Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter Thursday was not just an attack on Mika Brzezinski. His words, once again, have put victims of partner violence at risk by normalizing behavior that should be considered shocking and abhorrent. Too many people can relate to Brzezinski’s plight, though instead of being victimized in public, they are victimized in their own homes.
During the presidential campaign, First Lady Melania Trump promised to fight bullying on social media saying, “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough especially to children and to teenagers. We have to find a better way to talk to each other, to disagree with each other, to respect each other.” Even more recently, Ivanka Trump claimed to be shocked about the “level of viciousness in D.C.” Unfortunately, Trump’s biggest enablers are the women closest to him who purport to care about civility while tacitly endorsing his behavior.
It is not only unpresidential to attack someone’s appearance and coopt descriptors of mental illness for derisive use, it is abusive. Name-calling, disguising insults as jokes, blame-shifting, and failing to apologize are all hallmarks of verbal abuse and they are all behaviors Trump exhibits with disturbing frequency and impunity from a very public platform.
According to the American Counseling Association, Intimate Partner Violence describes “any form of physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, and/or verbal abuse between partners.” An estimated 94% of women between the ages of 16 and 19 have been victimized by a current or former partner, according to Love is Respect. Parents, teachers, and responsible adults should be concerned about the horrible example the president sets when he uses social media to lash out. This behavior undermines efforts to educate young people about empathy, civility, and healthy relationships.
After Trump lashes out, he rarely apologizes or takes responsibility for his words. More often than not, he defends himself or minimizes the impact of his hurtful rhetoric. During the presidential campaign, he explained away some of his outrageous comments about grabbing women’s genitals by saying it was simple “locker room talk.” Denial and minimization are hallmarks of verbal abuse. Katreena Scott of the University of Toronto and Murray Strauss of the Family Violence Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire explained in their research on partner violence, “Denial of problem behavior, or of personal responsibility for such behavior, is a fundamental component of many psychological problems that involve significant harm to others.”
Beyond the context of partner violence, Trump is normalizing online harassment and bullying. Trump’s supporters on Twitter often resort to similar attacks against people who disagree with the president, attacking their physical appearance, mental capacity, and mental health status.
Trump is promoting a culture of hate and disrespect as he positions himself as someone who will make America safe and “great again.” By normalizing abuse and bullying, Trump is making American more dangerous.