Trump’s Dehumanizing ‘Animals’ Comment Has a Dangerous Connection to Genocide

On May 16, during an hour-long meeting with state and local officials from California, Trump made this disturbing declaration:

We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in – we’re stopping a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.

The following day, the president told a reporter that he had, of course, been referring to members of the notorious transnational MS-13 gangs – not to all undocumented immigrants. But he did not back down from his use of the word “animals.”

Luis Videgaray, the Mexican foreign minister was quick to respond:

President Trump referred to some immigrants – perhaps he had criminal gangs in mind, I don’t know – as animals, not as persons. In the opinion of the Mexican government, this is absolutely unacceptable, and we are going to formally communicate this to the U.S. State Department today.

The undeniable link between dehumanizing language and genocide

Whether or not Trump intended his remark to describe gang members, his words were both appalling and dangerous. After all, history is replete with examples of how such dehumanizing language may be the precursor to genocide:

  • Slave owners everywhere, including the founding fathers of the U.S., have considered their slaves to be subhuman animals.
  • The 1940 film “The Eternal Jew” was a German Nazi propaganda film that depicted Jews as rats. And during the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were murdered, the Nazis called them “Untermenschen,” or subhumans.

They told us when you go over in Vietnam, you gonna be face to face with Charlie, the Viet Gong. They were like animals, or something other than human. They ain’t have no regard for life. They’d blow up little babies just to kill a GI. They wouldn’t allow you to talk about them as if they were people. They told us they’re not to be treated with any type of mercy or apprehension. That’s what they engraved into you. That killer instinct.

  • Just last month we learned that three men who were planning to bomb a mosque and an apartment complex housing Somali Muslim refugees in Kansas referred to their intended victims as “cockroaches.”

“When people dehumanize others, they actually conceive of them as subhuman creatures,” explains David Livingstone Smith, author of “Less Than Human.”

Smith describes how the notion of a hierarchy of races was popular in the 18th century:

White Europeans were the architects of this theory, so they modestly placed themselves at the pinnacle. The lower edges of the category merged with the apes. Sub-Saharan Africans and Native Americans were denizens of the bottom of the human category, when they were even granted human status.

Smith explains that they were mostly seen as “soulless animals,” and this dehumanization allowed for enormous atrocities to take place.

And Vox’s Brian Resnick adds:

History and psychological science show us that when we refer to people as “animals” or anything other than “people,” it flips a mental switch in our minds. It allows us to deny empathy to other people, makes us feel numb to their pain, and lets us forgive ourselves for causing them harm.

A track record of racism

Trump’s use of the word “animals” may not be a precursor to genocide, but the idea that immigrants and criminals are less than human is clearly an encouragement to law enforcement officers — and, indeed, to any of his supporters — to treat these people abominably.

Five days earlier, Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, revealed the same prejudice. He described undocumented immigrants as “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society.” Yet, according to this genealogist, Kelly’s illiterate great-grandfather lived in the U.S. for 47 years and didn’t speak English.

So Trump is deliberately choosing his words — just as he did in 2015 when he called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers – to encourage his bigoted followers to act on their prejudicial views.

This is shameful behavior for anyone — but for a president, who has enormous power to shape the lives of immigrants for better or worse, it’s deliberate cruelty.

Trump’s dehumanizing language and blatant display of prejudice may not automatically lead to genocidal violence, but it surely will make life more difficult for the people he is marginalizing.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

105 comments

Janis K
Janis K13 days ago

I just wish to live long enough to see Trump in prison!

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DAVID fleming
Dave f14 days ago

TFS

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Leo C
Leo C14 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Sandra V
Sandra Vito15 days ago

Thanks

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Sandra V
Sandra Vito15 days ago

Thanks

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Leo C
Leo C16 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Karen H
Karen H17 days ago

Janis K, we don’t have to make Trump look bad. He does it all by himself.

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Freya H
Freya H17 days ago

No surprise the tRump chumps decided to slither out from under their rocks and vomit their bilge in the comments section. They are not fooling anybody. They would defend the Orange Ogre if he openly declared that all people of such-and-such an ethnicity should be rounded up and sent to death camps. Even if such camps were constructed. They try to distract us by pointing out the atrocities committed by MS-13, forgetting that those blobs of scum do not represent all immigrants. Because Care2's writers show concern about immigrants, they are knee-jerk labeled criminal-lovers just because a tiny handful of immigrants commit wrongs.

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Shirley S
Shirley S17 days ago

Trump should be taught. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK

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Ann B
Ann B18 days ago

This president has done MORE damage toward our animals than all the others put together..EVEN tho Roosevelt was a BIG GAME HUNTER--he wasn't as crude

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