David Livingstone Smith’s ‘Dehumanisation’ thesis includes the following: 

  1. “One common misconception of my position on dehumanization is that when one dehumanizes others one conceives of them as less than fully human. My position is that when one dehumanizes others, one sees them as wholly human AND wholly subhuman”
  1. “A second common misconception is that dehumanization is a failure to recognize the the humanity of others. My position is that dehumanization is a ‘motivated state of mind’”. 
  1. “A third common misconception is that dehumanization causes hostility. My view is that hostility causes dehumanization”
  1. “A fourth common misconception is that dehumanization is necessary for atrocity. My view is that dehumanization is neither necessary nor sufficient for atrocity”.

So let us be clear, the target group can be discussed in both human and non human terms (Hispanics/Mexicans as well as rats or invading parasites) motivated by fears (about jobs and threat to white America) and that this hostility and fear can lead to further dehumanisation. Hostile behaviour occurs regardless of whether the target group is dehumanised. 

Quiñonez (2018) in an MA thesis called ‘(Un)Welcome to America: A critical discourse analysis of anti-immigrant rhetoric in Trump’s speeches and conservative mainstream media’ argued:

“U.S. President Donald Trump and conservative news media outlets contribute to a national narrative of xenophobia that frames immigrants, particularly those of color, as parasitic and dangerous to the American way of life. Through this study, I assert that the use of demagogic and dehumanizing language along with more subtle discursive strategies, such as positive representation of ‘us’, negative representation of ‘them,’ and metaphorical constructions are being used to stoke fear and antiimmigrant sentiment and to strip individuals of their humanity for the purpose of rendering them unworthy of dignity and of the same rights and benefits as those to which groups considered insiders and ‘real Americans’ are entitled.”

So, it appears that if a President is already hostile to certain groups of people, for example fearing they are ‘invading’ meriting a military response, while he also calls them rapists and drug smugglers’; that he is motivated to see them that way due to any number of antecedents which might include white supremacist ideology (while publicly denouncing it), economic nationalism, or appeals to a racist base (Hooghe and Dassonneville 2018); and in which he can simultaneously recognise the humanity of certain ethnic groups while also allowing a call to ‘shoot them’ to be met with a merely a quip…. 

If the above is true…atrocity can surely follow without going the full road to dehumanisation? 

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash