Over the past month, the president of the United States has had what amounts to a breakdown on Twitter, launching half-cocked screeds and wild accusations by the minute. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump somehow pushed his own rhetorical limits, describing himself in a tweet as the victim of “a lynching” by Democrats in the impeachment probe. It’s hard to fathom what’s going on in Trump’s brain at any given moment, but his reliance on ever-so-slightly coded racial language to mean exactly what you think he means has been one of Trump’s most reliable and most straightforward rhetorical and political devices.
Throughout his presidency, whether it’s declaring equivalence in Charlottesville or classifying “shithole countries” or dehumanizing immigrants, Trump has repeatedly diminished the experiences of minorities in America to stoke a sense of white grievance—often his own. That sense of victimhood, no matter how far-fetched, serves Trump’s political, and electoral, interests, and Trump’s appropriation of “lynching” is no different. Whether or not Trump knows or understands the history of the act of lynching in America—the continued violent manifestation of racism in the form of extrajudicial murders of black Americans at the hands of white Americans—is unknowable. What is clear, however, is that Trump instinctively retreats to coded and often outright racist language when it benefits him, as a point of division or distraction—or both.