Caution, words carry meaning

Lirona Joshi

Staff Writer

Ever since being elected into the office, the President of the United States (POTUS) has used the rhetorical phrase “witch hunt” to refer to any efforts made to investigate the legitimacy of his presidency. The phrase had been made almost synonymous to the Robert Mueller probe into the Russian interference in the 2016 election and has most recently been used to describe the impeachment proceedings.

Previously, the President’s use of simple language void of political jargon in his speeches has made it easier for the general audience to understand a lot of the political processes. 

However, the frequent use of terms that trace back to historical suppression of minorities hints at a more morbid reality of appropriating victimhood by the President.

President Trump tends to refer to the persecution of minorities only when he himself is being attacked. However, no matter how the POTUS feels about the challenges and attacks he continually seems to attract in his political crusade, his use of rhetoric linked to abhorrent suppressions is derogating the plight historically faced by these groups.

Witch hunt, although having dispersed origins, in historical context, is used to refer to the public execution of individuals on the grounds of accusations of practicing witchcraft. 

From the early Middle Age to the 18th century European and colonial North American prosecutions, witch hunts were targeted at minority groups with individuals from lower economic classes of European societies and especially women. 

A 2001 book asserted that a “typical witch was the wife or widow of an agricultural laborer or small tenant farmer, and she was well known for a quarrelsome and aggressive nature.” 

The idea was a group of vigilantes taking legality in their own hands using methods like live burning of individuals either on the belief of them practicing witchcraft or any obscure allegation with an ulterior motive. 

Yes, English is an artsy language where words can be metaphorical and symbolic. However, connoting a rival’s political action that by all means is a legal democratic procedure to an act that was a mob rule that resulted in death of thousands of innocent individuals usually without any fair trials is an alarming attempt by the President to both downplay the graveness of the actual event, and then again a pitiful one to garner sympathy.

For individuals who say, “Well, why so much fuss? It is just a word,” let’s talk about the offhanded use of the word lynching. POTUS, in his tweet from Oct. 22, wrote, “…All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!” 

Lynching, by definition, is a premeditated extrajudicial killing by a group. 

For the United States, this word especially strikes a nerve because of its close association with suppression of African Americans and other minority communities for decades. 

Most of these killings occurred without any fair trial for the accused who were targeted based on their skin color. People were hanged and tortured till death in front of an audience. 

According to the Tuskegee Institute, 4,743 people were killed between 1882 and 1968. The POTUS compares this inhumane killing, which by the way, occurred the last time as late as 198, where today individuals whose grandparents and parents had to witness this are still alive, to a political process that is by all means ratified by the democratic constitution.

Yes, the President might find the humdrum surrounding his tenure unnerving and maybe unfair on himself. But the use of words like lynching and witch hunt for his political inconveniences undermines the years of struggle of injustice people of color and women had to go through. These events, although in history, have had a significant impact in shaping the suffrage movements of these groups. 

The phrase “witch hunt” and the word “lynching” are not just blotches in Western history; they were the shackles that minorities had to break through to gain equal rights as human beings. 

Every time the POTUS or any other politician loosely uses the oppressive terms to denote a political inconvenience they face, they are not only appropriating the harrowing acts but are also undermining the graveness and thoughtfulness we should be remembering the minority suffrages with.

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