November 13, 2023
In a speech Saturday in Claremont, New Hampshire, and then in his Veterans Day greeting yesterday on social media, former president Trump echoed German Nazis.
“In honor of our great Veterans on Veteran’s Day [sic] we pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our Country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American Dream…. Despite the hatred and anger of the Radical Left Lunatics who want to destroy our country, we will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
The use of language referring to enemies as bugs or rodents has a long history in genocide because it dehumanizes opponents, making it easier to kill them. In the U.S. this concept is most commonly associated with Hitler and the Nazis, who often spoke of Jews as “vermin” and vowed to exterminate them.
The parallel between MAGA Republicans’ plans and the Nazis had other echoes this weekend, as Trump’s speech came the same day that Charlie Savage, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Swan of the New York Times reported that Trump and his people are planning to revive his travel ban, more popularly known as the “Muslim ban,” which refused entry to the U.S. by people from some majority-Muslim nations, and to reimpose the pandemic-era restrictions he used during the coronavirus pandemic to refuse asylum claims—it is not only legal to apply for asylum in the United States, but it is a guaranteed right under the Refugee Act of 1980—by claiming that immigrants bring infectious diseases like tuberculosis.
They plan mass deportations of unauthorized people in the U.S., rounding them up with specially deputized law enforcement officers and National Guard soldiers contributed by Republican-dominated states. Because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) doesn’t have the space for such numbers of people, Trump’s people plan to put them in “sprawling camps” while they wait to be expelled. Trump refers to this as “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.”
Trump’s people would screen visa applicants to eliminate those with ideas they consider undesirable, and would kick out those here temporarily for humanitarian reasons, including Afghans who came here after the 2021 Taliban takeover. Trump ally Steve Bannon and his likely attorney general, Mike Davis, expect to deport 10 million people.
Trump’s advisors also intend to challenge birthright citizenship, the principle that anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen. This principle was established by the Fourteenth Amendment and acknowledged in the 1898 United States v. Wong Kim Ark Supreme Court decision during a period when native-born Americans were persecuting immigrants from Asia. That hatred resulted in Wong Kim Ark, an American-born child of Chinese immigrants, being denied reentry to the U.S. after a visit to China. Wong sued, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment established birthright citizenship. The Supreme Court agreed. The children of immigrants to the U.S.—no matter how unpopular immigration was at the time—were U.S. citizens, entitled to all the rights and immunities of citizenship, and no act of Congress could overrule a constitutional amendment.
“Any activists who doubt President Trump’s resolve in the slightest are making a drastic error: Trump will unleash the vast arsenal of federal powers to implement the most spectacular migration crackdown,” Trump immigration hardliner Stephen Miller told the New York Times reporters. “The immigration legal activists won’t know what’s happening.”
In addition to being illegal and unconstitutional, such plans to strip the nation of millions of workers would shatter the economy, sparking sky-high prices, especially of food.
For a long time, Trump’s increasingly fascist language hasn’t drawn much attention from the press, perhaps because the frequency of his outrageous statements has normalized them. When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 referred to many Trump supporters as “deplorables,” a New York Times headline read: “Hillary Clinton Calls Many Trump Backers ‘Deplorables,’ and G.O.P.* Pounces.” Yet Trump’s threat to root out “vermin” at first drew a New York Times headline saying, “Trump Takes Veterans Day Speech in a Very Different Direction.” (This prompted Mark Jacob of Stop the Presses to write his own headlines about disasters, including my favorite: “John Wilkes Booth Takes Visit to the Theater in a Very Different Direction.”)
Finally, it seems, Trump’s explicit use of Nazi language, especially when coupled with his threats to establish camps, has woken up at least some headline writers. Forbes accurately headlined yesterday’s story: “Trump Compares Political Foes to ‘Vermin’ On Veterans Day—Echoing Nazi Propaganda.”
Republicans have refused to disavow Trump’s language. When Kristen Welker of Meet the Press asked Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel: “Are you comfortable with this language coming from the [Republican] frontrunner,” McDaniel answered: “I am not going to comment on candidates and their campaign messaging.” Others have remained silent.
Trump’s Veterans Day “vermin” statement set up his opponents as enemies of the country by blurring them together as “Communists, Marxists, Racists, and Radical Left Thugs.” Conflating liberals with the “Left” has been a common tactic in the U.S. right-wing movement since 1954, when L. Brent Bozell and William F. Buckley Jr. tried to demonize liberals—those Americans of all parties who wanted the government to regulate business, provide Social Security and basic welfare programs, fund roads and hospitals, and protect civil rights—as wannabe socialists.
In the United States there is a big difference between liberals and the political “Left.” Liberals believe in a society based in laws designed to protect the individual, arrived at by a government elected by the people. Political parties disagree about policy and work to change the laws, but they support the system itself. Most Americans, including Democrats and traditional Republicans, are liberals.
Both “the Left,” and the “Right” want to get rid of the system. Those on the Left believe that its creation was so warped either by wealth or by racism that it must be torn down and rebuilt. Those on the Right believe that most people don’t know what’s good for them, making democracy dangerous. They think the majority of people must be ruled by their betters, who will steer them toward productivity and religion. The political Left has never been powerful in the U.S.; the political Right has taken over the Republican Party.
The radical right pushes the idea that their opponents are “Radical Left Thugs” trying to tear down the system because they know liberal policies like Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, reproductive rights, gun safety legislation, and so on, are actually quite popular. This weekend, for example, Trump once again took credit for signing into law the Veterans Choice health care act, which was actually sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and signed by President Barack Obama in 2014.
The Right’s draconian immigration policies ignore the reality that presidents since Ronald Reagan have repeatedly asked Congress to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws, only to have Republicans tank such measures to keep the hot button issue alive, knowing it turns out their voters. Both President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have begged Congress to fund more immigration courts and border security and to provide a path to citizenship for those brought to the U.S. as children. They, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, have tried to slow the influx of undocumented migrants by working to stabilize the countries from which such migrants primarily come.
Such a plan does not reflect “hatred and anger of the Radical Left Lunatics who want to destroy our country.” It reflects support for a system in which Congress, not a dictator, writes the laws.
A video ABC News published tonight from Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis’s plea deal makes the distinction between liberal democracy and a far-right dictatorship clear. In it, Ellis told prosecutors that former White House deputy chief of staff and social media coordinator Dan Scavino told her in December 2020 that Trump was simply not going to leave the White House, despite losing the presidential election.
When Ellis lamented that their election challenges had lost, Scavino allegedly answered: “‘Well, we don’t care, and we’re not going to leave.” Ellis replied: “‘What do you mean?” Scavino answered: “The boss is not going to leave under any circumstances. We are just going to stay in power.” When Ellis responded “Well, it doesn’t quite work that way, you realize?” he allegedly answered: “We don’t care.”
*The GOP, or Grand Old Party, is an old nickname for the Republican Party.
EDITED AT 1:00 AM ON NOVEMBER 16. THE WORD TRUMP USED WAS "FASCISTS" NOT "RACISTS." I APOLOGIZE FOR THE ERROR.