No Donald, This Is Not a Witch Hunt

No Donald, This Is Not a Witch Hunt June 11, 2018

Over the last few months the term “Witch Hunt” has been all over news reports and social media. The man most responsible for its current ubiquity is Donald Trump, who has used it in reference to the Robert Muller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. On his Twitter account Trump rails over and over abut Mueller’s “Witch Hunt”

Witches hanging in England in 1655. From WikiMedia. Public Domain image.

Trump’s use of the term “Witch Hunt” is completely offensive for a variety of reasons. The first is that Trump doesn’t seem to understand what a Witch Hunt is in a political context. According to Merriam-Webster a (political) Witch Hunt is:

“the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (such as political opponents) with unpopular views”

Whatever one thinks of the Mueller Investigation, it has nothing to do with the political views of Trump or his supporters. The investigation is about collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, and whether or not any illegal activity happened as a result. The idea that a hostile foreign power would meddle in our elections is horrifying; it’s something worthy of investigation, and if the President and his staffers are innocent of wrong-doing that will be proven.

As it stands now, there is plenty of evidence that suggests the investigation is worth pursuing. It’s also worth noting that the major players behind the investigation are all Republicans. It’s easy to forget that the Mueller Investigation was begun by Trump’s Department of Justice, and that Mueller (himself a Republican) was picked by a Trump appointee. Former CIA director James Comey is also a Republican. Trump is not the “political opponent” of anyone directly in charge of the investigation.

Torture in 1577. From WikiMedia, public domain

The term Witch Hunt is often used in another way in our society: to indicate a baseless investigation. That’s most likely why Trump repeats “Witch Hunt” and “there was no collusion” like mantras, it’s an attempt to convince his supporters that the Mueller Investigation is a waste of time and will never reveal any wrongdoing. Again, “Witch Hunt” is the incorrect term to use here because so far the Mueller Investigation has resulted in five guilty pleas and eighteen indictments (one came out after the story linked to in this article). Obviously the Mueller investigation has revealed wrong-doing, there’s nothing baseless or un-credible about it at all.

Trump’s use of the term witch hunt is deeply disturbing for another reason: there were (and are) real witch hunts whose end result was/is torture and/or death. Today in Africa witch hunts are an ongoing concern and have result in thousands of deaths dating back to the turn of the century. In the first half of 2017 there were 479 people murdered as a result of mob violence in Tanzania with many of the victims being identified as “witches.” The rise of Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity in Africa (much of it helped along by the dollars of US churches, complete with homophobic and sexist messaging) is responsible for much of the current carnage.

The term “witch hunt” in the Western World often conjures up images of the European and North American witch hunts of the early modern period (let’s say 1400 to 1700 CE, though there were trials for witchcraft into the early 19th Century). It’s worth noting that those Witches were nothing like Trump. In most parts of Europe those accused of Witchcraft were elderly women of limited means, many of them most likely suffering from various forms of mental illness (like dementia). Those in full control of their faculties were often targeted simply for having opinions or breaking social norms (such as being sexual). Trump on the other hand is a self-proclaimed billionaire, and has the advantage of not only being a white male, but of having inherited a very large some of money from his father. In other words Trump has had nearly every advantage one can ask for in American life, while those accused of witchcraft during the witch trials had just the opposite.

Giles Corey being murdered by pressing. From WikiMedia. Public Domain.

Those accused of witchcraft in early modern Europe were often tortured in absolutely horrible ways, something no one is doing to Donald Trump. Practices like “pressing” were used in Europe for centuries. Pressing was a form of torture where heavy rocks were piled on top of the human body in order to extract a confession of witchcraft. The most famous victim of pressing was Giles Corey who died after three days of this torture in Salem Massachusetts. Pressing is only just one of many forms of torture used against witches, there were others even more horrifying. If pressing and other forms of torture weren’t bad enough convicted Witches were often burnt at the stake in places like Germany and Scotland.

Even in countries where torture was allegedly outlawed (such as England) accused witches were tortured just the same. Examinations for “witch marks” were often nothing more than excuses to sexually assault women. In order to extract confessions accused witches were often deprived of sleep for up to 40 hours, and since the “defendants” were generally in charge of feeding themselves and paying their own jail bills, they were often half-starved during interrogations.

If Trump were the actual victim of a witch hunt, he would be the one being sexually assaulted, instead he’s allegedly done the assaulting. Trump and his surrogates are also the ones shaming women for making decisions about their own bodies, something that European torturers would have done to their victims. Trump’s circumstances and actions suggest he’s more “Witch-Finder General” than suffering witch.

Words matter, and any attempt by someone like Trump to somehow compare his plight to that of accused witches then or now should be met with absolute rejection. Trump is no victim.

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