“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”
Those are the words that President Trump chose to close out a tweet on Oct. 22 about the impeachment proceedings against him. As the looming threat of this process has become a theme of more and more of the president’s Twitter feed, it’s easy to disregard this tweet as just another in a long series.
However, for the president of the United States to use the word lynching – a word with a long, dark and violent history in this country in particular – as a metaphor for his own struggles, is nothing to be tossed to the side.
Language matters. Though Donald Trump has, to say the least, taken a far more casual and conversational approach to his public statements than his predecessors, this does not excuse the use of language that has long been associated with one of the bleakest, tragic aspects of American history.
The Tuskegee Institute claims that 3,446 African Americans were lynched in the U.S. between 1882 and 1968. This is the history that is indelibly linked to this term. These are the images that the word “lynching” evokes to this day. While the word is a proper term with a definition beyond this chapter of our past, the weight that it carries because of the larger context means it is not a word to be tossed around lightly.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) failed to recognize this when he rushed to the president’s defense when asked about it, saying, “I’m from South Carolina; I understand it very well. Mob rule is what lynching is all about. I didn’t say they were lynching the president literally.” Graham went on to say the impeachment proceedings “a lynching in every sense.”
This defense didn’t sit well with Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC. On Twitter, Steele shared a graphic photo of an African American man hanging from a tree, adding, “this is a lynching. Trump this is not happening to you and it’s pathetic that you act like you’re such a victim; but it did happen to 147 black people in your state Lindsey. ‘A lynching in every sense’? You should know better.”
This is nothing new. In 1998, Joe Biden used the phrase “partisan lynching” in reference to the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. As that comment has resurfaced, Biden was quick to publicly apologize.
This highlights an important point. Evoking images of the darkest moments of our past to make a political point is unacceptable, regardless of party, and those who choose to do it will clearly and rightfully receive condemnation from both sides of the aisle. This is not an issue of party, of politics or of free speech. This is an issue of people comparing the legal processes of our governmental systems to violent and hateful crimes solely for the purposes of emphasis.
America’s history of racial prejudice is not a tool to be used to make a point. You do not compare yourself or others to the victims of these atrocities in an attempt to tarnish the image of your political opponents. We hope that someday political discourse in the public sphere can abandon the strategies of historical ignorance and needlessly bold self-victimization.