8 December 2016

Prof Jennifer Saul on Trump and How Hate is Normalized

Donald trump waving in front of an american flag

The Philosopher's Magazine has solicited a collection of short articles by philosophers reflecting on the election of Donald Trump. Professor Jennifer Saul has contributed 'How Hate is Normalized'. Jennifer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield and is currently researching racism in political speech.

How Hate is Normalized

This article is forthcoming in The Philosophers' Magazine

In the very few weeks since Donald Trump won the 2016 election, a great deal has already happened that is terrifying to those who care about racial justice (as well as to many others, but the racial issues are my focus here). Trump has appointed a white supremacist and anti-semite, Steve Bannon, as his top advisor. He has nominated Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, a man so obviously racist that Reagan-era Republicans rejected him for a judgeship. And a wave of racial hate crimes is sweeping the nation, including violence, harassment and threats of violence. Nazis are convening celebratory gatherings, and the KKK is holding victory marches. My facebook feed is filling with friends whose small children have been racially abused by their classmates. The people being put in power at the top have clear racist agendas, and the culture is changing rapidly from the bottom up to support these agendas.

Some hold out the hope that such extreme actions right at the start will doom Trump’s administration: Americans will see this as the horror it is, and that will make it easier to fight. I hope this is right, but I fear that it isn’t. The Nazis and the hate crimes are not just terrible in themselves, but extremely useful for Trump, and for his efforts to implement racist and authoritarian policies.

When Trump offers a lukewarm denunciation of some of the hate crimes (which he has now done), this serves as what I have called a ‘figleaf’—it provides just enough cover that those looking for a way to deny the racism will have what they need. Already we have seen him praised for this belated, half-hearted condemnation, one very much at odds with the choice of Bannon and Sessions. And if people accept that this means Trump isn’t racist, then they are accepting that it isn’t racist to appoint someone who runs a white supremacist website (Bannon), or someone who even the right could see was racist back in the 1980s (Sessions). The Nazis and KKK, and all the coverage they are getting, are also very useful to the project of denying the racism of Trump and his administration. Why? Because the more we hear about people giving actual Hitler salutes, the more moderate it will seem to “merely” set up a registry for Muslims, or to build a wall on the Mexican border. This is how hate becomes normalized. And we need to be alert to it.

More articles by Jennifer Saul

Video: Racism in the 2016 Election: How does Trump get away with it?

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