On Friday, a friend and I watched as the President of the United States sat in the Oval Office and praised the work of my ex-husband, Rob Porter, and wished him future success. I can’t say I was surprised. But when Donald Trump repeated twice that Rob declared his innocence, I was floored. What was his intent in emphasizing that point? My friend turned to me and said, “The President of the United States just called you a liar.”
Yes. And so he did.
On Saturday morning, following the overnight resignation of another White House staffer after his ex-wife came forward with her story of abuse, the President tweeted:
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
There it is again. The words “mere allegation” and “falsely accused” meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is a liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. That his professional contributions are worth more than the truth. That abuse is something to be questioned and doubted.
Everyone wants to talk about how the White House and former colleagues defended Rob. Of course they did! They valued and respected him. The truth would be dissonant to everything they believed to be true about the man they knew. The truth would be devastating. And denial is easier than devastation.
Everyone wants to talk about how Trump implied I am a not to be believed. As if Trump is the model of kindness and forgiveness. As if he readily acknowledges his own shortcomings and shows empathy and concern for others. I forgive him. Thankfully, my strength and worth are not dependent on outside belief — the truth exists whether the President accepts it or not.
I think the issue here is deeper than whether Trump, or General John Kelly, or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or Senator Orrin Hatch, or Hope Hicks, or whether anyone else believes me or defends Rob. Society as a whole has a fear of addressing our worst secrets. (Just ask any African-American citizen). It’s as if we have a societal blind spot that creates an obstacle to understanding. Society as a whole doesn’t acknowledge the reality of abuse.
The tendency to avoid, deny, or cover up abuse is never really about power, or money, or an old boys’ club. It is deeper than that. Rather than embarrass an abuser, society is subconsciously trained to question a victim of abuse. I would call it an ignorant denial based on the residual, puritan, collective agreement that abuse is uncomfortable to talk about.
Amidst the recent rash of sexual assault revelations born of the #MeToo movement, even I found myself questioning the accuser. I almost allowed my societal conditioning to override what my heart knows to be true: Abuse is scary and demoralizing and degrading. It chisels away at your self-esteem and self-worth until you are unsure whether your version of reality is valid or not.
If someone finds the strength and courage to come forward, he or she is to be believed. Because that declaration only came after an uphill battle toward rebirth.
Ultimately, this is not a political issue. This is a societal issue, and the tone has just been reset by the White House. If the most powerful people in the nation do not believe my story of abuse in the face of overwhelming evidence, then what hope do others have of being heard?
We are at a critical moment in history and there are three things I know to be true:
Where there is anger, there is underlying pain.
Where there is denial, there is underlying fear.
Where there is abuse, there is cover-up.
While I may have compassion for my ex-husband and recognize his need for help, I do not tolerate abuse. While I may understand President Trump and Gen. Kelly’s incredulity at such a counter-image of their golden boy, I do not condone their choice to support him.
In light of the President’s and the White House’s continued dismissal of me and Colbie, I want to assure you my truth has not been diminished. I own my story and now that I have been compelled to share it, I’m not willing to cover it up for anyone. And for any men, women, or children currently in situations of abuse, please know:
It is real.
You are not crazy.
You are not alone.
I believe you.