I wrote this letter to my dad, because he is a Trump supporter.
I’m sharing it publicly because I know many of you are in a similar boat, and it’s my hope that this letter gives you insight, inspiration, clarity, or courage to speak out with the members of your own family to have these uncomfortable-but-important conversations. (With the 2020 election coming up, this is more important now than ever.) At the very least, perhaps it will offer you comfort, or make you feel less alone.
Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might get something out of it, and let me know what it brought up for you.
Here’s the deal: I know you to be a smart and kind person.
I know you to be emotionally intelligent, able to think critically, and someone who marches to the beat of your own drum. I remember you telling me that I could grow up to be anything I wanted, and that anyone who thought less of me just because I was a girl was an idiot. You marched for MLK. You fought for our country. You modeled and encouraged humility and tenderness, trusting my gut, and being ferocious in my own advocacy. You apologized when you messed up, and you made it clear that sometimes your love for me was more important than being right.
Unlike most parents, you actually listened to and validated my feelings, and made me feel respected as a person, even as a child. You made me look people in the eye and apologize when I caused harm, but you also stood by me when I confronted a teacher about something she thought I did wrong, which I disagreed with.
I always knew you were unequivocally on my side, but also that you weren’t going to tolerate any bullshit. You were a good parent. Which makes this letter very difficult to write.
But you taught me both personal responsibility and the importance of not shying away when the right thing to do is scary. You also taught me to try never to fight… but that if I was going to fight, to win.
So now let’s talk about Trump.
You and I have always disagreed politically, and your support of Trump has always been confusing and appalling to me. But seeing your support of him now, after his four years of presidency and the first presidential debate, not only goes against everything that I believe in and stand for, but also what you have always claimed to believe in and stand for too.
I can’t stand idly by anymore.
This letter isn’t going to be about politics or specific issues, in part because our opposing worldviews make that too difficult, and in part because —for better or worse— the truly egregious thing to me about you supporting Trump at this point isn’t his politics or policies.
The truly egregious thing is the fact that Trump is toxic, manipulative, and abusive— out in the open, and without apology. I simply cannot reconcile the fact that you support him with the fact that you love me: a person who has suffered abuses at the hands of men like Trump, and the men who follow and feel empowered by everything Trump stands for.
This president was caught on a hot mic talking about how he abuses his position of power over women to just take what he wants with no regard for their desires or humanity. He just starts kissing them, he can’t help it. When you’re a star they’ll let you do anything. You can grab them by the pussy.
Did you know that I have literally been “grabbed by the pussy” several times? All by men who either felt entitled to my body, or were simply too focused on themselves to notice I’m a whole human person deserving of boundaries and respect.
One was at the gym I worked at, a man walked by while I was setting up weights, and swiped his hand through my crotch. He was a trainer at that gym, and when I turned around to confront him he just laughed at me like it had been a hilarious joke, and when I complained to the manager I was told that yes, a lot of women “had a problem with that guy,” but they couldn’t really do anything about it.
Another time it was a man on a crowded subway. I was standing, he was sitting. It happened a few times before I figured out it wasn’t an accident. My skin crawled when I saw him, but I didn’t say anything. He got off at the next stop.
A third time a friend of mine grabbed me by the pussy while we were playing pool at a bar. He claimed it was ok because we were friends, and that he had just been joking anyway. (Saying you were only joking to excuse outrageous or offensive actions is a classic tactic of abuse and gaslighting which Trump uses a lot by the way.) When I got upset my friend apologized, and said it had only happened because he was drunk and being stupid. Months later when I’d stopped being his friend, he tried one more time to explain that he had “thought I was into it.”
Perhaps Trump’s tape sounded like “locker room talk” to you, but men grabbing my pussy as a joke or because they supposedly couldn’t help themselves is a real thing. Men doing whatever they want and then assuming anyone who “let it happen” was probably into it is a real thing.
That tape came out before he got elected, and hundreds of thousands of women like me, who have experienced men taking what they want with no regard for our humanity, knew it wasn’t just a joke.
He got elected anyway.
You voted for him anyway.
And his behavior has only gotten worse from there.
I can’t help but feel that you voted for the man at the gym, and the man on the subway, and my friend at the bar; that you voted for your daughter’s body to be up for public grabbing. I can’t help but feel like you voted for my humanity to be discarded as collateral for entitled men to be able to take whatever they want; to be able to take whatever is rightfully theirs.
This is the American dream, after all, at least in Trump’s world. This is what it means to make America great again— it means returning to the time when women (and people of color) weren’t whole people, and men weren’t legally obligated to respect their bodies or their rights. It means reigniting a mindset of colonization, from back when rich whight men were allowed (and encouraged) to just take whatever they want, and it would simply become theirs, by virtue of the fact that they took it.
This is what Trump and his presidency has stood for: the mindset that domination equals supremacy, and white male entitlement.
Trump has always been inflammatory and absurd. His blatant narcissism was more entertaining than horrifying perhaps, back when he was just a reality TV star, although his habit of referring to himself in the third person and as “The Donald” sent my skin crawling, and his sexist, racist, and body-shaming tweets made me sick to my stomach.
But his behavior in the last four years has exemplified more than I ever could have imagined the archetype of a man who was taught that it’s admirable to exploit, bully, force, take, and dominate in order to get what you want. He is the epitome of a man who is so afraid of his own weakness, mortality, and anything resembling femininity that he has to do incomprehensible mental gymnastics (and hurt an incomprehensible number of people) just to avoid it.
