At the park, I am putting my dog in the car after a long walk when I hear him — “Stop it,” he yells. “Sit down, I said sit! Sit, sit, sit. Knock it the hell off goddammit!” — and I turn to see the elderly man I passed half a mile ago on the trail, yanking his dog’s leash with one hand while beating him with the other.

The dog yelps and cries, cowering with each anticipated blow. I start toward them and that’s when I spot her, the man’s wife, continuing on down the trail as though nothing is happening.

“Mister, stop!” I say, waving my arms, trying to pull his attention my way. “My god, what are you doing, stop, you’re hurting your dog, please stop.” But he turns his back to me and keeps at it, his dog now upside down on the ground, and I realize I am making it worse, that now the man has to keep beating his dog to teach me a lesson, too. I take my cue from the wife. I get in my car, and I drive away.

This is also how Congress has chosen to deal with the onslaught of abuses perpetrated by this president. Whether he’s landing racist punches on Twitter or doubling-down on those attacks from the South Lawn of the White House, Republicans, who have to live in the same house with him, mosey on down the trail knowing there is nothing they can do to stop him and fearful of drawing the abuse their way.

Democrats, like me, wave their arms in the air begging him to stop until they, too, realize they’re only making the situation worse.

And meanwhile it’s the American people, the citizens on both sides of the aisle who elected these leaders, who remain left behind and upside down, taking a beating.

In his new bookThe Man They Wanted Me To Be: Toxic masculinity and a crisis of our own making, author Jared Yates Sexton explains that men like the president “are prisoners of toxic masculinity, an artificial construct whose expectancies are unattainable, thus making them exceedingly fragile and injurious to others, not to mention themselves. The illusion convinces them from an early age that men deserved to be privileged and entitled, that women and men who don’t conform to traditional standards are second-class persons, are weak and thus detestable.”

Consider how often this president uses the word “weak” to define those he deems disloyal or, worse, critical.

About Joe Biden the president said, “I think he’s the weakest mentally. And I like running against people that are weak mentally. I think Joe is the weakest up here.”

He famously said about Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer for more than a decade, “He was given a fairly long jail sentence, and he’s a weak person, and by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he’s a weak person.”

He even uses the term to define the laws of the United States he was elected to govern, tweeting on June 22, 2018, “The U.S. has pathetically weak and ineffective Immigration Laws that the Democrats refuse to help us fix. Will speak to Mexico!”

He recently called former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, ”weak, ineffective & stupid,”
but it was far from the first time, tweeting way back on October 11, 2016, “Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.”

After which Speaker Ryan, second in line to the presidency, went on, like the wife on the trail, to keep his mouth shut and live with him.

Weak weak weak.

In the world of Trump, there is no sin more odious than weakness, and he succeeds because, as Sexton describes in his book, “he is the personification of white American masculinity. His gruff demeanor, constant threats, boasting about his money and power, his wanton promiscuity, his propensity of blatant cruelty, and his bullying of opponents, which [is] like something out of a schoolyard socialization, are all traits we’ve come to associate with men in this country.” (p. 215)

I take a few weeks away from the park trail, and when I finally go back I note the man now carries the leash in one hand and a stick in the other. Friends offer advice.

If he beats the dog again, pull out your phone and record it, then show the police.

Walk right up, yank that stick out of his hand, and beat the living hell out of him with it! That’s what I would do.

Tell him you saw him beating his dog, that you understand his frustration, and ask if you can help! Offer him a hug.

Give him the stare-down. Make sure he knows that you know, and that you’re watching him.

In the end, my 30 year-old son is my most sensible advisor. “Do nothing,” he says. “You don’t know this man, and you are a woman alone on the trail with your dog. He is obviously full of rage, who knows about what, and you live in Kentucky where everybody has a gun. What if he shoots your dog? What if he shoots you?”

What makes an elderly man beat his dog, in daylight, in public?

What makes the President of United States denigrate members of Congress—elected by the American people—by making racist statements and saying (falsely) that they hate their country?

The answer is the same. He believes it is his right, and he knows no one has the courage to stop him.

Now tell me, what are we doing to do about it?


(if you have the answer, comments are turned on)

17 thoughts on “Toxic

    1. tracey785

      Thank you for saying it first. I don’t know if you are from NY as I am, but I sincerely hope you’re from one of the states that needs to flip. Preferably Kentucky. That McConnell is only too glad to have everyone’s eye on this president so he can keep chipping away at his own agenda without disruption. No ones challenging the judges he’s stacking in the courts while the president is owning the spotlight and news with BS. What a con.

