bit about fear. I have lived with it all my life.

Just as there’s been a lot of talk about fear in connection with Trump, there’s also been a fair bit of talk about his apparent mental instability. Multiple experts have remotely diagnosed him with malignant narcissism.[1] While the diagnosis seems on point, it’s important to understand that Personality Disorders are among the most difficult of psychiatric illnesses to diagnose. Psychiatrists need to have observed the patient over a significant period of time in order to determine whether or not the characteristics of the disorder are present in every aspect of the individual’s life. Additionally, an accurate diagnosis of a Personality Disorder provides cold comfort: these are among the most tenacious, all-encompassing of the mental illnesses. They are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to treat with either medication or therapy. If Donald Trump is a malignant Narcissist this does little to help us beyond understanding the source of his most bizarre behaviors, and perhaps provides a way for those surrounding him to learn how to work with him, in accordance with the vagaries of his illness. I know a little bit about dealing with an individual with a Personality Disorder, just as I know a little bit about fear, because I was sexually, physically, and psychologically abused for over a decade by an individual who likely had Antisocial Personality Disorder. In common parlance: they are a Sociopath.[2]

It is important to understand that a multitude of people with Antisocial Personality Disorder live in this world without harming a soul. Sociopathology is not directly equivalent to “evil,” despite what Criminal Minds would like us to believe. Just as Trump might have not simply Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but malignant NPD, my abuser’s version of Antisocial Personality Disorder is of the most malevolent kind. They are, in addition to being a sociopath, a pedophile.

My abuser first raped me in a dark basement on a sunny day. Hours later, I remember sitting at a table, in the brilliant light of a summer evening, a group of people laughing as the individual who had just destroyed my childhood held court. I looked at the smiling faces surrounding me and realized something, before I’d entered first grade, which many of us never learn. Monsters don’t hide in the dark. They hide in the plain light of day. This is why it is so hard to topple them from their thrones. They charm, they smile, they tell you just precisely what you want to hear, so they can get what they want. They don’t just pander to the lowest common-denominator: Trump never would have won the election had he done this. He did so because he used his considerable powers of manipulation to deceive good-hearted, intelligent American people, just as my abuser was able to craft a public persona which made them a respected, admired, and loved member of their society. Trump’s multiple wives are a testament not merely to his wealth, but to his ability to deceive others with a carefully-crafted persona; he uses this ability on his own children, who have been conditioned by him from birth to be his obedient, adoring acolytes.

We underestimate the Great Manipulators to our detriment. This is how Donald Trump was able to become “President” Trump. Because we refused to take him seriously. We saw only the buffoon, not the malignant personality behind it. Or, on the other side of the aisle, we saw only the smile, and the charm, and we laughed in the sunlight.t

My abuser left me with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. When I was 19, PTSD landed me in a psych ward. Since I have been dealing with the memories of the abuse, all these years later, this illness has become severe to the point where I frequently cannot leave the house for days at a time. I have been, quite literally, a prisoner of fear. I do not look at Trump and see my abuser’s face, but I do see a variation on a theme: a version of a Great Manipulator, whose supreme selfishness, lack of empathy, and powers of deception pose a great threat to our nation. My abuser’s pedophilic actions were hidden, but after they left my life, a number of people came out of the woodwork as witnesses to the individual’s psychological abuse. They described feelings of anger, fear, and impotence. None of these people actively tried to help me. Great Manipulators can abuse their power in plain sight because good people are deceived, are apathetic, or are afraid.

Living with fear is bad. I would not recommend it to anyone. But apathy is worse. Even if Trump’s policies are not directly affecting you, they are harming your fellow human beings. You may be sitting upstairs, in the sunlight, while he is steadily taking away the rights of fellow citizens in the dark. You may think it’s not that bad, because it’s not happening to you. It is. You may think you are helpless to stop this from happening. You are not. Apathy and willful blindness nearly as destructive as direct abuse. If one person, when I was a child, had taken me in their arms and said, “I am sorry this is happening to you. You do not deserve it,” I might have had the courage to speak out about the sexual abuse, and been spared from over a decade of psychological torture. We are not children anymore. We are adults, with all the power of voice and action that adulthood brings. If you, as an adult citizen of the United States, do nothing to help those being abused by Trump’s so-called “policies,” you are complicit in that abuse. I do not say that lightly. The old adage, “Evil triumphs when good people do nothing,”[3] is not a cliché. It is truth. Don’t fall victim to the Great Manipulator. Don’t fall victim to apathy. Take back your power, and do something.

I’ve begun by finishing this post.

[1] Describing a personality disorder as “malignant” is merely a means of emphasizing the negative effects of that disorder on the individual and those around them. It is not part of the DSM-V definition of NPD.

[2] This is an educated guess of the author’s, made in discussion with a licensed psychotherapist, and is not a clinical diagnosis.

[3] Describing a personality disorder as “malignant” is merely a means of emphasizing the negative effects of that disorder on the individual and those around them.

3 thoughts on “The Double-Edged Sword: Fear and Apathy in Donald Trump’s America

  1. Good for you, Nicole! Hitting that “enter” key is a great step in a new direction. Continue your action and know that you have a lot of support.


  2. Pingback: Waiting for a Road Map: Navigating Recovery | The Recovering Academic

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