Perceptions of Illegitimacy Provide a Large Political Target
January 26, 2017
Filed under Opinion
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The aggressive character and the demonizing declarations and promises of Donald Trump provided an easy target for the monitoring group Human Rights Watch. On Thursday, January 12, the organization released its annual report cataloging the state of human rights in nations around the world. Among the topics discussed, the rise of Donald Trump and incendiary politicians in Europe is noted as a threat to the condition of human rights globally. In its coverage of the document Democracy Now cited Executive Director Kenneth Roth, who sees Trump as an example of a “…new generation of authoritarian populists.” In a related video, Roth discussed the report’s findings, “Sometimes overtly, sometimes through code and indirection, [Trump] spoke to many Americans’ discontent with economic stagnation and an increasingly multicultural society in a way that breached basic principles of dignity and equality.”
In the case of Donald Trump, both his loss in the popular vote, around 4 million votes, as well as allegations of Russian intervention in the election process, provided political fodder for critics to chip away at the perceived legitimacy of the new president. Similarly, the Human Rights Watch assessment of Trump as a danger to human rights was a blow against his legitimacy in a fashion comparable to accusations that George Bush is responsible for war crimes committed in Iraq.
On the accusation that Donald Trump breached basic principles of dignity and equality in his bid for the presidency, one can easily point to a variety of insults and threats considered to be telling of the incoming president’s personal character and his possible plans for various communities in the US. To his critics, many of Trump’s comments regarding various people can be considered deal breakers. Misogynistic comments, the blatant and public mocking of a disabled individual, the scapegoating of Mexicans and the undocumented in general, and calls for renewed surveillance on Muslims as well as some sort of ban on incoming immigrants from the Middle East, all indicate a level of disdain for various groups of people who are part of the US. In general, Americans are taught to believe that they are an exceptionally enlightened people whose values eschew the poor treatment of women and the disabled, even if the progressive victories have been hard won and incremental.
This sentiment obviously includes other historically marginalized groups such as African Americans and immigrants. Alluding to a female reporter’s menstruation, as well as the stuttered mocking of a disabled reporter, is no more valid in a respectable political discourse than are racial slurs about black people and immigrants. The idea that Mexican immigrants are largely rapists, drug dealers, and criminals, can be considered in a context similar to one in which African Americans are often placed: a segment of society considered to be dangerous and thus must be well policed.
This context can be used to justify a militarization of police authority and a general hardening of policy in one place or another, whether it is an African American or Hispanic neighborhood, or a zone of protest. In response to civil rights icon and Democratic Congressman John Lewis’ comment that he believes Donald Trump’s presidency to be illegitimate due to his concern that Russia helped him defeat Hillary Clinton, Trump stated that Lewis’ Georgia district was “crime infested”. Is this an example of the code wording Kenneth Roth says was used during the presidential campaign?
Concerning the labeling of undocumented people as dangerous or usurpers of benefits and thus requiring mass removal, the comparison with various historical examples of such poisoned political discourses from around the world should be fairly obvious. Mass uprootings of people often result in human rights abuses by state and non-state actors. Additionally, forced mass uprootings can be considered a crime under international law. The 21st Century deportation of 11 million or even the now reduced figure of 3 million undocumented people from the United States, is no more valid than the forced removals of Armenians, Kulaks, Jews, and Japanese people during the 20th Century. It would appear that on some level, there is a disconnect between what Trump has said he would do regarding the undocumented population of the US, and what Americans are taught to reject in terms of past harsh treatments of populations considered to be suspect by their respective governments.