On the 16th of May, President Donald Trump was discussing immigration and migrant crime in a meeting with a Fresno sheriff, where the topic had come up. This isn’t a strange occurrence, Trump loves to talk about immigration and how tough he is on it. During his election campaign it was a go to topic for the now-President of the United States. He infamously claimed that Mexico was sending their “most unwanted people” to the US. He said that these people were rapists, drug dealers and murderers, something that was clearly an outrageous statement, and took many by surprise as it was coming from a presidential candidate. By the end of the campaign it was just one inflammatory statement on a long list made by the President-Elect. He has, worryingly, continued this trend into his presidency, so much so that it’s hard to be shocked by what he says anymore.
Never doubt however, that Donald Trump will outdo himself in regards to his outrageous statements. In a discussion with sheriffs at the White House, Trump was questioned about the restrictions that ICE (U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement) face in regards to accessing local police databases in illegal migrant crime cases, especially against members of the gang, MS-13, an infamous criminal group with members that entered the US illegally, dating back to the 1980s. Trump responded saying that it was a “disgrace” and explained that they were trying to change that. That reply is fine. In order to work effectively ICE need to be able to access the same databases as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. It’s the next part of what Trump says that’s truly horrifying. He said, and I quote, “We have people coming into the country, trying to come into the country, we’re stopping alotta them, but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are, these aren’t people, these are animals”. The President of the United States referred to a group of people, illegal immigrants and criminals, as animals. Animals! The connotations of this are astounding. This, like his reference to African nations and Haiti as “shithole countries”, shows a lack of understanding of how to be Presidential, as well as being blatantly racist.
The Thing Is, there are many worrying aspects in regards to the President’s speech. He said this out loud of his own volition; it came out unfiltered and was broadcast nationwide by news networks. He didn’t pause to rephrase what was being formulated in his brain. He thought it; it didn’t even cross his mind that it shouldn’t be said, on T.V. The danger is that for some, hopefully only a minority of Americans, they will take the Presidents’ statement as fact and themselves treat immigrants as “animals”. The political landscape in America at the moment is treacherous; speeches like this inflame feelings that were given justification in the election campaign. It only takes one person to take it too far, and evidence that this is the President’s viewpoint is enough. Despite the President using the term to refer to members of MS-13, it runs the risk of all immigrants being tarnished with the same brush, being referred to by ardent Trump supporters and right wing ultras in the same way.
Interestingly, and also rather scarily, it is important to point out that academics, when attempting to clarify the stages of identifying a genocide, state that using language that dehumanises groups of people is of significant consideration. Referring to people as “animals” is dehumanising. Quite simply, it is hate speech. Gregory Stanton, in 1996, wrote a paper called “The 8 Stages of Genocide”; I believe that some of these stages apply to this situation, although I in no way feel that what is happening in the US at the moment amounts to genocide. One of the stages he identifies is “Dehumanization” and refers to it as “One group denying the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases”. Sound familiar? This is stage 3 of his list of 8. Stage 1 has already been reached. This stage is “Classification”, characterised by “divided [people] into us and them”, something Trump did on the campaign trail and has continued to do as President. Stage 5, has arguably been reached too, “Polarization” where “hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda”. Although not a hate group, it’s worth considering what Fox News broadcast on a daily basis. Much of the content agrees with assertions made by Trump and is highly polarising. With Fox News being aggressively conservative, it backs Trump to the hilt. Finally, stage 8 is “denial”, an area that sees Trump as a pro. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump denies calling people “animals” despite the video evidence to the contrary (a YouTube link is attached of Trump’s statement). He’ll most likely claim that fake news is to blame. Stanton said in 2012 at a public talk on genocide prevention at the University of Oregon that 2 more stages would be added, “Discrimination” and “Persecution”. I would argue that these have been reached too, with Trump specifically targeting Muslims with his travel ban and the discrimination faced by Muslim-Americans on a daily basis because of this.
It has now got to the point where the sitting President in 2018 is referring to a group of people as “animals”. This is something that wouldn’t look out of place in 1930s Germany, but is sadly still happening today. It’s a dangerous time for the US. In August 2017, the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, highlighted the growing number of white nationalists and white supremacists in the US. There were clashes between the attendees of the rally and counter-protesters, some of which were violent. A woman was killed and 19 others injured when a man attending the rally drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Alarmingly, Trump stated that “many sides” were to blame for the violence, with the President essentially excusing the white nationalist’s behaviour at the rally. This gave them the validation that they were looking for; the President had sided with them, a hazardous precedent to set. These people will listen to Trump calling immigrants “animals”, and it will help to justify their actions.
The use of this term by Trump shows a lack of understanding by the President of what it is to be a politician. Language such as this wouldn’t seem out of place in a totalitarian dictatorship, but this is coming from the leader of the ‘Free World’, and it’s scary. No one should be made to feel less-than. It doesn’t matter who they are. It’s irrelevant that the people he’s referring to are illegal immigrants and gang members; a human being shouldn’t be called an animal, such language serves to remove the concepts of their basic human rights! Is this a deliberate play by Trump, does he intend to create a rift in American society in order to strengthen his position; a dangerous game to play indeed. A President should recognise that, and understand the potential ramifications of doing so. Unfortunately, the President of the United States lacks the decency to accept this or the intellect to know it. We don’t have to look that far back in history to find leaders who used this sort of language. How many people lost their lives having been targeted and deemed less than human? Lastly, I feel Martin Niemoller’s poem is particularly poignant here:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Trump is targeting immigrants once more, a group he falls back on time and time again, but who knows who it will be tomorrow, next week or next year.