On Sunday, someone decided to perpetrate a senseless and deplorable act of political terrorism. They firebombed a North Carolina GOP office and defaced a nearby building with a Swastika and anti-Republican graffiti. The response to this act draws stark lines between the possible outcomes of this election.
Donald Trump's response to this craven act should take every single rational human being aback. He not only lied about the possible motive by claiming it was due to his "winning"(he is clearly losing in nearly every national poll), he blamed the violence on his opponent, and all Democrats, without proof -- after dehumanizing them.
It is the dehumanizing part that is most troubling. Once you get to the point on dehumanizing "the enemy," the next step is unrestrained violence without guilt. In this case, it is important that we realize that words have the power to do this. Words are how we frame our thoughts, and how we think about others is how we treat them. Trump is finally going there.
From "Less Than Human: The Psychology of Cruelty" by David Livingstone Smith:
Thinking sets the agenda for action, and thinking of humans as less than human paves the way for atrocity. The Nazis were explicit about the status of their victims. They were Untermenschen — subhumans — and as such were excluded from the system of moral rights and obligations that bind humankind together. It's wrong to kill a person, but permissible to exterminate a rat. To the Nazis, all the Jews, Gypsies and others were rats: dangerous, disease-carrying rats.
After that initial tweet, Trump made sure to show his concern for the "people," a message of unification and a rallying cry against the enemy.
His language was carefully chosen: he did not say "all Democrats are animals." He said, "animals representing" and then directly linked them to his opponent and every Democrat anyway. This distinction must be made because it allows him to downplay the implications of his words while his acolytes here the dog whistle clear as a bell.
It is hard to see Trump's divisive rhetoric as anything but a clear attempt to dehumanize his opponent and everyone that disagrees with him.
It is even easier to see, perhaps, when the Democrat's response to the same tragedy is shown. Hillary Clinton immediately (as in about an hour before Trump's tweet) condemned the actions as "horrific and unacceptable."
Following the national attention, Democrats would crowdfund over $13,000 dollars to help reopen the damaged office in less than 6 hours because that is who we are. We may fight over policy, we may disagree about laws and immigration, but when there is a tragedy we do not dehumanize other Americans to galvanize a political base. We leave that sort of nonsense to Republicans.
Trump is playing a dangerous game here and he's going to get people killed with his self-aggrandizing demagoguing. Let's hope he can held accountable for the first time in his life.