  1. Whitney Green (@greenwhitney)

    Teri, I wept at this piece. You are such an excellent writer. A searing but utterly apt metaphor for this President and our nation who is that helpless pup. Yes, to beating him to a pulp in 2020. Incredibly, this is NOT a given. Tough times for those of us suffering from a conscience.

    P.S. But in the case of the schmuck with the dog, DO photograph his cruelty, and SHAME him on Twitter!!!!!!!!! Bastard.

  2. Harry Jones

    I believe that the American people are so consumed with “things” and keeping the job that enables them to purchase these “things” that they can’t commit to making time to deal with politics (other than talking about it). Fear, ignorance and apathy contribute to non-involvement. Consider that of the “enlightened” countries, the U.S. has one of the lowest voter turn-outs. So much for government “of, by and for the people”….

  3. akienzle

    I agree with Whitney that your metaphor is on target. I think a lot about this topic: How can people support someone who is so obviously an incompetent, racist, liar. Perhaps it comes down to how you view your fellow humans. Some people seem to think that others are out to get them and that they must denigrate others lest they be denigrated themselves. In this view, others are a threat. The more “other” the higher the threat. On the other side are people who believe that their fellow humans are basically good and deserving of respect, regardless of their ethnicity etc. This seems to me to be one source of the fundamental scism in our politics.

    I wish I knew how to get people to be more kind and less fearful and angry. I think the only thing that has a chance is to show kindness in the face of anger and hate. Not weakness, but not a return of the hate.

  4. justdrivewillyou

    A dog that gets beaten often will eventually bite the son of a bitch that’s beating him, in self defense. Americans are about to the point of biting back, I believe. This was a great analogy.

    1. eeldav

      I too blog about Trump and cowardly Republicans who support him like Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. And I keep asking myself: how many different ways can I describe how awful these people are and how deeply they are damaging our democratic republic? Republican politicians are committed to giving tax cuts to the rich while cutting funding for education and health care. But until the voters of Kentucky and the other Republican-controlled states realize how they and their children are being deprived by these Republican policies, I fear that we are just wasting our time.

  5. Terry A. Bahn

    Excellent article! Once again I’m reminded of the Freudian defense mechanism Projection wherein the Ego protects itself by projecting its own weaknesses on others.

    I’m also reminded of a rebuke often used by children who share President Trump’s emotional age (about 12).

    “I’m rubber and you’re glue. Words bounce off me and stick to you.”

    That seems to be one of Trump’s favored approaches to those who criticize him.

  6. Shirley Browning

    As always you express and describe the political world around us; and our society as well. What to do? Pictures. Report the old person. Yes he is angry. Yes he may need therapy- as Mr Trump. Until people speak up nothing will change. Dogs roll over giving up, people walk down a trail musing about cruelty, and feeling good about their superior view of a good person. But not do anything to help a human be a good person, or put them where that person can no longer justify the cruelty and weakness he and WE feel- MEN AND WOMEN. The woman walking away, like Ryan- both weak and not helpful. Change that- then we see what we can do about it.

    Humanity has not made the many changes and efforts to build the notion of a civil society to have it crumble by “walking away”. They fought, many died, many more will die- they were / are the strong ones- those who speak up as the four women comprising “the squad”- bless them. They did not walk down a trail after Trump ranted obscenities about them. They spoke up, they resisted.

    The media is full of finger pointing, repeated rants about this and that. Who is going to stand and fight for civility, rules of law, and generating sound leadership for the masses? Not the person walking away down a trail.

    Teri yopu are one of Ky’s true gems as a writer and a leader. Do not walk down that silent road, keep speaking up; keep calling out those who damage the lives of decent good people who for what ever reason do not share your strength.


  7. Gary Shrout

    Urge the House of Representatives to start an impeachment inquiry and then vote on the evidence. Then if so inclined vote for impeachment even knowing that the Republican Senate will not convict. That is the responsibility of the House of Representatives. And then, if our country has survived, vote Trump out of office in November 2020.

  8. Phyllis Theroux

    This piece wins the Voltaire Award for speaking truth to power. I am so proud to know you.

  9. AnimalWritesWeb

    we must speak out, repeatedly, loudly, forcefully. we must continue to fight him in the courts. we must continue to donate to people who are willing to take him on. and while doing all that, we must remember to take care of ourselves. his constant spin is exhausting.

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