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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Words Fucking Matter

We interrupt your regularly scheduled mailbox to remind you that words have power and the way world leaders use them very often telegraph what they will try to do next.

"Animals," he called them, as if they were not humans in need of some empathy and compassion.

We've passed a lot of rubicon moments in the last couple of years where the general support of this administration and Trump by rank and file conservatives has belied if not a secret burning support for the open, naked racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and transphobia he spews and the white nationalism and the nazis marching in the street (and the, and the, and the.....), at least a deafening, conspicuous silence that standing up against these things is not nearly as important as the next tax break for the wealthy or pointing fingers or blaming those who do stand up against them for being "just as bad."

Trump got elected despite a history of racism, misogyny, and outright bigotry (a history of spectacularly misogynistic comments, the Central Park 5, not renting his properties to Black folks, treating Black employees differently, revolting levels of birtherism, insisting that Black people have a marked advantage, claiming Indian crime was well documented [a lie] when his casinos were in competition,  accusing Native Americans of faking their ancestry, calling the Venezuelan Miss Universe "Miss Housekeeping," his comments on Mexicans as rapists, his comments that an American judge of Mexican ancestry could never be impartial, tacitly encouraging violence against a Black Lives Matter protestor, refusing to condemn white nationalists who campaigned for him, attacking the Khan's with vicious stereotypes, outright lying about crime statistics in urban [read: Black] areas, taking a day to figure out if he wanted that David Duke endorsement, breathtaking ableism, misogynistic attacks on women, multiple rape allegations, retweeting white supremacists without retraction or apology on the regular including blatant antisemitism, and horrifying comments about assaulting women from his own lips). For many, this election itself was a betrayal–the last straw. People may have had their bigotry in an "economic anxiety"-shaped container, but they endorsed, cheered, funded, voted for, and handed power to a wanton bigot. And largely the the conversation that has ensued since has been almost exclusively white Trump supporters with increasing volume demanding empathy for their raison d'ĂȘtre, and the Americans they threw under the bus pointing out (repeatedly) that the fact that they backed him makes them complicit–a inculpation they are very, very uncomfortable with.

That is, of course, when they're not saying "We won. Get over it." Because that's apparently the other way to get bridges built towards you.

And since Trump's election, the claims that his bigotry was merely blustery showmanship and it could never happen here that someone could be so bad have been put to the lie. If anything it was all his OTHER claims that turned out to be a bunch of bullshit. The promise of all those jobs have evaporated. No one talks about infrastructure anymore. The tax cut didn't help the people Republicans pinky swore it would help. Trump was extraordinarily hands off about policy initiatives that Congress tried to tackle. In fact, the only thing he really went after with gusto was his bigoted policies.

Pay attention. Because when people with power signal over and over again explicitly what they really care about, it's a pretty good bet they're telegraphing what they're going to do.

He got right to work on his Islamaphobic ban. He has appointed a cabinet of people with histories of overt racism. He hired few women and even fewer people of color for positions in his administration. He denied that his campaign rhetoric could have had anything to do with the sharp up-spike in hate crimes immediately following the election. He called for a transgender military ban. He called two people who beat up a Latino man and cited his anti-immigration as the reason "passionate." He called Senator Warren "Pocahontas." He said Haitians all had AIDS and included them in a comment about a number of "shithole" countries. He called Puerto Ricans "politically motivated ingrates," for deigning to want more assistance getting their power back on. He hired a senior editor of a publication that espoused white nationalism to be a a key member of his staff. He campaigned directly for Ray Moore. He pardoned Joe Arpaio. He called white nationalists and literal Nazis "very good people." He regularly criticizes the first amendment demonstrations when the people doing them are Black.

So there have been a lot of "last straws." There have been a lot of Rubicons. There have been a lot of points where the folks feeling the wheels of the bus they were thrown under crush them have (justifiably) said, "This is absolutely IT! I don't care about your uncle with the 'good heart' who just wants his coal job back. If you support this guy still, you are the worst sort of bigot–it doesn't matter if you personally feel that hate in your heart. You are culpable. You are complicit. You are responsible. And I do not care to know the reasons you have told yourself so that you can tuck your supremacy in at night with an untroubled conscience that your financial well being comes at the expense of my being treated as human."

