Former president Donald Trump denigrated his domestic opponents and critics during a Veterans Day speech Saturday, calling those on the other side of the aisle “vermin” and suggesting that they pose a greater threat to the United States than countries such as Russia, China or North Korea. That language is drawing rebuke from historians, who compared it to that of authoritarian leaders.
“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Trump said toward the end of his speech, repeating his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”
Trump went on further to state: “the threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within. Because if you have a capable, competent, smart, tough leader, Russia, China, North Korea, they’re not going to want to play with us.”
The former president’s speech in Claremont, N.H., echoed his message of vengeance and grievance, as he called himself a “very proud election denier” and decried his legal entanglements, once again attacking the judge in a New York civil trial and re-upping his attacks on special counsel Jack Smith. In the speech, Trump once again portrayed himself as a victim of a political system that is out to get him and his supporters.
Yet Trump’s use of the word “vermin” both in his speech and in a Truth Social post on Saturday drew particular backlash.
“The language is the language that dictators use to instill fear,” said Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “When you dehumanize an opponent, you strip them of their constitutional rights to participate securely in a democracy because you’re saying they’re not human. That’s what dictators do.”
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, said in an email to The Washington Post that “calling people 'vermin’ was used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence.
“Trump is also using projection: note that he mentions all kinds of authoritarians ‘communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left’ to set himself up as the deliverer of freedom,” Ben-Ghiat said. “Mussolini promised freedom to his people too and then declared dictatorship.”
Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, told The Post “those who try to make that ridiculous assertion are clearly snowflakes grasping for anything because they are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”