It didn’t take long after Donald Trump pledged to “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country” for Republicans to have their talking point about why language reminiscent of Hitler and Mussolini was not a problem.
”Well, Hillary Clinton called her opponents deplorable at one point, so there’s language on both sides,” Fox News host John Roberts said in response to Juan Williams, a Fox News senior political analyst, bringing up Trump’s comments. Roberts was not alone in making that ludicrous comparison.
”Is that worse than ‘deplorables’? I don’t use that kind of language, but it’s a free country,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told HuffPost. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene went to the same place. “Are you kidding me? After Hillary Clinton called us all deplorables, people are actually offended by that?” she told HuffPost. “She basically said that half of the country was beneath her and beneath everybody else.”
“Deplorable” means “deserving censure or contempt” and “lamentable.” Is it nice? No. But the direct meaning is that deplorable people should be censured, which is not exactly calling for violence. Additionally, Clinton was clear about who specifically she was talking about: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” she said. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.” The remedy she proposed was voting.
Vermin, on the other hand, means “small common harmful or objectionable animals (such as lice or fleas) that are difficult to control” or “an offensive person,” and when you’re saying you will “root out” vermin, you’re speaking in the language of extermination. Again, Hitler and Mussolini said this kind of stuff.
Not all Republicans actively defended Trump by bringing up far milder seven-year-old comments from someone who is no longer a public official or candidate. Others dodged. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told “Meet the Press” host Kristen Welker, “I am not going to comment on candidates and their campaign messaging.” But she went on to suggest a positive view of the situation, adding, “I will say this, I know President Trump supports the veterans, our whole party supports our veterans. And I do think we’re at a very serious moment in our country.” So in translation, I’m not going to comment ... but Trump was just supporting our veterans and making a point about the seriousness of the moment when he called his political opponents vermin and said he’d root them out.
Meanwhile, The New York Times tried to recover from its initial downplaying of the gravity of Trump’s comments. “The former president’s Veterans Day speech used language similar to the dehumanizing rhetoric wielded by dictators like Hitler and Mussolini,” the subhed read on a Day Two kind of story linking Trump's weekend comments to other recent comments in which he’s called for violence against his opponents or echoed Nazi rhetoric. Even in that piece, though—and to be clear, Nazi rhetoric from a major presidential candidate is the first-day headline, not the follow-up article—the Times hedged with, “The former president’s remarks drew criticism from some liberals and historians who pointed to echoes of dehumanizing rhetoric wielded by fascist dictators like Hitler and Benito Mussolini.” You know what? When someone’s comments echo dehumanizing rhetoric wielded by Hitler and Mussolini, everyone should criticize it.