In the last year, the bizarre circus that we are calling the presidential election process, has placed on display language, behaviors and ideas that are so far from the American mainstream, that I, like many other Americans, wonder if we have somehow slipped into some sort of alternate reality.
As a psychiatrist, I routinely work with people who may be delusional, in denial or have a number of complicated bio-psycho-social factors which influence how they perceive the world.
Sadly, one experience that many of my patients share in common, is the feeling of being victimized. Regardless of their diagnosis, they have over the years expressed to me how it felt to be hurt, physically assaulted, sexually violated and in many instances made to feel as though they were worthless.
In medicine, providers are taught to treat the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other conditions that arise from the traumatic actions of one human toward another.
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This is precisely the reason I cannot give candidate Donald Trump a pass on the issues of trauma and abuse.
Recently Trump demonstrated his complete ignorance of what PTSD really is, while simultaneously denigrating the service and sacrifices of many of our veterans and active duty service men and women who have experienced this condition.
As a former Army psychiatrist, the thought that as Commander In Chief, Trump might actually be in position to influence health policy trends in our military is extremely unsettling.
However, what is more disturbing is that Trump, and his now famous admission of how his wealth and celebrity gave him license to kiss women without consent and grab them in the genitals, will in effect, set the standard of what we Americans define as abuse.
His argument that his words were simply “locker-room talk,” ignores the fact that the words, however crude, described past actions. The actions are the issue, the actions are the abuse, the actions normalize a “rape-culture” as many have pointed out, and they also condone a variety of other abuses perpetrated simply because an individual with power feels that they have the right to commit them.
Many of Trump’s political allies have attempted to distance themselves from his words for “the safety and sanctity of our daughters and wives.” Yet they too, seem to miss the point, it is the actions that matter much more than the words.
Consequently, I am of the opinion that it is the minds of our sons, brothers, uncles and other males in our community that we should be protecting. We as men, are more likely to commit these abuses in the first place. Normalizing power-based abuse scenarios only serve to perpetuate the problem of abuse in our schools, athletic organizations, churches and workplaces.
Elevating a man who dismisses the actions of abuse as “just words,” to the highest office in the land, is not a prescription for the good health of our nation. Rather it is a recipe for an illness that will eat away at the vitality and goodness of who we are as a people. We can do better.
Dr. Byron Strother is a former Army psychiatrist, currently engaged in private practice in western North Carolina.