Anshul Barnwal | Dartmouth College
President Trump has continuously come under fire for dog-whistle comments that threaten to dehumanize minorities. From calling immigrants “animals” whose “breeding” threatens to destroy American culture, to his less recent comments including saying “laziness is a trait in blacks” and calling some people who participated in the white supremacist march on Charlottesville “very fine people,” Trump has frequently shown a brazen lack of care for how he addresses minorities. This type of language and its frequent repetition is reminiscent of previous demagogues who sought to dehumanize other races, and its effects are already being seen in America-- hate crimes are up, self-described Nazis are running for office, and the children of alleged illegal immigrants are literally being round up and put into camps with meager facilities, health violations, and in locations that include federal prisons.
Trump’s verbiage might seem harmless to some, but the word of the nation’s highest office is no small statement. The office of the President is one that news channels are covering virtually every hour of the day; it attracts tremendous media attention besides being incredibly influential and credible on its own. When messages depicting minorities as inferior are constantly played and repeated, they become incredibly psychologically powerful, as both repetition and perceived credibility are both psychologically very persuasive-- both were tools used by racist demagogue after racist demagogue, including Adolf Hitler. they predominantly affect two demographics of people: minorities and closet racists. Minorities are given the message that they don’t belong in Trump’s America, and indeed, while Trump was running, minority trust in America hit an all-time low.
The other significant demographic that is seriously affected by Trump’s rhetoric consists of people with implicit or contained biases that were previously shut away by social norm. Unfortunately, now that Trump has shifted the standard on what is socially acceptable, these “closet racists” come out of the woodwork and make increasingly extreme statements. Whether or not Trump is emboldening these people intentionally is irrelevant, because they perceive him as tacitly supporting them. Multiple reports find that racist attitudes have been exacerbated by the Trump campaign and election. And unfortunately, those attitudes have translated into violence-- not only have hate groups increased under Trump, but Trump’s speech has led to more anti-Muslim hate crimes than 9/11. That is a truly staggering statistic: racists were more inspired by the perceived endorsement by Trump than they were by an event that killed thousands of American citizens. When Trump says that minorities steal jobs, deal drugs, and increase crime, his propaganda lies only a shade from early 1930s Germany in that both blame minorities for events that are totally unrelated. And they are, to be sure, entirely unrelated. Crime is at an all-time low, white people are the heaviest drug using demographic, and automation is the primary cause of job loss, not immigration or outsourcing. Trump’s language is threatening not only towards minorities, but because it distracts from real solutions to those problems by conjuring a false scapegoat.
This is not about political correctness or even human decency-- language that dehumanizes people of color can galvanize racists and threaten minorities’ everyday livelihoods and even existence, making speaking out against toxic discourse is an absolute necessity. Trump is not Hitler, but anything even resembling dehumanizing speech should be unconditionally rejected.