The Dehumanization of Immigrants and the Rise of the Extreme Right
The ascendance of the far right has jolted both American and European politics. It has undermined liberal democracy in Hungary and Poland, and threatens it throughout Europe. That ascendance depends on virulent opposition to immigration and immigrants. Opposing immigration is Donald Trump’s lodestar. Anti-immigrant rhetoric defines his central political message. But he is not alone. With the refugee crisis of 2015-16, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) staked its very existence on its opposition to immigrants and thereby rose to become Germany’s third largest party.
For Trump, the AfD, and for other extreme right-wing parties across Europe, the anti-immigrant message is bolstered by the rhetoric of dehumanization. Migrants, e.g., human beings who were born across their borders, are called “congenital criminals, lepers, thieves, unclean,” “garbage,” “animals,” “predators,” “testosterone bombs,” and worse. Dehumanization of others denies them the dignity, consideration, compassion, and empathy that we typically give other people. Dehumanizing language pollutes the debate, blocks solutions to social problems, and can relax our instinctive aversion to aggression and violence.
How have we arrived at this point?