Imager yoinked from Daily Beast

How Trump Reminds me of My Ex Boyfriends

TLDR: Gaslighting and Passive Aggression

Emma Lindsay
9 min readJan 12, 2021


(Note: to any of my exes reading this, jump to the post script)

So, as this whole insurrection thing was happening, I found myself strangely compelled to re-read two books in my kindle archive.

  1. Living With The Passive Aggressive Man
  2. The Verbally Abusive Relationship

Sometimes, I have this shame that I haven’t managed to achieve what (it seems like) basically everyone around me has managed to achieve; a stable loving relationship. Every time I date someone, I usually just feel worse than when I was single, which leads to me either breaking up with my partner, or my being so critical of my partner that they break up with me. And, I’ve dug into this fairly deeply — taken classes in non violent communication, tried to learn to be less critical, worked on my communication style (with varying degrees of success) and so on.

But, I have one base problem at the heart of my dilemma; aren’t you supposed to be happier in a relationship? Why am I always sadder?

No matter how well I communicate, if dating someone makes me feel worse, like… that’s kind of an insurmountable problem. So, I had to answer the question, why does dating people make me feel worse?

And the basic answer I came to, is I nearly always date people who are passive aggressive, and the psychic toll of dating someone passive aggressive is that you just feel worse all the time. Honestly, it’s fucking horrible, don’t do it.

So, what is passive aggression? Quickly summarized; passive aggression is aggression initiated by people who feel powerless in such a way that the initiator has plausible deniability about the aggressive acts they’re committing.

For example, at work once, when a coworker was trying to undercut my credibility, they asked loudly in a meeting “have you ever worked with scrum before?”

And like… yes, I had worked in companies that used scrum a lot. However, my coworker and I were having a disagreement on how to implement some particular scrum-like process. This person asked the question to cast doubt on my expertise in front of the team, and to imply that by not agreeing with them I didn’t know what I was doing. However, it was hard to call this person out because if I responded with some corporate version of “don’t be an asshole,” they would have responded with “I was just curious, I didn’t mean any offense. I just wanted to understand your background.”

Passive aggression is so infuriating, because, effectively someone is trying to dominate you without ever admitting what they are doing, which cuts off your ability to retaliate or defend yourself.

(Side note, one approach to dealing with passive aggression is to ask questions back while calling them out — e.g. “I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply this, but the way that question was phrased is kind of making it sound like you doubt my credibility. Can you please explain more fully what you were trying to understand, so I can help you out?” This means that they either have to come out as being hostile, “Well, actually, I do doubt your credibility” and they look like the asshole, or they have to back down.)


In the final days of the Trump presidency, you’re seeing a very similar kind of passive aggressive command style being taken to the upper levels of government. For example, consider his most recent tweets/speech:

He gave a speech where he claimed that the Democrats were flagrantly stealing the election, and that something had to be done about it:

Unbelievable, what we have to go through. What we have to go through — and you have to get your people to fight. And if they don’t fight, we have to primary the hell out of the ones that don’t fight. We primary them.

He ended with:

…you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.

We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated. Lawfully slated.

I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard. Today, we will see whether Republicans stand strong for integrity of our elections. But whether or not they stand strong for our country, our country. Our country has been under siege for a long time. Far longer than this four year period.

where he paradoxically encouraged his followers to “fight” and “show strength” but also to be “peaceful and patriotic.”

Finally, he ended up with — again — another call to peace, and the reminder that the Republican party was the party of law and order. However, in the riot that ensued 50 police officers were injured, 1 of whom died, and 4 rioters themselves died.

And, you know, this kind of doublespeak where you imply you want one thing but officially say another to cover your ass is a deep part of American culture. Indeed, many of his supporters clearly read his words as a call to violence, from how they responded when he released a video calling for the end to the violence in the capitol:

Trump claimed on Thursday that he was “outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem” of the Capitol siege that he had incited, and said those who “broke the law will pay” — comments that perhaps reflected concern over mounting legal and political hazard rather than a newfound sense of contrition and integrity.

Nevertheless they prompted an outpouring of anger, grief and denial from his hardline acolytes. “A punch in the gut,” said one. “A stab in the back,” another railed. From a third: “I feel like puking.”

A widely shared screengrab summed up the sentiment: “He says it’s going to be wild and when it gets wild he calls it a heinous attack and middle-fingers to his supporters he told to be there.”

From The Guardian

And, you know, there is plenty of evidence Trump himself was happy with the violence. Insiders at the white house were apparently saying he seemed happy, and was confused about why other people on his team weren’t as happy as he was.

