Let’s talk about abuse.
There’s the kind of horrifying sexual abuse that James Safechuck and Wade Robson testified to receiving from the ages of 7-14 years of age at the hands (and, sadly, other body parts) of then 30 something Michael Jackson.
We heard their stories in plainspoken excruciating detail this past week in the very fine four-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland.
Though we experience the facts second-hand it’s difficult to not feel victimized ourselves by the separate yet eerily similar violations as they are told to us.
Until it dawns on us that if we’re feeling this way what must it be like for the adult versions of these two children recounting it as a…love affair they willingly entered into with a man who was the most famous star in the world at the time?
A man who claimed to be the ONE person who would ALWAYS look out for their best interests against an outside world of sick liars would never understand THEM.
If that sounds far from your story or my story or most of OUR collective stories as Americans, think again.
Well, perhaps if we put the details aside and stick to the power dynamics.
It was less than three years ago that our relatively young country was similarly seduced by an older, quite famous man who claimed, and I quote:
… I have seen first hand how the system was rigged against OUR CITIZENS…
I have joined the political arena so that the powerful cannot beat up on PEOPLE WHO CANNOT DEFEND THEMSELVES. Nobody knows the system better than me. Which is why – I ALONE CAN FIX IT.
This is not a stretch. This is seduction of the powerless with promises of rescue and eventually undying devotion from extremely powerful and famous people who, through those seduced, acquire more of what they desperately crave.
In the case of the former it was love and sex.
In the latter case the man got even more than that. Much to his own surprise he became THE MOST POWERFUL man in the world. Or, one could argue, the world’s BIGGEST STAR.
Experts say a key strategy to deal with abuse is to recognize it is happening, set limits on the abuser and eventually remove yourself from the situation.
This is easier said than done for underage victims, since their power is severely limited and their cognitive abilities are not yet fully formed.
In the cases of Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson we watch the process of two men, now in their late thirties and early forties, finally able to take those necessary initial steps only decades after those crimes first occurred.
They realize that the only way to true mental stability and lasting happiness is to finally recognize what happened to them. By publicly sharing it with the world one could argue they are also taking the crucial next step of setting limits on any residual control the abuser might have on them (Note: Yes, even from the grave).
One hopes by taking these actions they will then be able to move towards the final act of removing themselves from a way of thinking that empowers that situation to remain alive and control their lives and their actions as adults.
It is only in the recognition of just how completely they were seduced and brainwashed into submission while vulnerable that they can break out of a cycle that alters their reality and causes them to act out towards themselves and the world in countless destructive, and self-destructive, ways.
Misplaced anger is a powerful motivator for all sorts of questionable actions. But sometimes it is a lot easier than acknowledging the deep pain, and yes, sadness that that anger is masking.
Which brings us back to the summer of 2016 and promises made to those angry enough to take a chance on a very wealthy man who vowed to protect and love them if only they’d give him the keys to their kingdom. The implicit pact, as it often initially is in these cases, was that they would get access to his extraordinary life.
Then, in turn, particles of the magical fairy dust he possessed would be sprinkled across the country as a salve and solution to many of the problems they and their families had been facing for decades. With his know-how they could be him, or a version of him. Or it would, at the very least, be something shiny, new and distracting.
One can’t help be reminded of the exciting bohemian relative or recently arrived fantabulous best friend who moves into the neighborhood only to turn everything upside down in a seemingly great way and then eventually leave you worse than you were to begin with. It is only that person who could have ever made you appreciate your hopelessly average, and sometimes woefully inadequate family life.
But the thing about charlatans and abusers is that they don’t see themselves as villains. Be it Michael Jackson of the current Electoral College POTUS, they do truly believe that what their nefarious actions do is actually to improve the lives of their victims. They convince themselves this has to be the case because they so desperately need their victims to satisfy their own insatiable needs.
Rather than consider this as mere political partisanship, it might helpful to read Jane Mayer’s excellent piece this week in The New Yorker entitled, “The Making of the Fox News White House.”
Much like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson she lays out, piece by piece, a narrative of how not a person but an entity, Fox News, evolved into a far right wing propaganda arm for the current White House that undeniably now functions primarily as a 2019 Orwellian version of State TV. Or, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes more aptly refers to it, Trump TV.
To say that this is solely an abusive situation would be an insult to survivors like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson. The searing personal pain they have had to endure in their lives due to crimes perpetrated against them as children has no sole contemporary political counterpart.
However, to deny that a version of this abuse is not part of our current national equation, and that too many of the rich and powerful from one side of the aisle are complicit in it continuing, is to also deny the obvious.
No, I am not a psychiatrist. Just a human being who, in the course of his own life, has been in more than a few abusive situations and come out the other side.