- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
- President Donald Trump has a record of stoking racial fault lines for his own gain.
- Confronted with escalating pressure from impeachment proceedings that he’s called “a coup,” Trump on Tuesday morning added another example of his willingness to employ racial attacks.
- In a tweet, he portrayed himself as the ultimate victim of injustice, lashing out at Democrats and describing the constitutional process of impeachment as “a lynching,” an extrajudicial form of murder that killed thousands of black Americans through the 19th and 20th centuries.
- White communities, particularly in the South, used lynching as a violent tool to wield power over black populations.
- Other scholars who have studied the nation’s relationship with race say Trump’s comments are wildly off the mark, both “deeply offensive” and “laughably absurd.”
- Depending on the political moment, Trump has cast himself as both the architect behind his administration’s “winning” strategy and the victim of circumstances beyond his control.
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President Donald Trump has a record of stoking racial fault lines for his own gain.
Back in July, he called on four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to the countries they came from, even though all were American citizens and three were born in the US. He later assailed the majority-black Maryland district represented by Rep. Elijah Cummings as “a rat and rodent-infested mess.”
Trump has shown no qualms directly appealing to the resentments of white Americans, a governing approach as president that separates him from his modern predecessors. Confronted with escalating pressure from impeachment proceedings he’s called “a coup,” Trump on Tuesday morning added another example of his willingness to employ racial attacks.
In a tweet, he portrayed himself as the ultimate victim of injustice, lashing out at Democrats and describing the constitutional process of impeachment as “a lynching,” an extrajudicial form of murder that killed thousands of black Americans through the 19th and 20th centuries.
So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2019
“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching,” Trump said. “But we will WIN!”
The comment evoked Trump’s fraught history on race stretching back decades, and it highlights a sense of victimhood that’s become more pronounced since House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry last month over his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate the 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter while withholding a $391 million military aid package from the country.
The chorus of condemnation among Democrats and Republicans was swift. Lawmakers from both parties blasted the president’s remark, though Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina defended Trump, who previously insisted he was “the least racist person you have ever met.”
There’s an agonizing history behind lynching in the United States. The NAACP says there were 4,743 lynchings in the US from 1882 to 1968, with nearly 75% of victims being black. White communities, particularly in the South, used lynching as a violent tool to wield power over black populations.
“Lynching is the sadistic practice of racialized terror for the purpose of social control,” Dr. Ersula Ore, a professor of African American studies and rhetoric at Arizona State University, wrote in an email. She described lynching as a “culturally understood” way of depriving due process from black Americans. Black men in particular confronted the brunt of the violence.
One 1893 case in Paris, Texas, saw a 17-year-old named Henry Smith accused of killing a white girl, prompting a white mob to capture and condemn him without evidence. Smith was publicly paraded, tortured for an hour on the county fairgrounds, and then burned alive, according to the American Bar Association.
Lynching, however, was repeatedly evoked in American politics through the latter half of the 20th century to cast legal proceedings as unjust mob-driven affairs. Some of President Richard Nixon’s staunchest defenders lambasted “the lynch-mob mentality” of the Senate Watergate Committee investigating his conduct.
Almost two decades later, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas used the term during his confirmation hearings in 1991, assailing the proceedings as “a high-tech lynching” as lawmakers dug through allegations of sexual misconduct against him from Anita Hill.
At least five House Democrats used the word to describe the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in 1998, The Washington Post reported. They included Biden – then a senator and now a leading Democratic presidential candidate – who suggested it was a “partisan lynching.”
‘Deeply offensive’ and ‘laughably absurd’
Other scholars who have studied the US’s relationship with race say Trump’s comments are wildly off the mark, characterizing them as “deeply offensive” and “laughably absurd.”
“It was deeply offensive and it reeks of privilege,” Dr. Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political-science professor who specializes in African American politics, told Business Insider. “He’s trying to imply that his opposition is a mob who’s going to break the rules to get their way.”
Gillespie said what was “particularly offensive” was “the idea of a very rich, privileged white president invoking the horrors of racial terror he’s never experienced to describe a political crisis that some people would argue is of his own making.”
Dr. Davis Houck, a professor of civil-rights history and rhetoric at Florida State University, told Business Insider the comparison “trivializes the history” behind lynching.
“He’s saying a constitutional process constitutes a lynching, which is laughably absurd,” Houck said, adding that Trump was “putting himself in a pantheon of victims, which he loves to do.”
He continued: “It’s ironic, given he loves to play the role of victim and he loves to play the role of the smartest guy in the room.”
Depending on the political moment, Trump has indeed cast himself as both the architect behind his administration’s “winning” strategy and the victim of circumstances beyond his control. During the special counsel Robert Mueller’s yearlong investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election, Trump railed against a “deep state” of operatives within his government bent on overturning his victory.
Houck said he believed this was “tweet to deflect,” noting the growing pressure from a steady stream of congressional testimony supporting the quid pro quo allegations on his dealings with Ukraine.
Gillespie said Trump’s invoking lynching to characterize his situation also represented “an escalation of the language of defensiveness” and suggested he could continue ratcheting up the fiery rhetoric much as he had throughout his presidency.
Ore called the comparison “a sloppy and dangerous equivalence,” saying Trump’s willingness to casually fire off the comparison carried profound consequences for communities of color and broader American society’s attempt to reckon with its painful history.
“It does this at the expense of black life, through the strategic forgetting and misremembering of America’s legacy of lynching, and through the rhetoric of victimage that breaths life in the myth of white innocence in general and presidential guiltlessness in particular,” she said.