President Trump crossed into markedly authoritarian territory Wednesday when he referred to some undocumented immigrants as “animals” and called for the prosecution of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
The dehumanization of groups targeted by a government leader and the imprisonment of political enemies are not uncommon tactics in nations run by repressive regimes. But this level of hate-inducing vitriol against immigrants and threats against a mayor over a policy disagreement have no place in the United States of America.
Trump’s rants came during a roundtable discussion with local officials who share his disdain for California’s role as a sanctuary state.
At one point, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, alluding to the gang MS-13, expressed her frustration that the new state law prohibited her from alerting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of undocumented immigrants in her jail.
“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country,” Trump replied. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Trump did not expressly refer to MS-13 members, which led to a cascade of criticism from people who know from history the danger of stripping people of their human traits. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as rats. Huti officials called Tutsis “cockroaches” that needed to be exterminated during the Rwandan genocide.
In her press briefing Thursday, White House
spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that Trump was referring to MS-13 gang members — a distinction he did not make — and “frankly I think the term animal doesn’t go far enough” to describe “horrible, horrible, disgusting people.”
The White House backtrack might have been more convincing if Trump had not used such overblown rhetoric about Mexican immigrants in the past, referring to them as rapists, killers and drug dealers who were pouring over the border.
Trump’s suggestion that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should “look into obstruction of justice” by Schaaf is no less reckless. It’s also based on a false premise that Schaaf ’s decision to alert the community of a possible ICE raid — and to remind immigrants of their rights if confronted — allowed hundreds to avoid detention and deportation. An ICE spokesman resigned precisely because he refused to make such a knowingly false statement.
Once again, this White House appears unbound by the mores of truth or norms of democracy.
President Trump spews hatred.