He was so presidential.

Did you hear him speak?

It’s a complete turn around.

I think we are seeing the leader that Trump will become.

If he just acts on those words then he’ll do great work.


How often did we hear these phrases and other similar ones after Trump’s Joint Address to Congress? We so quickly forget that actions speak louder than words and that history is a much more accurate predictor of behavior than a speech. A speech that someone else wrote.

One of the most jarring aspects of Trump’s speech was how calm, precise, and collected he was the entire time. There weren’t the usual outbursts of anger and emotion we have learned to expect. Words dripping in racism, sexism, and xenophobia were often swapped out for more subtle ones. Even the ostentatious red tie took the night off.

If it didn’t feel like an accurate portrayal of the man or administration he leads, there’s a reason for that. It isn’t. This is not a pivot, change of heart, or some new leader. This is the same person who is capable of making calculated actions. This shift in behavior is intentional. It makes us question whether our impressions about the dangers of his administration are wrong. When there are so many people looking to engage in protests and resistance efforts, this speech is extraordinarily well timed. It allows people to wonder whether it is worthwhile to hear him out for just a bit longer and see what happens. Perhaps he has learned? Certainly he’ll change his ways after all the terrible fumbles since Inauguration.

No. He isn’t changing anything. Not one damn thing.

We’ve heard this rhetoric before.

From the people who abused us.

From the people who didn’t believe us.

From the people who would rather see fake change than real harm.

Many forms of abuse move through cycles, including one of calm and peace. Sometimes it’s those periods of calm that are the worst. When the abuse is actively occurring, we have our strategies. We know how to placate and what words/actions will cause further anger or harm. We have the power of dissociation or short-term exit strategies. We may know how to dodge or deflect the blows, be they physical or emotional.

The periods of calm and shaky peace are when we doubt what’s truly happening. We try to convince ourselves that it’ll be different moving forward and that the person can change. That this time is different and, for some reason, this time the person means it when they promise they will change. There is a quiet and reasonable tone. A tendency to laugh. A seemingly sincere desire to connect and understand. An empathetic expression. We WANT to believe that things will get better and sometimes we NEED to believe that, especially if there isn’t currently a way to escape or seek safety. It allows us the chance to come down from the stress that courses through our entire body during an abusive episode.

It’s more than the person who is abusive. It is everyone else. That person who talks of how awesome the abuser is or reminisces about that time they volunteered together. The person who knows what is happening but comments on how things appear to be better. The person who doesn’t know what is happening and casually mentions that you are so lucky to have this person in your life. The person who suspects but doesn’t say anything for fear of being uncomfortable. All of these people cast the doubt that we already have further into the shadow. The abuse seems further in the past and was it really as serious as we think?

But it’s going to happen again. We know that.

And when we stop to focus on a positive tone or impressive syntax, we normalize the regime and the dangers that it poses. We send the message to every marginalized and at-risk population that we will be easily swayed and that it is easy to forget the actions which put their lives in peril.

We need to keep the spotlight where it belongs.