Which perhaps is something both the left and the right can agree on. I think, most people would say, Trump wanted what happened on January 6, 2021 to happen. People who don’t support Trump would say this was a coup attempt and Trump is only calling for peace to get out of the consequences for inciting an insurrection, and people who support Trump might say that this was a justified protest to counter an election stealing from the Democrats, and Trump has to officially call to peace so that the Dems don’t unfairly prosecute him.

(In case my political leanings aren’t obvious, I absolutely believe this was a coup attempt that should land Trump in prison for the treasonous act of attempting to overturn a democratic election.)

Anyway. Despite what people claim publicly, I think most people will admit to themselves (privately, anyway) that Trump did want violence and only claims otherwise to avoid accountability.

But, he’s put in all this plausible deniability. This is passive aggression on a national scale, he can call other people to arms to do his dirty work, while avoiding any personal accountability.

(It’s also interesting to note, that Trump must feel powerless here, because passive aggression is an act from people who feel powerless. Presumably Trump feels powerless because he wants to continue being president, but can’t avoid the fact that come January 20th, he’ll be evicted one way or another.)

This accountability-avoiding behavior feels highly normalized at this point. As a culture, we’re not very good at dealing with passive aggression because we weight people’s intentions as strongly as we weight the outcome. But, should we? Especially when people can just lie about their intentions, does it make sense to tailor our response to their actions based on their intentions?

I’d say no.

For instance, I actually don’t care if Trump is maliciously trying to call people to violence or if he’s just so incompetent that he doesn’t understand the impact of his words; either way, he’s not fit to be president and I want him out.

What about prison? Don’t intentions matter when sending someone to prison?

Truthfully, I don’t actually care about Trump going to prison, and don’t really like prison as a concept in general. I just want two things:

  1. For him to be unable to hold office again
  2. For him to *somehow* not be able to lie to the American public anymore

Unfortunately, we don’t really have a societal mechanism for #2 to happen without him going to prison. But, you know, countries used to be able to banish people and shit? Like, I’d kind of like that. Having Trump in our society destabilizes it; I don’t really care where he goes, but if he’s going to behave in ways that destabilize our society, he can’t stay here, and he can’t publish shit here. I want to live in a democracy, and democratic norms are a pretty core feature of our governmental agreement. Anyone who doesn’t want a democracy can GTFO; there are enough dictatorships in the world if that’s what gets you hard. Go to one of them.

Anyway, we don’t really have a way of doing that. So, prison it is I guess.

And yeah.. I know a bunch of people think that this whole thing is reversed, that it is the Democrats stealing the election and all that. And that sucks. Like, I have sympathy that if I was on that side and really believed I was witnessing the end of democracy, I would be completely freaking out.

But, I think their facts are wrong, and history will bear this out.

At this point, there’s no way I can convince someone who doesn’t already agree with me on this, but I have some sympathy for people who have been absorbing a stream of misinformation around Trump for the last half decade. I guess my main advice for any Trump supporter who is having a personal crisis is to read Michael Cohen’s book Disloyal and see if any of it resonates with you, and see what you make of Cohen’s account of the scope and scale of Trump’s lies, and then decide where you stand on him.

Anyway, just to cycle back round to my love life again, you know, this type of weird ass double speak that makes you feel like you’re going insane has just was such a staple of my romantic life that I almost didn’t even notice it anymore. I just noticed, that being around people made me feel bad. Similarly, I think we don’t notice the toxicity of the ubiquity of lies that surround us in our culture. We just know, we’re all feeling terrible all the time and we can’t quite pinpoint why. Some people may think of Trump as an outlier, but he wasn’t really, he was just an extreme example of what is happening all the time.

All politicians lie, right? He just lied a bit more.

Anyway. I thought there was something wrong with me that I was so unhappy all the time when I was dating until (recently) I actually started dating someone who isn’t passive aggressive. And… it’s weird. He is a self described fairly strange person, as you would have to be to not engage in the subvert acts of domination that are so ubiquitous everywhere. It feels totally different; I don’t feel insecure, I don’t feel “crazy,” I don’t feel overreactive. I just feel good.

Like, it is possible to not live this way— to not be lying all the time, to not normalize lying, to not always be trying for vengeance or to be trying to one up everyone around you. And it feels better. A lot better.

I have no idea how to translate that on a national scale, but maybe it’s possible on a smaller scale first? 🤷‍♀ I recommend you try for yourself and find out.

P.S. To my ex boyfriends, no not *all* of you were passive aggressive. Some were straightforward aggressive, and some were neither, and I will leave it to you to determine which you were. But, if you’re worried about being passive aggressive or abusive in your relationships, I suggest this book.