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Historians say Trump comparing impeachment to lynching “laughably absurd”

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  • President Donald Trump has racked up a record of stoking racial fault lines for his own gain.
  • Confronted with escalating pressure from impeachment proceedings he’s called “a coup,” Trump added another example of his willingness to employ racial attacks on Tuesday morning.
  • In a tweet, he portrayed himself as the ultimate victim, lashing out at Democrats and describing the constitutional process of impeachment to lynching, an extrajudicial form of murder that killed thousands of black Americans through the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • White communities, particularly in the South, used lynching as an extremely violent tool to wield power over their black populations.
  • Other scholars who have studied the nation’s relationship with race say that Trump’s comments are wildly off the mark, both “deeply offensive” and “laughably absurd.”
  • Depending on the political situation, Trump has indeed cast himself as both the architect behind his administration’s “winning” strategy and the victim of circumstances beyond his control.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump has racked up a record of stoking racial fault lines for his own gain.

Back in July, he engaged in a racist attack and called on four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to the country they came from, even though all were American citizens. He later assailed the majority-black district represented by the late Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings as “a rat and rodent-infested mess.”

Trump has shown no qualms about blatantly appealing to the resentments of white Americans throughout his presidency, a governing approach that separates him from his modern predecessors. Confronted with escalating pressure from impeachment proceedings he’s called “a coup,” Trump added another example of his willingness to employ racial attacks on Tuesday morning.

In a tweet, he portrayed himself as the ultimate victim, lashing out at Democrats and describing the constitutional process of impeachment to lynching, an extrajudicial form of murder that killed thousands of black Americans through the 19th and 20th centuries.

“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching,” Trump said. “But we will WIN!”

The chorus of condemnation among Democrats and Republicans was swift. Lawmakers from both parties blasted the president’s remark, though Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina notably defended Trump, who previously insisted he is “the least racist person you have ever met.”

Read more: Here are all the Republican lawmakers who supported or refused to condemn Trump comparing impeachment to lynching

There’s an agonizing history behind lynching in the United States. Statistics from the NAACP shows there were 4,743 lynchings in the US between 1882 and 1868, with nearly 75% of victims being African-American. White communities, particularly in the South, used lynching as an extremely violent tool to wield power over their black populations.

“Lynching is the sadistic practice of racialized terror for the purpose of social control,” Dr. Ersula Ore, a professor of African-American studies and rhetoric at Arizona State University, wrote in an email. She described lynching as a “culturally understood” way of depriving due process from black Americans.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas famously invoked the term during his confirmation hearings in 1991, assailing the proceedings as “a high-tech lynching” as it dug through allegations of sexual misconduct against him from Anita Hill. It was the last time the term was invoked during a pivotal and high-stakes moment for the nation until now.

“Deeply offensive” and “laughably absurd” 

Other scholars who have studied the nation’s relationship with race say that Trump’s comments are wildly off the mark, both “deeply offensive” and “laughably absurd.”

“It was deeply offensive and it reeks of privilege,” Dr. Andra Gillespie, an Emory University professor of African American history and politics, told Business Insider. “He’s trying to imply that his opposition is a mob who’s going to break the rules to get their way.”

Read more: A growing number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are calling Trump a ‘white supremacist.’ Here’s why

Gillespie said what was “particularly offensive” was “the idea of a very rich, privileged white president invoking the horrors of racial terror he’s never experienced to describe a political crisis that some people would argue is of his own making.”

Dr. Davis Houck, a professor of civil rights history and rhetoric at Florida State University, told Business Insider the comparison “trivializes the history” behind lynching.

“He’s saying a constitutional process constitutes a lynching, which is laughably absurd,” Houck said, adding that Trump is “putting himself in a pantheon of victims, which he loves to do.”

He continued: “It’s ironic, given he loves to play the role of victim and he loves to play the role of the smartest guy in the room.”

Depending on the political situation, Trump has indeed cast himself as both the architect behind his administration’s “winning” strategy and the victim of circumstances beyond his control. During former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s year-long probe into foreign interference in the 2016 election, Trump railed against a “deep state” of operatives within his administration bent on overturning the results.

Read more: More than half of Americans say Trump is racist, including 80% of African-Americans, a new poll found

“This is tweet to deflect,” Houck said, noting Trump is facing growing pressure from a steady stream of congressional testimony supporting allegations his administration withheld a military aid package from Ukraine unless it probed former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Gillespie said that Trump invoking lynching to characterize his situation also represented “an escalation of the language of defensiveness,” and suggested he could continue ratcheting up the fiery rhetoric much like he has throughout his presidency. 

Ore called the comparison “a sloppy and dangerous equivalence,” saying that Trump’s willingness to casually fire off the comparison carries profound consequences for communities of color and broader American society’s attempt to reckon with its painful history.

“It does this at the expense of black life, through the strategic forgetting and misremembering of America’s legacy of lynching, and through the rhetroc of victimage that breaths life in the myth of white innocence in general and presidential guiltlessness in particular,” she said. 

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