It has become commonplace to observe that the 45th president of the United States publicly uses coarse and violent language that none of his predecessors would have deployed. But it’s really, really getting out of hand, as a tweet today illustrated:
Josh Marshall makes the unavoidable historical connection:
The use of the word “infest” to talk about people is literally out of the Nazi/anti-Semites’ playbook for talking about the Jewish threat. It was also a standard for talking about Chinese in the western United States and it remains part of the vocabulary for talking about Romani (Gypsies) in parts of Europe. This is the most hard-boiled kind of racist demagogic language, the kind that in other parts of the world has often preceded and signaled the onset of exterminationist violence. The verb “to infest” is one generally used to describe insects or vermin (rats), creatures which are literally exterminated when they become present in a house or building or neighborhood.
This isn’t the first time Trump has seemed to use dehumanizing language about immigrants. In May there was a brouhaha over his reference to deported immigrants — including members of gangs like MS-13 — as “animals.” His supporters claimed the reference was only to MS-13 members, and Trump’s rambling form of discourse made that limited interpretation possible. In today’s tweet, there’s also a reference to MS-13, but the subject of the sentence is clearly “illegal immigrants” with the gang members just being an example.
But however you want to explain the meaning of his words or their intent, this is a rhetorical line that should never be crossed, regardless of its precise application. As Marshall notes, this is standard racist rhetoric with a deep and disreputable history (and not just in Europe: Rwanda’s genocidaires routinely called their victims “cockroaches”). And if the president’s Ivy League education did not equip him with an understanding of this very important aspect of 20th-century history, he needs some remedial education. He certainly seems willing to violate some similar norms about conditions in Europe today, as a tweet yesterday illustrated:
Lecturing Germans on how to maintain their cultural purity is not a good look for anyone. MAGA people really need to look at the kind of things the man says that are redolent of some of the worst moments of human history, and instead of sniggering at the outrage he arouses show an understanding that sometimes being “politically incorrect” is just being dangerously wrong.