On Tuesday, President (for now) Donald Trump spewed a hyperbolic denunciation of Nancy Pelosi and the impeachment proceedings in the form of a six-page letter. In his letter, Trump took on two roles: the hero and the victim. He threatened those who have dared to disagree with him. Simultaneously, he is victimizing himself assuming the self-proclaimed role of great American martyr. “There are not many people who could have taken the punishment inflicted during this period of time, and yet done so much for the success of America and its citizens,” Trump wrote.
Perhaps his most contentious comment, though, is comparing the impeachment investigation to a “witch hunt,” which is both an insult to the countless people attempting to find transparency in Trump’s actions and to all witches real and fictional.
This isn’t the first time Trump has attempted to weaponize the term “witch hunt.” Since taking office, Trump has included the term over 120 times on Twitter alone, reports Vox. It has arguably become one of his go-to phrases to deflect criticism and mobilize his voter base. And this week, he went so far as to compare his impeachment proceedings to a historic witch hunt. “More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials,” Trump wrote in his letter to Pelosi.
Trump’s diatribe has already been fact-checked, but there are two elements (witchy enough?) that illustrate why Trump was given way more due process than those prosecuted during the Salem witch trials: quality and quantity — of evidence, and the societal position of the victims, that is.
During the Salem witch trials, “witches” were accused often based on nothing more than what was known as “spectral evidence” which is when a witness had a dream or apparition the accused engaged in witchcraft. That was admissible in court! Someone could say that had a dream that their neighbor cast a spell and that was enough for a trial that could result in the death penalty.
The purpose of these witch hunts though was quite clear: they largely singled out women who did not conform to rigid, societally enforced gender roles. It was gender-based violence at its core. They had little to no rights even before they were accused, and not to mention, they were innocent. In all of the witch trials, no one was ever actually proven to be a witch.
Meanwhile, the evidence against Trump is extensive. Some of the most compelling evidence comes directly from people who worked in his administration, and the societal position of the victims in real witch hunts compared to Trump’s perceived witch hunt are vastly different as well. In the Salem Witch Trials, 14 women and five men were accused; however, in the European and Russian witch hunts, 80 to 100 percent of the accused were women.
But the political use of the term “witch hunt” wasn’t necessarily coined by Trump. After World War II, it was used to describe anti-communist sentiments and the worry espoused by many political elites that communists not only walked among us but were a danger to society, which, doesn’t really do him any favors. Known as the “Red Scare,” this inspired sweeping efforts to weed out anyone expressing communist sentiments not only from the U.S. government but from the entertainment industry, organized labor, and higher education as well.
This was called a witch hunt, and this movement also had a gender-bias. Lead by Senator Joseph McCarthy, anti-communist witch hunts disproportionally targeted women. Markers such as keeping your maiden name, holding a high-paying job after getting married, and having a “dominant personality” were all used as grounds for suspicion of communist sympathizing. Unsurprisingly, all of these markers shirked the traditional gender roles of the time. And just like the witch hunts centuries earlier, of the countless people investigated, few were proven to actually hold communist beliefs.
Trump’s hypocrisy in weaponizing the term and attempting to play the victim using the Salem Witch Trials as justification is not lost on the Mayor of Salem, Massachusetts, Kim Driscoll. She responded to Trump’s letter by saying that he needed to “learn some history.” Driscoll tweeted a brief side-by-side comparison of the two situations. When stated that plainly, the lack of similarities becomes even more glaringly obvious.
Oy vey…again— Kim Driscoll (@MayorDriscoll) December 17, 2019
Learn some history:
1) Salem 1692 = absence of evidence+powerless, innocent victims were hanged or pressed to death
2)#Ukrainegate 2019 = ample evidence, admissions of wrongdoing+perpetrators are among the most powerful+privileged
Kim Driscoll, Mayor of Salem, MA https://t.co/AFR14jLktU
Investigation proceedings continue today with a vote in the House that is expected to result in Trump’s impeachment. Perhaps while he waits for the results, he could watch a documentary or listen to a podcast about what actually happened during the witch trials for future reference.
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