Donald Trump’s son Eric made news recently by stating during an interview with Hannity that to him, the Democrats resisting his father’s agenda are not even people. In this divisive political climate, dehumanizing the Other is dangerous.
Donald Trump’s son Eric made news recently by stating during an interview with Hannity that to him, the Democrats resisting his father’s agenda are not even people.
Reaction to the comment was swift, as you might imagine in this political climate. The Washington Times put up a weak defense for the younger Trump by claiming the comment had been taken out of context. However, their insistence that Eric was correct in his assessment because anti-Trump Democrats are engaging in political obstruction against policies they disagree with is as ironic as it is laughable. Where were the Washington Times and Eric Trump during the Obama administration?
While Eric probably didn’t rehearse his remark, the way he let it loose so easily is a troubling sign. Dehumanization is a crucial early step that allows people to act with greater cruelty towards their opponents. History is full of examples. Recall that Nazis called Jewish people “rats” and “untermenschen”- literally subhuman, not even people. During the genocide in Rwanda, the majority Hutus used the term “cockroaches” to describe the Tutsi minority. Right now in Chechnya, gay men face the same treatment. “They told me I wasn’t a human being and deserved to be murdered,” said “Gregory,” a gay Chechen who was abducted and beaten for his sexual orientation.
It’s not just long ago and far away, either. Americans who supported Trump show a greater tendency to dehumanize and vilify other groups, singling out Muslims and Mexicans in particular. Gay people and food stamp recipients, among many others, have also had their humanity questioned in order to score political or religious points in the Land of the Free. (Apparently many of us are not even people, to the likes of Eric Trump.)
Lots of folks move through life in what could be termed “echo chambers” or “social media bubbles.” We have friends, colleagues, and internet acquaintances that generally think as we think and nod approvingly at what we say. We follow news sources whose slant appeals to us. Outside of our social circles, it’s simply harder to imagine others as fully functioning human beings with inner lives as rich as our own, and just as deserving of rights. Sure, we know it in the abstract, but defeating Dunbar’s Number takes something as powerful as the Enlightenment or the strength of some flavors of religious conviction to make us treat each other like people.
In contrast to Eric Trump’s venom, consider another recent news story, this one about Chelsea Manning. In her first interview since being released from prison, Manning explained her motivation for leaking classified and sensitive military documents: “I stopped seeing just statistics and information, and I started seeing people.”
If avoiding Civil War 2.0 is important to us, and it should be, we need to find ways to start seeing people. It might be too late for anyone named Trump, but despite the lousy command climate, we can and should reach out to people unlike ourselves. The left often sees diversity as strength, remember. To those on the political right: does Eric Trump define your view, or are you interested in meeting everyone else partway? Can we find a way to make it work together, or are the rest of us not even people?