Last week, the president caused a firestorm in the media when he used the term “animals” to describe either undocumented immigrants or MS-13 gang members, depending on who you ask; as Jonathan Weisman noted, the president speaks in “non-sequitur gibberish” and it is impossible to determine which he was actually talking about.
Of course, the right-wing has worked itself to a frenzy over the liberal response to the comments, which was to rightfully recognize the language as a dehumanizing and xenophobic attack on immigrants that at the very least conflates all immigrants with the vicious members of the MS-13 gang.
The conservative media class and his fans immediately took to weeping and moaning about how the president’s remarks were “taken out of context” on some of the biggest platforms in the nation. “That would indeed be a wretched thing for him to say — had he said it. He did not” grumbled Bret Stephens in the New York Times, before immediately launching into a screed about how immigrants really do bring crime to the United States.
But of course, such quibbling over the specific details of the jumbled and incoherent words that ejaculate from the President’s obviously decaying brain is nothing more than an exercise in boot-licking.
The Boston Globe’s Michael A. Cohen responded to the President’s defenders with a biting column in which he correctly argues that it is impossible to take the president’s comments into consideration without the context of two years of wildly racist rhetoric and an administration that aggressively pursues a white nationalist agenda of soft ethnic cleansing.
After going through a laundry list of the president’s more heinous remarks and action, Cohen writes:
The context for Trump’s comments is actually quite clear: The president is a vile bigot. He regularly demonizes and scapegoats immigrants and persons of color. He uses isolated examples of crime committed by immigrants and Muslims to justify racist policies that seek to limit nonwhite Americans from entering the country – and deport those who are already here. He’s done this repeatedly since he announced his candidacy for president, in June 2015.
His most adamant supporters will complain that the president, who struggles to speak in complete and coherent sentences and regularly uses out-of-context statements from his rivals to demonize and attack them, is being unfairly criticized for his “animals” comment. But these supporters are enablers and sycophants, who put tribal loyalty and partisanship ahead of truth and should not be taken seriously.
We know exactly who this president is and what he believes. Let’s not waste any more time trying to parse his words or give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a racist. Period.
The president may not have specifically said that immigrants are “animals,” but the frequency with which he conflates the boogeyman of the MS-13 gang with all immigrants and his extensive history of shamelessly racist remarks make it so you don’t have to be a dog to hear that whistle.
The use of dehumanizing language to smear MS-13, vile as they are, cannot simply be excused either. “‘Actually, MS-13 gangbangers are still human beings’ is not the hill to die on imho” sneered the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay, a sentiment echoed by many liberals in the media sphere, but it is in fact a very good hill to die on.
The past use of “animals” to smear members of minority groups by genocidal regimes cannot be forgotten; from Hitler’s Germany to Rwanda, the use of this kind of language to strip people’s humanity away and thus break down the moral and ethical barriers that prevent people from killing each other has proven to be a horrifyingly successful tactic. It is a very short step from “MS-13 are animals” to “Hondurans are animals” to “Hispanic people of color are animals.”
Furthermore, it strips away the burden of guilt from the MS-13 gang members themselves. For all the horror stories about the sadistic excesses of the gang, the right-wing is quick to absolve them of guilt for their crimes and dismiss them as “animals,” creatures of instinct with no conception of right or wrong.
They are not animals; they are human beings who have chosen to commit unforgivable acts of violence against their fellow humans and must face justice in a court of law for their crimes – just as Donald Trump and the rest of his cronies must face justice for theirs.