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January 12, 2017

Trump Talk

The President-elect uses speech that works to vilify and alienate minorities.

On the eve of a Donald Trump presidency, it is important to consider the implications his presidency will have and what kind of marked shift it will be from the Obama presidency. We have already seen and discussed his cabinet appointments, which will influence the type of policy he will pursue in office. But perhaps another element worth thinking about are the ways in which he interacts with the public and the language he uses when referring to his constituency. Unlike legislators, who are charged with representing their home state constituencies, the president represents the American people as a whole to the rest of the world. However, through his language and public interactions, it is clear that Trump has no interest in working for and representing all Americans, but only those who support him.

One of Trump’s more insidious language patterns is the use of “the” before referencing a minority group. “I have a great relationship with the blacks,” he said, for example, back in 2011. 

“We’re going to have great relationships with the Hispanics,” he later said in 2016, after winning the Indiana primary. “The Hispanics have been so incredible to me. They want jobs. The African Americans want jobs.” 

This type of othering language works to create an us-them dichotomy, pitting his supporters—who are predominately white and middle class—against marginalized demographics. This is a popular tactic, used by racists, Nazis, and homophobes and is meant to separate those who are considered “normal,” from “the others,” those that are different and against us. Looking at Nazi propaganda from the 1930s, for example, one can find these common slogans: “The Jews are our misfortune,” “Where one is ruled by the Jews, freedom is only an empty dream,” etc. This type of political distancing from a minority group shows where his true loyalties lie. He believes these groups are outside the realm of his support and his responsibility. He would never refer to the American people as “the Americans,” as that would sound as if he is not an American and outside that group of people. So, by saying “the Hispanics” or “the blacks,” it is as if they constitute a group that Trump doesn’t represent, as if they are not American or part of the country. Rather, they are something other, possibly even antithetical to the group he does work to represent—white citizens primarily in Middle America. To distance himself from groups outside of his support network is to suggest that they are not worthy of his time or his respect. 

But this kind of insulting and belittling language also strips these minority groups’ humanity, turning them into a type of monolith and reducing the experiences they face into a single, simple set of issues. It goes without saying that any group does not have a single set of issues, and more importantly, a single political ideology. There is a spectrum of experiences that a minority group can face so to talk about what “the blacks” or “the Hispanics” or “the Muslims” want is to make them into an undifferentiated whole, ignoring a wide array of complex experiences and desires a POC can experience.   

Overall, he uses this language to create a clear dividing line; it’s a thinly veiled form of bigotry and it shows a willful attempt to represent only people who agree with him and who support his own interests. This is also blatant in his Twitter insults of anybody who speaks unfavorably of him. In a December 31 tweet, he wishes everybody a happy New Year, even those who have “fought [him] and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” It’s clear he has little respect for his dissidents, even though, as president, he is also supposed to represent and fight for their rights and interests. To best resist Trump, it’s essential to not only vigilantly watch the news and protest his policy decisions, but to also analyze the ways his language functions as a type of microaggression, perpetuating a narrative that distances millions of Americans and makes them appear less than human. 

Andrew Nicotra Reilly is a third-year in the College majoring in economics and political science.

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