U.S President Donald Trump has unleashed a new level of incendiary rhetoric against his political opponents, labeling them vermin, a term most usually associated with ruling dictators of the 1930s-1940s, such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
The use of the term vermin to refer to political foes has historically been an effort to dehumanize and demonize a target group and suggest that they are a plague to be exterminated. Such rhetoric has been used by ruling figures all throughout history, but particularly in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
The controversial term was recently used in a tweet from President Trump, taking aim at his opponents in the Democratic party. The Democrats are full of vermin!, he wrote.
As a result, Trump has generated a wave of criticism from those who argue that such rhetoric is dangerous and damaging to the ideals of democracy and American values. While Trump has not fully adopted the full-fledged language of fascism and dictatorship, the fact remains that his use of language is highly suggestive of undertones of totalitarianism.
Trump’s own history of verbal attacks on his opponents, as well as proposals for stricter immigration laws, further fan the flames of this connection. By appropriating language previously used by dictators, Trump appears to be signaling his desire to silence and marginalize those he sees as vermin.
At a time when democratic principles are under threat from populist figures around the world, the use of ‘vermin’ as a term of political discourse is particularly troubling. No matter the political persuasion of one’s opponents, such an analogy has no place in a healthy democracy.
Trump may or may not play a part in creating a dangerous wave of authoritarianism, but one thing is clear – his suggestion that his political opponents are ‘vermin’ is inappropriate and toxic behavior that should have no place in civil discourse.