Donald Trump has long toyed with the language of famous autocrats, authoritarians and fascists. Think: “enemy of the people,” “retribution” and the frequent, years-long allusions to political violence.
But even by his standards, the former president is now mining darker territory — with overtones of some of the ugliest episodes in recent world history.
The Washington Post this weekend summarized Trump’s Veterans Day speech in a headline thusly: “Trump calls political enemies ‘vermin,’ echoing dictators Hitler, Mussolini.”
Trump not only likened his political opponents to “vermin” but suggested they represent a “threat from within” that is more dangerous than threats from beyond our borders. Both are themes seized upon by strongmen to foment populist movements.
Trump’s campaign responded by seemingly taking issue with the “ridiculous” framing. But in the same breath, it also promised that Trump’s “snowflake” critics’ “entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.” (It later sought to amend that to “sad, miserable existence.”)
As that response indicates, the campaign is not exactly apologizing for this type of rhetoric, which is, at the very least and to be quite charitable, a calculated attempt at provocation. And after years of this kind of rhetoric and events like Jan. 6, you could certainly forgive people for worrying that it’s more than that.
“The language is the language that dictators use to instill fear,” Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, told The Post. “When you dehumanize an opponent, you strip them of their constitutional rights to participate securely in a democracy because you’re saying they’re not human. That’s what dictators do.” [Continue reading…]