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Decoding Donald Trump’s code language

President Donald Trump stops to talk to reporters

President Donald Trump stops to talk to reporters and members of the media as he walks from the Oval Office on Oct. 26, 2018 in Washington. Credit: The Washington Post / Jabin Botsford

The commander of the Twittersphere, Donald Trump, has reduced our political discourse to a series of coded hate messages that might as well be instructions to extremists.

He began his presidential quest with two-word descriptions of opponents: “Crooked Hillary,” “Low-Energy Bush,” “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted.”

Trump’s political attacks eventually grew to several-word slogans that he’s often used just to rally his base: “Lock Her Up,” “Make America Great Again,” and “Fake News.”

Trump uses code words specifically designed to diminish, incite or instigate — terms like “globalist” and “nationalist.” He points to the media “as the enemy of the people,” and to the FBI as “corrupt.” He mentions the MS-13 gang to mean immigrants, and “the caravan” as a threat to the United States.

Let’s stop arguing about whether hate speech leads to hate crimes. It does. Period. The more important questions are:

— What can we do about the slippery slope that led us to neo-Nazis Charlottesville, Virginia, and deadly anti-Semitism in Pittsburgh?

— How do we get the people around Trump to disown the dictionary he has developed and perfected, and avoid repeating his inflammatory language that amounts to a rallying cry for those destined to do us harm?

By the way, day after the deadliest attack on Jews in our nation, Trump though it prudent to take the time to directly attack billionaire liberal activist Tom Steyer, calling him a “crazed and stumbling lunatic.” A day after 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were gunned down.

We may need to give up on trying to get Trump to stop trash-talking. It’s not going to happen. But there are other ways to draw the line.

One way is at the ballot box, where ordinary people can vote down candidates whose rhetoric normalizes violence.

Another way is on social media, where real codes of conduct would not tolerate vile attacks or incitement language that fuels extremists.

Another way is through leadership. We need spiritual, political and academic leaders to rally around the notion that vilifying others by using language designed to create fear, loathing and violence will no longer be tolerated in America. No longer can we reduce our values into little slogans that allow those who want to do carry out attacks on innocents to find cover in words and a safe haven.

Tara D. Sonenshine served as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs 2012 to 2013. She advises students at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.

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