And yet....when I saw the news this morning, my blood ran cold. Perhaps colder than ever before. "Animals," he called them. Without the slightest hint of statesmanship or leadership or empathy or compassion. With not a trace of understanding what sort of heinous conditions it takes to get someone to migrate thousands of miles from their homes to a place they know they're probably going to be treated like unwelcome shit.

And of course, there are still people falling down into the mud in a screaming tantrum that Trump is not being given sufficient benefit of the doubt. That every item on this laundry list is simply one more completely misconstrued attack by the liberal media with a perfectly reasonable explanation (if you would just listen...). That's simply the world we live in. Donald Trump is "the least racist person you'll ever meet." Right along with Paula Dean, Hulk Hogan, Steve Alford, Donald Sterling, and the KKK (who just want to end the white genocide, doncha know.) They will no doubt claim that this quote is purely about M13.

Through all of this, as Trump faces one constitutional crisis after another, he undermines the foundations of modern democracy like a free press and separation of powers because they make him feel bad, he Tweetingly dismisses a massive and growing body of evidence that there was collusion at at least some level of his campaign, blows off brazen global economic conflicts of interest possibly including mob ties, is embroiled in a new scandal every week, assumes a bellicose posture with the entire world, tanks years of diplomacy and moderate policy chiefly because he wants to shit in every sand castle Obama built, we tip further towards a moment that historians, political scientists, people who lived through Europe in the 40's, people who live under totalitarian regimes, people who study totalitarian regimes, and literally almost every world leader who isn't the head of a totalitarian regime is warning us might be the point of no return.

But perhaps more alarmingly, as Trump begins to checkmark more and more ticky boxes next to the "List of Things that Make a Government Fascist™," many have noted that the role of "scapegoat" in our unfolding drama––the scapegoat that is so vital to the fascist persecution complex––is being played first and foremost by "immigrants." He has attacked them early and often (unless they're from Scandinavia...for some unknown reason...gee whiz what could it possibly be)–probably because it plays better than the underlying racism that's driving it.

And he just called them "animals."

Here are the exact words, so that no one can claim that one word was taken out of context:

Sherrif Mims: "Thank you. There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it."

Trump: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them,” Mr. Trump said. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”

There's no mention of M13 in this thought, which is absolutely directly references "people coming into the country" not, specifically, gang members. There's no call back to the prior statement. There's no connective tissue to what Mims said that indicates this is some kind of response. Of course there might might might be enough leeway for plausible denial since M13 was part of the prior statement (because isn't there always plausible deniability when it comes to slipping the accusations of racism?), but there's almost certainly not going to be a correction or an apology. But it doesn't even actually make a whole lot of sense as a response.

He didn't say "animals" was how these immigrants looked or how they were treated by the people with transportation who are basically guilty of extortion. He didn't say it was the demeanor they carried after a long journey in hellish conditions and the malnutrition and dehydration and illness. Even if it weren't absurd to claim that gang members aren't human, this isn't the first time Trump has shell gamed things in just this way. This is just a really high profile situation.  He regularly suggests that Immigrants= M13= animals/thugs/criminals= totally justified immigration policy. M13 is largely not even what Trump says they are. They are just a good boogyman with exclusively central American recruitment.

Trump also seems to have no trouble making his language is perfectly precise and careful when he's making sure we know that white shooters are troubled or that the murderous rampages of white supremacists can't be tied to the bigger group or that groups of Nazis and white supremacists contain very fine people, and he has NEVER called those gang members animals. And the backdrop of his increasingly brutal immigration policies and racism push defending this as being JUST about M13 into a weird realm of cognitive dissonance that seems to insist that neither the actual quote or the broader context is allowed to matter.

This "out" exists only in this linguistically vague spot where there wasn't 100% clarity but since it's possible that he was speaking in brutal, dehumanizing terms about gang members, it's totally okay. (No doubt people will still cling to that like a palm tree in a hurricane.)

He dis-acknowledged their humanity. And whether or not he meant to tie it to a broader group, he absolutely meant to tie it to a broader group.

