Trump’s Dangerous Rhetoric Of ‘Killing Well’
By Lauren Young
“[Saddam Hussein] was a bad guy, a really bad guy,” Donald Trump told an assembled crowd at a July 5th campaign rally in North Carolina. “But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists.”
These remarks — neither the first, nor the second time Trump has publicly lauded Hussein — were bookended by the fatal shootings of two black men at the hands of law enforcement; Alton Sterling, killed early that morning during a scuffle with police outside a Baton Rouge, LA convenience store, and Philando Castile, from St. Paul, MN, who was shot July 6th during a routine traffic stop.
No sooner had Americans begun processing these deaths than news broke of the murders of five Dallas police officers — Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Patrick Zamarripa, and Lorne Ahrens — at the hands of a sniper. One week later, the world watched in horror as details emerged of the terror attack in Nice, France during the city’s Bastille Day celebrations.
Less than 72 hours after the Nice attack (and hours after the failed coup in Turkey left a staggering 290 dead), three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers, Matthew Gerald, Montrell L. Jackson, of the city’s police department, and sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, were fatally shot with a semi-automatic rifle. The shooter, Gavin Long, seemingly thought to take revenge on law enforcement following Sterling’s death and the subsequent protests that have engulfed Louisiana’s capital. Bavaria, Munich, Kabul, and Ansbuch now join the ever-expanding list of cities around the world coping with dozens killed or injured as a result of violent attacks.
In the wake of these tragedies, Trump’s remarks underscore an alarming attitude that goes beyond a podium in North Carolina — and into all our characters.
There is no such thing as “doing well” when it comes to killing. Killing is not a math exam; there is one possible result and that result is the same no matter what steps it took to get there. Yet, the myriad possibilities by which one arrives at death, whether at the barrel of a gun, the wheel of a car, peacefully in their sleep, in a hospital room, or, like Hussein, in an execution chamber at the end of a rope, is very important depending on their “place” in our respective societal mental maps. No one deserves to suffer, except for those who we think do.
We all participate in “othering,” a cornerstone of cultural studies and the psychosocial process by which a person or group is classified in one’s mind as an “other” different from themselves. Politics largely subsists on this mode of thinking. Nearly every moment of a campaign is devoted to defining why a candidate is better than the “other,” why a candidate’s vision for a country is better than an “other’s,” why a candidate’s supporters are not like those “others” on the other side of the aisle. How many times have we Americans heard someone say they “can’t imagine” who would vote for Trump? Or trust Hillary? Or think Bernie’s policies have a fighting chance?
“Othering” — while deeply fraught and divisive in many capacities — is also integral to our self-image and ability to differentiate as individuals. As a concept, “other” cements our understanding as babies and toddlers that we are not our parents, or dogs (or cats or hamsters or ducks). As we grow, “otherness” enables a child, an adolescent, a teenager, and eventually, an adult to further conceptualize and discover the nuances of their relationship to the world. “Otherness” can be the source of many a scholarly, creative, or altruistic impulse; igniting the desire to explore history, science, study a language, play a character, or volunteer at a homeless shelter. Moreover, “otherness” — a difference in world-views, background, religion, or even music taste — may also supply a source of conversation, growth, and humor with colleagues, friends, and romantic partners.
The dangerous conundrum of “otherness,” of course, is that the same differences that can lead to discovery are — and historically have been — so easily perverted by fear and ignorance. These are the seeds that can spawn a garden of hate, nourishing the thinking that cultivates the sentiment that someone or something different is a threat. Or, at its most pernicious, that someone or something that appears to a be weed must be exterminated.
I believe that we all hate. Hatred is the zenith of otherness’ corrupt form.
Society teaches us — and legislation around the globe reinforces — that “otherness” is dangerous the moment differences make us feel threatened, or suspect we might be. I can’t claim having to contend with the kind of crushing fear and discrimination that accompanies the daily existence of a person of color, or as a member of the LGBTQ community. As a cisgender, straight white woman, I recognize that I am by definition poised in a position of great privilege above the intersecting rings of oppression that run like a road-map across our globe. I can, however, as a woman, feel the weight of my gender, the weight of misogyny upon my shoulders, making me feel smaller, and Othered. I realize I must both acknowledge this weight and my comparable lightness; I must try my damnedest to serve as an ally. I must help lift the weight off “Others” whose knees are buckling.
Popular narratives in global politics and consequent depictions in film, TV, and video-games repeatedly reinforce the triumph interwoven with the annihilation of an “other” by whom we feel threatened in the abstract. In the United States, a government that deplores killings while failing to curb access to deadly weapons, as states spend millions a year to keep prisoners on death row to await execution, compounds this.
As we’ve seen in Dallas, Nice, and in Baton Rouge, sometimes an evil individual should not and cannot be spared in the name of exigency. The actions of police saved the lives of many among the too numerous killed or injured in these attacks at the hands of deeply deranged individuals. In his remarks at the July 12th memorial for the slain officers in Dallas, President Obama reminded us that the deaths of Mr. Sterling, Mr. Castile, and the five officers in Texas are part of the “deepest fault-lines” of American democracy. The deaths of those in Kabul, in Nice, in Dhaka, in Orlando, in Paris, in San Bernardino, and elsewhere are part of the deepest, most revolting fractures of our global community.
How many more “other” people must die?
In the United States, we can begin to answer this question with more aggressive gun control laws. America should strive not only to prohibit the sale of firearms to those suspected of terrorism, and to tightly restrict the public’s access to these weapons, but to follow the example of countries such as Britain, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, and New Zealand where police do not carry guns during routine patrols. Granted, these countries are all significantly smaller and more homogeneous than the United States — and struggle with racism and prejudice — the scale of that institutionalized by American society is unquestionably unique.
Equipped with the proper resources — in our schools, in regards to our presently ineffective and overcrowded penal system, in the face of fear-mongering media — we may begin to systematically erode the vitriol and violence that drives our hatred, our Othering, our ability to take lives so cavalierly.
In the faces of evil we can all mirror decency. We can listen to, observe, peaceably protest, respectfully interrogate, and potentially even embrace some of the array of cultures, views and people that give the world its ability to surprise, to teach, to delight, and to anger.
We can foster hope that we might all might feel uniformly horrified by the notion of killing anyone “well.”
A version of this article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
Lead Image: Flickr / David Lytle