Words Matter – Especially in Political Discourse

It seems clear to almost any un-biased observer that Donald Trump is a racist. He is trying to foment a climate of hate and distrust of the “other” amongst his (mostly) white following. This is plainly understood when you read his speeches and see some of the racist code words he has used: Traitors, Animals, Thugs, Pigs, Un-American…

While you can argue that traitor, pigs, and un-American aren’t racist words, their intent is to create an us-them binary that seeks to create a picture of anyone who opposed him as being unworthy of the same rights as his followers – especially when they follow any roughing up of protesters with the chant, “USA, USA…”

Words like thug and animal ARE racist code words. A person can argue until they are black and blue that they aren’t, but volumes of empirical and anecdotal evidence shows that they are.

Thug, while originating as a word for a 19th century Hindu cult, has had various uses over the past century, but most recently it was popularized by “rap culture” to describe someone who came from the streets, grew up poor, and scrapped their way to the top. Now, as recently seen in many high-profile news stories, the word “thug” is used as a coded substitute for the N-word to denigrate black people who act out of the arbitrary line of social behavior set by White America.

So a word once used by a sub-set of a minority community to describe itself, is now popularly used by those who wish to tar the entirety of a minority community while remaining blameless. The dismissive use of this word has become a buzzword to describe young, black people — especially black men — implying that they’re violent, irrational and shouldn’t be taken seriously, or that they are inherently criminal and dangerous.

You can argue until you are blue in your face that it really isn’t used that way, but everyone understands that it really is.

So, what do we make of Trump’s use of the word thug here, when he says: “The [protesters are an] organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago”? Who are the “many of them thugs” that he speaks of? Are they similar to the Mexican immigrants of which “many are rapists”? A person not blinded by denial knows exactly who he means: the hundreds of young, black protesters who showed up to protest his rally.

Even today, Trump surrogate Sarah Palin, used this racist code word quite directly and quite blatantly, when she said of protesters: “What we don’t have time for is all that petty, punk-ass little thuggery stuff that’s been going on…” When has “punk ass” ever been used by a 50-something Caucasian politician in everyday speech? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she is co-opting “rap-speak” when she says “punk-ass” as a qualifier for the standard issue racist code word, thug/thuggery.

This sort of racist code speak is unacceptable in political discourse – especially for someone who wants to be the President of the United States.