In 1991, the movie Sleeping with the Enemy premiered. A psychological thriller about the "perfect couple" who live a different life within their own home, the film exposes the terror of living with a controlling, abusive spouse. I was in college when I saw it, and I remember thinking, "I would never let a man treat me that way. I'm too strong for that."
Two years later, I entered a relationship that was, in many ways, the kind of relationship that made me walk on eggshells and fear. It didn't start that way, however, and that's the kicker. He was charming and handsome and fun, at first, gradually escalating the verbal and physical abuse once I was attached to him. Ten years later - and coincidentally, after four years of marriage, just like the characters in the movie - I got out. Luckily, he had found someone else and wasn't interested in hunting me down.
America is being courted by this kind of dangerous, controlling man for the highest office in our country: the presidency. Some followers love his every move because it makes them feel better about their own lives and channels the anger that has been simmering under their skin. Others stubbornly pretend not to see. Or they hate the other candidate so much that they believe that he must be the better alternative.
Is Donald Trump the guy your mother warned you about? This short quiz may clear things up.
1. DOES HE TAKE CHARGE?
Your new paramour is charming, at first, making you laugh and impressing you with his ability to work the room. He's strong and powerful, and you feel safe with him, because he takes charge and seems to know just what the people around you want to hear. It stirs them in a way you hadn't imagined, and you feel proud. You can't believe he picked you, out of all people, to bestow his gifts.
But then, you start to notice that he laughs a little louder than necessary, and you see his scowl when he turns away. He begins to tell you how to dress, or who to hang out with when you're not with him. When he starts insulting you in public, you feel shame and guilt; you must surely deserve this. What did you do to push his buttons? He just speaks his mind and he has the right to say whatever he wants. Even when he's belittling, disdaining, or encouraging violence.
See, that's how it works. When we see someone for who they portray versus what they are, we miss the danger signs.
2. DOES HE PREY ON FEAR AND ANGER?
You see that some people leave the room when he enters, because he takes up all the air. Friends hint that maybe he's taking over your life. One very close friend confronts you with an intervention and tries to get you to see that he's unhealthy for you; he's toxic.
And then, he punches you in the face. You're blindsided, both literally and figuratively. You lick your wounds and hide the damage and pretend it never happened. You look the other way when he starts telling cruel jokes and you excuse his behavior because, well, you know how much he loves you. He has you so convinced of his worth that you can't seem to walk out the door, even knowing that he is poison.
Very gradually, my ex's negative comments started to chip at my view of myself. He said that I wasn't really his type. He told me that he didn't like what I wore. He disrespected my friends and my parents. I kept making excuses, even after he socked me in the left side of my jaw.
The problem is that once we enter this cycle, it's hard to get out. Already, our children are displaying the effects of the cult of personality and acting out in ways that are, at best, unkind, and at worst, xenophobic and racist. The bruises have been under the surface, but they're starting to look like a very visible black eye.
3. DOES HE TELL YOU THAT HE LOVES YOU, BUT...?
We loved to hate him as the man who said "You're Fired!" every season on his reality show. We laughed at his antics when they didn't affect us. He says "Let's Make America Great Again!" but he doesn't say how. Or for whom, in particular.
You might walk on eggshells and do everything you can do to placate him, because you remember how charming and funny he can be. Besides, he loves you. He says so all the time. He says no one can love you the way he does. He can make you better than ever, with his guidance, he tells you.
When you protest, he tells you that you're too sensitive. You're too "politically correct." You're weak and stupid. You believe him.
My ex made me feel important, at first. I felt so lucky. I fell in love with him and then I made the mistake of thinking that love could fix everything, including him.
Did you answer "yes" to any of these questions? Then yes, it's time to get out of this relationship. This presidential campaign has preyed on fear and anger, caused the most resentful of the middle class to pick up the pitchforks to join the poking and prodding of the fabric of our country, ripping us to shreds. Donald Trump's speeches, full of hate and violence, have turned our attention from what we can improve to the worst side of ourselves.
He stumps for freedom of speech, but only for him; in the meantime, he has banned various media outlets from his events.
He tells us we are too politically correct; and the white supremacists come out of the woodwork to cheer and laud him.
Trump cheated on his first wife, left the second one, and is on a third, while his party's platform preaches about the "sanctity of marriage"; and he ridicules his opponent for salvaging her marriage when her husband's indiscretions humiliated her.
He encourages his crowd to scream "Lock her up!" of his opponent; he insults military veterans and POWs. Women who are sexually harassed should just get a new job, he says. But he loves women, he reports. He loves them all the way under his thumb.
Just because he's not screaming at you right now doesn't mean that he won't. Just in the last several months, he has painted the people of Mexico as rapists; female reporters as weak and stupid; a disabled man the butt of his jokes; and Muslim people as potential terrorists who should wear some kind of symbol on their person, harking back to the German fascists of WWII.
It's time to break up with him, America. This is not the America we know. This is not the America we love. It's not too late to turn away from the ugly, hateful, bleak vision of our country he wants us to see; we are better than this.
When I was finally free of my ex-husband, I could see the damage that had been done. I was bruised and battered from the inside out, but I started to see with my own eyes what I couldn't see before: this man wasn't good for me.
And Donald Trump isn't good for us, either. He's giving all of us a black eye.