Trump’s use of the word lynching was wrong, writes Jonathan Compo, but the rest of his twitter rant this morning was also wrong, and more dangerous.
Donald Trump this morning referred to his experience with impeachment as a “lynching.” The full tweet here:
So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2019
This tweet, like most of the President’s twitter output, is a bold-face lie. The impeachment inquiry currently in process against the President is the definition of due process and an expression of the POTUS’ legal rights. And then, to end the tweet with a reference to lynching—racist violence: this is crazy.
Coverage of the tweet has largely focused on the use of this cursed word, lynching. And if America were a sane country with a sane President—or had still a political discourse with something like decorum, then the media would be right to make a meal of this tweet. In any other time, this would be an absolute bonkers thing for a head of state to say.
We, however, do not live in any other time. For (more than) half the country, the President comparing a legal investigation to capital-R Racist mobs killing people, is not crazy. That half of the country does not speak the same language. For them, saying you’re being lynched is a rude but ultimately fair way to express your frustration.
Consider Senator Lindsay Graham, an alternate defender and denier of the President, who, CBS reports, sided with Trump this morning and said, yes, this impeachment inquiry does resemble a “political lynching.” For these people, this language is normal.
And why shouldn’t it be? If you don’t accept, as Republicans do not, that racism in this country is still systemic and that the use of racist language therefore reinforces those systems of violence and oppression, then you would see no reason why comparing an impeachment inquiry to a lynching, is any worse than comparing an impeachment inquiry to a murder. And, you would go on to think, surely the media wouldn’t be upset if I compared the impeachment inquiry to a murder.
And you would be correct. Whether or not the media is ‘liberal,’ a common accusation, the media has an understanding of language more aligned with the left-wing’s understanding than the right’s. Therefore, Trump saying lynching is newsworthy, but Trump saying, ‘this is a murder,’ would not be.
To state my biases, I agree, in principle, with the mainstream media’s upset over Trump’s language. In defending the President, Hogan Gidley said: “The president’s not comparing what’s happened to him with one of our darkest moments in American history. He’s just not.” If you look at his statement closely, you can see that Gidley’s claim is false. The President is comparing what’s happened to him with one of our darkest moments. He just is. And we should be able to expect better from our head of state.
That said, what the coverage of the lynching tweet misses, I think, is this primary linguistic division between the left and the right. Focusing on the use of ‘lynching’ means not focusing on the context around which Trump tweeted the word. This context was a twitter rant asserting that the Democrats do not have the votes to push the impeachment through, that the impeachment is unfair and unjust.
I can’t believe that I’m calling for a more complex understanding of what Donald Trump was trying to tweet, but I am convinced that to focus on lynching is to lose the rhetorical battle for the country’s soul, even if the media wins, by a technicality, the moral one.
What I mean is this: Trump supporters are not going to be convinced by the media coverage of this latest indiscretion that ‘lynching’ was an inappropriate word for the President to use. That is not going to be the outcome. But they will be convinced by the other parts of the President’s twitter rant that the impeachment is unfair and unjust and not viable. And this seems the more dangerous thing for them to believe.
Trump’s use of the word ‘lynching’ is a verbal sin and does, as the left would contend, work to normalize racist violence—but this country is culturally hemorrhaging and in the media triage, lynching cannot possibly come before the more insidious and potent verbal sins, lies, trojan-horsing behind Trump’s profanity.
The danger, the realest danger, is that Trump convinces the country that his impeachment trial is a fraud, immoral and can’t work. He shouldn’t have said lynching, but he really cannot get away with saying that the impeachment trial is a violation of due process. This is the opposite of the truth. An impeachment trial is the last bastion of due process, the last hope of the Rule of Law against a President who seems intended to destroy it.