Scapegoating immigrants is not a new tactic of the Trump administration. There is hardly a right wing populist movement that hasn't done so in the last two hundred years. The specter of someone who is simultaneously lazy but also stealing your job allows people to be xenophobic without being outright racist since that tends to play a little better post WWII (even though there's usually a pretty obvious pattern in who the "right" kind of immigrants and the "bad" immigrants are). However, painting people as inhuman, and deliberately choosing the words that dehumanize them, is the first part of a complicated answer to every kid who ever raised their hand a la "The Wave" and asked their history teacher how "they" could possibly ever let such a thing happen.

Part of the answer is words. WORDS MATTER! You don't get to be a writer and then turn around and play like words don't have any real power. You don't get to say that words can only "offend" when they are the rationalization, the mobilization, and the defense of actual institutional harm. You don't get to understand the history and power of language and then suggest that unless the sound waves are ripping off flesh like a comic book mutant, words can't possibly cause actual hurt to anyone.

Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me perpetuate my societal othering and encourage casual "debate" about my humanity and frame me as less than human and disparage me until people stop caring about the hate crimes and stop asking questions about the disappearances and look the other way when the rumors of atrocities begin to surface.

Words. Fucking. Matter.

The first step to creating a scapegoat is to name them and blame them, and the second step is to dehumanize them. I know that I would only be accused of the worst alarmist hyperbole if I suggested we are entering phase two, but keep your eye on the ball. Trump will double down if only because his supporters noticed that this pissed off liberals and will egg him on. For his supporters have few guiding stars as bright and true.

Like many powerful people and particularly politicians Trump telegraphs his intentions badly in order to soften the ground and find his support. Much like his joke about remaining president after eight years (an idea for which his predecessor was burned in effigy without EVER ACTUALLY HAVING MADE SUCH A JOKE), Trump's racism has always pointed exactly where he's dying to go. The idea that this escalation is mere coincidence and hyperbole to take note of might be absurdly disingenuous, but it is absolutely irresponsible.

His rant came within days of the policy being announced and hours of it being enacted that refugees and families crossing illegally will be arrested and children will be separated from their parents. Nearly 1500 migrant children placed into homes cannot be found.  ICE agents have already been given broad discretionary powers and in some cases impunity without oversight, have been accused of civil rights violations and unapologetic cruelty, and are targeting cities (and sometimes activists) in patterns that belie extremely political and partisan agendas. The administration is prepared to hold border crossers on military bases...in camps.

This is not THE point of no return, for there have been so many already for so many folks. But another group of folks just peeled of from the belief that folks on the right could support this administration and still be a good people. And the folks who support this president no matter what he does and no matter what he says might want to consider that there's every indication that they are in imminent danger of getting a hell of a lot more blood on their hands.

And it is absolutely positively, unequivocally, undeniably, undebatably, human blood.

4 comments:

  1. Hi there, could you explain why my comments have been deleted? And why I can't seem to comment on any posts now?. My comments were on the FB post, I don't feel like I broke any guidelines, I certainly wasn't offensive- on a post regarding the use of the word 'animals' to describe humans, I feel I articulated my views politely and respectfully. I'm aware it is an emotive topic, I did not insult any race or religion, I did not abuse any other commentators on the page nor did I justify Trumps actions in a context. The only thing I did on 2 comments was say that I believed that those who are part of dangerous gangs like that have no humanity and therefore don't deserve to be called human. Another comment showed about how words have power, I emphasised that yes words have power but it is important to know that people also have power, within context I used 'n*****' (exactly like that) to show an example of changing language within sub-cultures. If somehow that is offensive then I apologise .

    In short, I'm wondering what I did wrong as I've been stopped from commenting on that post and others, my comments have also been deleted.i also cannot message the page directly so I'm having to do it on here. No warning or justification for this has been given. As a long time fan of your page and all the amazing effort and energy you put into the community, I'm confused and find myself quite disappointed..it certainly wasn't my intention to distress anyone if that has been the case?

    Thank you,

    Carrie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Give me a little bit of time Carrie, and I'll unban you. It's possible I read your comments as more vitriolic than they were given the crossfire that's going on in there.

      Delete
    2. Well said, Chris. Thank you for raising your voice on this.

      Delete