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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Language has insurmountable power

Language+has+insurmountable+power

Political rhetoric played a role in Pittsburgh shooting

Vice President Mike Pence is flat out wrong in saying that political rhetoric didn’t play a role in the tragic mass shooting in Pittsburgh last week.

When Pence remarked in an NBC interview that  “[he doesn’t] just think you can connect [Trump’s language] to threats or acts of violence” he wasn’t acknowledging the ways in which words have power and are creating a culture.

Regardless of whether the political rhetoric itself is the catalyst for the direct action, the kind of language that President Donald Trump uses shapes and creates spaces where a shooter can formulate the idea and draw confidence in himself enough to enact a heinous hate crime against a group of people.

The shooter who took the lives of 11 innocent people at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was not a Trump supporter. On Gab, a social media network structured in the fashion of Twitter but without any content restrictions, the Pittsburgh shooter criticized President Trump’s relationships with Jewish people. But that doesn’t mean the political climate, one created by political rhetoric, isn’t to blame for the follow-through on the part of the Pittsburgh shooter.

President Trump’s political rhetoric is fast and loose and it is incredibly misguided to assume his words don’t have power.

Since the primaries and two years into his presidency, President Trump has had a very reckless way of speaking. And it is this unhinged rhetoric that provides people the space and the platforms to have and display their own form of unchecked vocalizing. It isn’t the content of the rhetoric itself, but it is the precedent that the rhetoric establishes.

And Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t established a precedent for the idealized “free and open political debate in America where everyone expresses themselves passionately and openly—but also recognizes the difference between passionate debate and acts of violence and evil” that Vice President Pence, when interviewed for NBC, expressed that he wanted.

President Trump’s legacy thus far has illustrated him as a “tell it how it is” kind of politician. He supposedly expresses firm and resolute positions on different political situations, and does so in this accessible way that resonates heavily with his base.

But he also doesn’t have a filter. He says everything that comes to mind and his racist, xenophobic and sexist rhetoric has no fine tuning as to scale back that sentiment.

You can look at any of his rallies. Every time he talked about locking Hilary up or called Mexicans rapists, his rhetoric opened up space for others to do so as well. He is a powerful figure and as the president sets a precedent for how people speak.

And it isn’t even on the campaign trail where Trump’s use of language plays a very important role in the ways in which people communicate. President Trump’s Twitter page speaks volumes to the almost constant cosigning of aggressive language.

Even when you look at his more tame tweets, such as “The United States has been spending Billion of Dollars a year on Illegal Immigration. This will not continue. Democrats must give us the votes to pass strong (but fair) laws. If not, we will be forced to play a much tougher hand,” Trump is simply tweeting about spending on immigration but the phrase “a much tougher hand” denotes a tone that isn’t particularly friendly.

Not outrightly vicious, the language of a “much tougher hand” can still be easily coded as a threat. Regardless of political affiliation, this is the sitting president threatening another political party.

Pence said it himself in the NBC interview, “people on both sides of the aisle use strong language about our political differences,” but Trump is making a threat. Threats are statements used to alienate, strike fear and damage others. This is the kind of rhetoric I’m talking about.

So coupling this unhampered discourse where he lets vaguely racist, xenophobic, ableist and sexist language fly with a propensity for threatening language, a culture forms around this.

It is in this culture that the Pittsburgh shooter finds a forum online to vent his frustrations with, suspicions of and the downright delusional conspiracy theories he has about Jewish people. It is the vaguely violent language and careless vocalizing of a sitting President that allows for the culture to form, regardless of if it was his intent or not.

It is the power that President Trump has inadvertently given to American culture and social media culture that has perpetuated this egregious act against humanity. I only wish this would be a wake up call for President Trump as to the power that he wields as an acting president and a cultural figure.

Language has an insurmountable power and I don’t think our President understands the full scope of change he has created when he posts his newest tweet.

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