Why the Op-Ed Writer Stays in the White House
Look to domestic violence treatment to understand.
Posted Sep 07, 2018
On September 5, the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed, by an individual described as a senior official in the Trump administration. The author described the dismay that they and colleagues have felt, at the President’s leadership and amorality. The editorial has triggered a flood of discussion and outrage. But I’m not writing here in response to the op-ed, or the serious issues this piece raised. Instead, my concern is at the social response to the op-ed, including the many, many people saying “then just leave!” Numerous political leaders have decried the writer as a coward, and stated that if the op-ed author felt that way, they should just resign.
As a psychologist, this reminded me forcibly of the many times I’ve seen abused spouses, usually women, criticized for not “just leaving.” I’ve heard these women challenged, saying “it couldn’t have really been that bad, you could have just left.” I’ve seen colleagues and judges claim that women are “addicted to love,” or told “really, maybe you thought you deserved that, and that’s why you stayed."
I’ve also seen abused spouses and children called cowards, for not speaking up. For not reporting. For not disclosing.
The New York Times op-ed writer helps us understand, that when you’re locked in an abusive cycle and a dysfunctional system, getting out is much harder, and more expensive, than any of us would like to consider.
Trapped in abusive cycles and families, it often feels like there is no way out. That to leave is to give up. Giving up feels like being a coward.
Leaving an abusive dynamic typically exposes one to financial hardships untold. When a spouse leaves a harmful family, the person who leaves almost always suffers tremendous economic impact. They end up in shelters, and on the street. If the op-ed writer leaves, what will they face? The White House is struggling to hire staff, due to people’s concerns about the work environment. Career government staff who leave – where will they go? And how will they be received?
People suffering in abusive situations often have hope, and sadly, that hope is what keeps them there. They hope it will get better. That this time, the abuser means it, when they say they will stop hitting, stop shouting, stop belittling. This time, they mean it when they say they love us, and that everything is going to be ok. They have hope that finally, someone will step in and fix this situation. Make the abuse stop. That finally, the neighbors, the police, the family, will do their duty and save them. The op-ed writer, like these desperately hoping people, is hoping that if they just hang on long enough, finally someone, somewhere will do their duty and stop what they see as the President’s abusive behaviors.
Finally, an abused partner often has children and relatives in the family, with the abuser. If you tell, report, disclose, those people will suffer, maybe in your place. Maybe suffer from things that you could have stopped. If you leave, there may be no one there to protect them. So people stay, as shields, and to absorb hurt and suffering. The compromise themselves, in order to care for those they love. Their ethics tell them that if they leave, and more bad things happen, that it will be their fault.
For the op-ed writer, we, the American people, are their children, their loved ones at risk. They are staying in an abusive situation, doing what they can, trying to mitigate harm that they see coming at us, from an erratic, aggressive father figure and a neglectful, uncaring system that is ignoring the danger and harm.
Just leave? It’s not that easy. It never is. That’s why victims commonly drop anonymous notes, use codes, drop hints as they plead for help and salvation. The anonymous NY times writer, this senior White House official, is caring for us, in the only way they can find. This editorial was their way of letting us know that they are getting tired, desperate. That they are losing hope. That it’s time for the system to stop the abuse.