It’s easy to caricaturize a living, breathing caricature, which is why Donald Trump impersonations are so simple to do. Just pucker your lips, exude insecurity, whine about the media, and boast that you grab women by the genitals. Oh, and don’t forget to talk about “the blacks,” “the Hispanics” and “the Muslims,” and how much they all love you. Because why shout “I’m a racist” explicitly when you can let more subtle language do the talking for you?
“I have a great relationship with the blacks,” Trump said back in 2011, a statement that wasn’t true then and is comically off-base now. “I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.”
“We’re going to have great relationships with the Hispanics,” he said after an Indiana primary win in February. “The Hispanics have been so incredible to me.”
Trump’s use of the definite article—“the”—in discussing racial and religious minorities, and other historically marginalized groups, tells us all we need to know about how he views them. It’s a rhetorical way of separating “us” from “them,” a clear means of dividing the “regular” white people from all “the others.”
“I love the Muslims,” Trump told CNN last year—which… give us an effing break already. “I think they’re great people.”
Writing at Quartz, linguist Lynne Murphy takes apart Trump’s use of “the” when speaking of black people and others, noting that it turns groups of individuals into faceless monoliths. Consider it a sort of stripping away of humanity that turns millions of people who happen to share some common traits into an “undifferentiated whole.”
“‘The’ makes the group seem like it’s a large, uniform mass, rather than a diverse group of individuals,” Murphy writes. “This is the key to ‘othering’: treating people from another group as less human than one’s own group. The Nazis did it when they talked about die Juden (‘the Jews’). Homophobes do it when they talk about ‘the gays.’”
(For example, homophobe Donald Trump, just days after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, told a crowd, “Ask the gays what they think and what they do, in, not only Saudi Arabia, but many of these countries, and then you tell me: Who’s your friend, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?”)
“There’s this distancing effect, like they’re over there,” Eric Acton, a linguist at Eastern Michigan University, told Business Insider. “They’re signaling they’re not part of it—they’re distancing themselves from it.”
“It’s drawing a circle around a certain group of people,” University of Toronto linguist Sali Tagliamonte told the outlet. “It’s a very straight-jacketing kind of expression. It’s a very delineating thing that could make members of that group think they’re being pigeonholed.”
Atlantic contributor David A. Graham notes that when Trump speaks to his base—which is almost solely white—he dispenses with “the” and talks in terms of “we.” He tells crowds, “We’re going to make America great again.” At the RNC, he opened his speech by stating, “We’re gonna win, we’re gonna win so big!” At a rally last week in Pennsylvania, he told the assembled faithful, “We’re going to beat the system, and we’re going to un-rig the system.” Graham points to this quote, which is just bursting with “we”:
“We’re going to bring back our jobs, and we’re going to save our jobs, and people are going to have great jobs again, and this country, which is very, very divided in so many different ways, is going to become one beautiful loving country, and we’re going to love each other, we’re going to cherish each other and take care of each other, and we’re going to have great economic development and we’re not going to let other countries take it away from us, because that’s what’s been happening for far too many years and we’re not going to do it anymore.”
“Part of Trump’s rhetorical power is his supercharged used of ‘we,’ a method that persuades people across the country that they are part of a larger movement, and somehow share with Trump his aura of wealth and luxury. (It’s the same technique he’s used to sell real estate for years.),” Graham writes. But when Trump refers to minorities not as “we” but “the,” it’s an indicator “that for Trump, blacks and Hispanics aren’t part of ‘we’—’they’ constitute separate groups.”
It also shows that when Trump talks about “the blacks” and “the gays” and “the Muslims,” he isn’t really talking to those groups. He’s talking to “us”—the angry, minority-mistrusting whites who make up his base.
“Also, when Trump describes any group of people, he always describes them as if their name was a category on a PornTube site,” Desus Nice, one half of the comedy duo behind the podcast Bodega Boys, told Buzzfeed.
Murphy notes that when Hillary Clinton uses the definite article, she does so in a completely dissimilar fashion. “The difference is that when Clinton talks about the Russians, the Syrians, the Iranians, and the Kurds, she’s talking about governments or military groups, not everyone of that particular nationality.”
The Internet has, of course, noticed Trump’s racist phrasing, to go along with all the other racist aspects of his campaign. #TheAfricanAmericans hashtag, and related tweets, appeared on Twitter to point out how ridiculous the term sounds every time it leaves Trump’s mouth.
At some point along the way in his campaign, someone on Donald Trump’s team seems to have given him a little advice on this. But it was the wrong advice. Now, instead of dropping “the” before he discusses the abysmal lives and futures of minorities—because Trump would have us believe minorities live in hellscapes where rainy days mean bullets are falling from the sky—the candidate has switched out “African American” for “black” and “Latino” for “Hispanic,” presumably because he thinks it’s more respectful.
“They have no education, they have no jobs,” Trump said at the end of Wednesday night’s debate. “I will do more for African Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes. All she has done is talk to the African Americans and to the Latinos.”
Maybe you should talk to some of the African Americans and the Latinos, Trump. They’d tell you that you’re still getting it terribly, offensively wrong.
Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
Photo: A person holds a sign reading ‘Latinos for Trump’ on the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri