Donald Trump’s team defended his authoritarian comments over the weekend by doubling down on dictatorial language, a frightening preview of what could happen if Trump wins the presidency.
During a Veterans Day speech on Saturday, Trump called his political opponents and critics “vermin” and accused them of being a bigger threat to the U.S. than countries such as Russia, China, and North Korea. Historians and researchers were quick to warn that his language was reminiscent of authoritarian leaders including Hitler and Mussolini.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung defended the former president’s comments with some reasonable language of his own.
“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,” Cheung told The Washington Post on Monday.
Cheung later added that he meant to say their “sad, miserable existence” instead of their “entire existence.”
Cheung’s statement is a chilling example of just how extreme Trump has become. His team isn’t even trying to downplay or explain away his authoritarian tendencies. Instead, his team is leaning into it.
During his speech, Trump promised to “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.”
“The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within,” he said.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, warned that Trump is following in Hitler and Mussolini’s footsteps.
“Calling people ‘vermin’ was used effectively by Hitler and Mussolini to dehumanize people and encourage their followers to engage in violence,” she explained to The Washington Post.
Brian Klaas, a political scientist, told MSNBC on Monday that Trump is “lifting not just rhetoric but actual plans from the authoritarian playbook.”
“I study the breakdown of democracy, and I don’t know how to say this more clearly: We are sleepwalking towards authoritarianism,” he said.