Donald Trump rose to power in the United States by exploiting hatred, fear and prejudice. It’s a technique exploited by countless demagogues, dictators and tyrants throughout history. His establishment of VOICE, a Department of Homeland Security office that will publicize crimes committed by immigrants, is a classic example. We all need to recognize it for what it is, because it could lead to moral disaster.
People Are Tribal
Humans are extremely tribal. We are wired to include only a relatively small group of people into our close circle of friends and family, and then a slightly larger circle of acquaintances. Realistically a person can maintain several dozen relationships in this so-called tribe, maybe upwards of 100. Then we might feel a certain degree of kinship with a larger group, like people of a similar religion, ethnicity or political party. But there are still billions of others with whom we have no obvious commonality. Those strangers and foreigners are consigned to a group best described as “others.” How we treat these others is perhaps the best measure of our own humanity.
The best of us can feel empathy and compassion for these outsiders. We can work alongside them and do our best to treat them as equals. However, many of us are indifferent to the well-being of these others. And the worst of us fear and hate them.
Terrible Leaders Divide us With Fear and Prejudice
Leaders have exploited this fundamental human flaw for millennia. Demagogues and authoritarians gain power by harnessing fear and hatred and relying on the complicity of the indifferent. These leaders may convince the population that minorities and outsiders are not just strangers but less than human, unworthy of being among us. When this happens, terrible events befall us.
In 1990s Rwanda, the ruling Hutu government started a propaganda campaign against the minority Tutsi ethnic population. Hutu politicians and radio broadcasters railed against the Tutsis, demanding that they move back to their ancestral home of Ethiopia. Hutus dehumanized Tutsis, calling them cockroaches. At one speech, a Hutu politician said “[Any Tutsi] whose neck you do not cut is the one who will cut your neck.” That kind of rhetoric escalated for a couple years and ultimately resulted in a Hutu-perpetrated genocide against the Tutsis that left 500,000 people dead.
The fear of the other always exists in weak minds. Good leaders turn people away from their worst instincts, and they humanize the people that are subjected to hatred and prejudice. Terrible leaders exploit those instincts.
Propaganda That Exploits Fear and Hatred Should be a Warning Sign
It isn’t easy to exploit fear and hatred. It takes hard work because most people are indifferent to outsiders. And that indifference has a constraining effect on those who are driven by fear and hated. The vast majority of people in a society will not accept the lawlessness that comes with something like systematic oppression of the other. People prefer stability. Demagogues and authoritarians seize power by growing the number of people who fear and hate outsiders and convincing a large enough part of the population that the best course of action is to attack the outsiders. Propaganda is one of the best ways to expand fear and hatred.
The propaganda machine of Nazi Germany did this systematically to European Jews. For example, in 1943, the Nazi regime sent a directive to the German press, declaring that “Jews are criminal by disposition,” and it urged newspapers to publish weekly reports on crimes committed by Jews. It was just one drop of water in an ocean of hate that Nazis poured on Europe’s Jews.
Donald Trump’s road to the White House was paved with hatred and fear. Muslims were all potential terrorists, according to his rhetoric. Blacks were violent, killing each other in the streets. Jews controlled the media and the financial system. And immigrants were bringing drugs and violent crime into our country. Oh, and trans people want to assault you in the bathroom. All lies.
Immigrants are Human Beings. Muslims are Human Beings. We Were All Created Equal
Trump wants to build a wall and kick out all the undocumented immigrants because he has convinced his followers that these people are a threat to our nation. Social science research has consistently found immigrants do not commit crimes at higher rates than American citizens. In fact, crime often goes down in cities as the immigrant population goes up, but Trump insists on spreading propaganda to the contrary. During his address to a joint session of Congress, he invited family members of people murdered by undocumented immigrants as his personal guests. He displayed them as props on national television.
And Trump announced that he was creating a new office in the Department of Homeland Security, Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE). VOICE will periodically publish a list of crimes committed by immigrants, guaranteeing that his followers grow even more fearful and hateful, despite the research that proves that immigrants are not a threat.
If you’re having a hard time letting this sink in, do a mental exercise. Replace the word “immigration” from the VOICE acronym with “Jewish.” Now you can see what he’s doing. Dehumanization of the other.
Trump wants to publicize every crime committed by an immigrant in this country. He’s also published lists of terror attacks committed by Muslims. His surrogates have fabricated terror attacks like the “Bowling Green Massacre.” His administration is extremely slow to condemn or even acknowledge xenophobic violence like the shooting in Quebec or the recent shooting in n Kansas, where a xenophobe killed a legal immigrant from India and wounded another because he thought they were “Iranians.”
The incident began after a man became agitated with two 32-year-old Indian men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, at Austins Bar & Grill, witness Jeremy Luby told CNN.
Ian Grillot, a regular at the bar, approached the man and asked him to leave, according to CNN affiliate KMBC.
“He said (to Grillot), ‘Why are you standing up for them?’ He emphasized ‘them,’ as if ‘them’ was a derogatory term,” Luby told CNN.
Trump wants to create a narrative that reinforces the fear, hatred and prejudice that lurks in his core group of supporters. It gives him the mandate to push the policies that he and his inner circle want to implement. It will help him consolidate power. If we allow this to happen, we will all go down a road to moral disaster. Violence could become less incidental and more systematic. Too many communities are already living in fear today because of what Trump is telling Americans. We can’t allow it to continue unchecked.