Trump has perfectly demonstrated what an abuser looks like, and his actions (and tweets) read like a perfect checklist of narcissistic abuse (oo look, I found one here!) from being condescending and superior, to belittling and blaming, to gaslighting, to launching constant smear campaigns, to ever avoiding responsibility or apologizing, to shifting loyalties to serve his own needs, to him feeling that he is above the rules (and laws).
These behaviors are part of a pattern: a predictable pattern of dominance and abuse. I’m sure you know men like that. I sure do. I’ve been abused by men like that. My friends and clients have all been abused by men like that.
And personally, I don’t see this kind of pattern as separate from the harmful behaviors of otherwise “good men” who feel entitled, act superior, bully and criticize, dismiss and condescend, center themselves in everything, and harass and disrespect people “as a joke.”
Everyday acts of racism, sexism, harassment, and violation happen for the same reason that some men beat their wives— because a person feels small, and they’ve learned that they’re not allowed to feel small, so they go about feeling bigger by belittling, controlling, or hurting other people.
White cops kill unarmed Black folks for the same reason people like Weinstein abuse their power in every single industry— because they feel weak, and can’t tolerate their own weakness. Because they feel entitled to do so, and because doing so gives them a sense of significance in the world.
Men talk over women in meetings for the same reason Trump tweets out insults about female politicians being ugly: to shut them up and make them feel small. To make himself feel big.
To me, Trump is a shining beacon into the world that says “you don’t have to tolerate feeling powerless either… just go dominate someone smaller and weaker than you! Be like me, stick with me, and you’ll never feel weak or small again.”
I’ve been terrified, watching how his behavior has normalized this mindset in people who were desperate for a feeling of power, those feeling small who were drawn to the promise of superiority and entitlement, and those looking for an excuse to justify and channel their rage and fear.
Those are the men who have caused me the most harm over the years. Men who were afraid of their own weakness, or had something to prove. Men who felt emasculated or threatened by my very existence. Men who felt like they deserved to get whatever they wanted, and wanted retribution when I stood in their way. Those are the ones who assaulted me, harassed me, coerced me, and disrespected me the most.
From sexual abuse as a child to the abusive relationship at eighteen, I’ve experienced so many encounters of domination, big or small, attempted or achieved. Being talked over. Being insulted and mocked. Being dismissed and laughed at. Being harassed and told to shut up. Being groped and pressured. Being lashed out at. The sense of myself as prey; that I wasn’t a whole human person to them; that I was just there to help them prove they could dominate.
Hundreds of these moments. Thousands. It’s exhausting to live in a world like that.
One thing I know for sure at this point is that it’s not a scary masked man in the alley with a gun that we should be afraid of. It’s the charming and entitled man with enough money and community power to fancy himself above the rules, who doesn’t consider other people’s feelings or humanity to be of any significance, and who is desperately trying to avoid feeling small or weak.
What I saw during that first presidential debate a few weeks ago was someone using every single nasty, abusive, exploitative, and manipulative tactic possible to dominate his opponent and signal to American that He Is A Man.
Trump interrupted constantly, disrespected the moderator and Biden at every turn, shot verbal abuse between attempts at intimidation and humiliation, lied his absolute ass off, and acted like a petulant child. And yet somehow, it seems he still came off as bold and charming to many people. (Can you just imagine if Obama ever acted this way?? There is NO WAY.)
To me, this kind of person is the most terrifying and vile; the most obviously unfit to lead; the most dangerous because he has people fooled. In the act of beating his wife, the community is gathered around, talking about what an excellent husband he is.
How does his behavior not raise a red flag for you? How can you support someone who openly promotes racism and sexism, blantest self-interest, and complete disregard for other people?
Has he so charmed you into thinking that his self-interest is also your self-interest? (Because if so, it’s not.)
Are you distracted by the bizarre entertainment of it all?
Or is this about something deeper— perhaps even that his boorish behavior speaks to some part of you, a part which also feels small or weak?
If so, let me please reflect that I saw more truth, power, and masculinity in you growing up than this man will ever be capable of. And you’re better than this.
I am terrified for the little girls who are growing up right now, seeing this man be president. They are learning that having power means you’re above kindness and respect; that a real leader exploits and dominates to get their way, and that anyone weak enough to be exploited and dominated deserves it.
These girls will grow up to be in relationships with men like that, because it’s so normalized now it won’t even raise a red flag.
And so here, then, finally, is what I’m trying to reconcile: how can you support a man who perfectly embodies every abuse and abuser your daughter has ever encountered, and every moment of disrespect she has ever endured?
Trump is every man who has talked down to me, every man who told me I needed to lighten up and take a joke, every man who dismissed and disrespected me.
Trump is every man who has ever violated my boundaries, discriminated against me because I’m a woman, or shouted harassment at me from the street.
Trump is every man who has ever wanted something from me, and decided that my humanity didn’t matter, because he had a right to just take it.
He is an abuser, and he normalizes and encourages the abuser inside other men, perpetuating the idea that a Real Man never shows weakness or vulnerability, and stirring up aggression, entitlement, and a disregard for the humanity of other people.
He is an abuser, and as such his job is to knock us all off course and make us forget who we are. His job is to desensitize us to the violence in his clown show, to make it acceptable as he pushes the line further and further. This is what abusers do; his job is to sneak us so far away from the true tender nature of ourselves, that he can get away with anything. (Let’s not forget how charming and charismatic Hitler was, too.)
At this point, I consider a vote for this man to be a vote for every abuse and injustice that has ever happened to me. But I also consider it to be a vote for the worst part of you— the wounded part of you still seeking power, not the dad who taught me that it’s ok to cry and be vulnerable.
So I am asking you, as your daughter, to reconsider.
I am asking you to fight for me, and to fight for the father and person I knew you to be.
Don’t vote for him.
We are worth more.