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 posed 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’s 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.”
Trump also received widespread criticism and condemnation recently from groups such as the Anti-Defamation League for saying in an interview that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest Hispanic civil rights group in the country, said at the time that Trump’s comments about blood indicate his language is “getting more extreme,” comparing it to Nazi propaganda about Jewish people.
Trump’s divisive rhetoric comes as he remains the clear polling leader in the dwindling GOP primary field and as he and his allies have already started to plot ways for the federal government to punish his critics and opponents should he win back the White House next November. The Post recently reported that Trump — who faces 91 charges across four criminal cases — is naming the people he wants to investigate and prosecute, and his associates are drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office, which would allow him to deploy the military in response to civil demonstrations.
In addition to attacking the “radical left,” he also spent part of the New Hampshire speech lashing out at a New York judge overseeing his civil fraud case, calling New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) a “disaster” and reiterating his descriptions of Smith as “deranged.” Smith has brought two indictments against Trump: one in a case charging Trump with illegally hoarding classified documents and the other alleging he sought to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power by seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“The Trump-hating prosecutor in the case, his wife and family despise me much more than he does and I think he’s about a ten,” he said. “They’re about a 15, on a scale of ten. … He’s a disgrace to America.”