Originally published before the election on Cambridge's 'Varsity' website: http://www.varsity.co.uk/culture/11105
“We need to open our eyes. There are over two million illegal immigrants bedding down in this state tonight! This state spent three billion dollars last year, on services for those people who have no right to be here in the first place. Three billion dollars! 400 million dollars just to lock up a bunch of illegal immigrant criminals… Our border policy’s a joke! So, is anybody surprised that south of the border, they’re laughing at us? Laughing at our laws?”
Donald Trump made this speech a few weeks ago at one of his infamous rallies, where black people are spat on and Mexicans are considered the scum of the earth. To rapturous applause from his supporters, Trump went on to talk about “decent, hard-working Americans falling through the cracks” because of “a bunch of people who aren’t even citizens of this country!” Typical Trump, right?
Well, I’m afraid I have a confession to make: this speech wasn’t actually made by Trump. These are the words of Derek Vinyard, the neo-Nazi protagonist of Tony Kaye’s cinematic masterpiece, American History X. The film tells the story of Derek Vinyard’s gradual realisation that the bigoted beliefs he has held for most of his adult life are mistaken. He then tries to prevent his little brother Danny from following in his footsteps and becoming embroiled in the race-related gang-violence that was rife in parts of the US in the 1990s.
The film’s 18th Anniversary falls on the 30th October, and yet it couldn’t be more relevant to our current political climate. We only have to look at Trump’s rabble-rousing rhetoric to see how closely related his sentiments are to the type of white supremacist vitriol that Vinyard preaches during the film.
Trump has branded all Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists; he called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the USA; he refused to rule out special forms of identification for Muslims living in the States; he wavered in his condemnation of a retired KKK leader; he claimed the Chinese made up global warming; he argued that Obama wasn’t a US citizen; the list goes on. And on. And on.
I know what you’re thinking: we’ve heard it all already. Just another article about what a terrible man Trump is and how we should all be very scared. But that Donald Trump and Derek Vinyard espouse almost exactly the same attitudes calls for some more reflection. Before his transformative time in prison, Vinyard believes that white people are intrinsically superior to every other race. He thinks black people are inherently drawn to crime because of the colour of their skin. He has a swastika tattoo and he hates Jewish people.
I’m not trying to say that Trump is sworn to Hitler and that he believes in a supreme Aryan race. He also doesn’t go around trashing Mexican supermarkets and curb-stomping African Americans, as Vinyard does in the film. But the ethnocentric and isolationist parallels, and similar style of rhetoric, between Trump and an imagined character in the realm of American political fiction is cause for concern. It highlights how Trump plays on the same fears and prejudices as neo-Nazi Mein Kampf readers. Many of his supporters are just Vinyards reincarnate, sucking up the predictable patriotic platitudes that spew forth from Trump’s gob as if they’re the words of God.
It’s unlikely that Trump will win the election, and even if he did he’d struggle to get much through Congress. But that’s not the point. Indeed, the parallels between the pair’s rhetoric at the beginning of this article show how most of the damage has already been done. Trump’s campaign has already polluted the political landscape of the States and other countries. Over the last few months, he has succeeded in proliferating his xenophobic and bigoted discourse, espoused with all of the same demagogic rhetorical questions and casual slurs as his fictional counterpart.
Vinyard-esque remarks are now a part of the mainstream. There no longer seems to be a clear divide between white supremacists and the Republican party – their beliefs may not be the same but, as American History X shows, they share a dialogue of hatred and intolerance. Racial slurs and sexist insults now seem acceptable in the political arena, and if Trump does somehow win on the 8th, they may even become the norm.
Worryingly, it’s not just trump. The Kippers spread the same sort of racial hatred. Andre Lampitt, the star of UKIP’s European Election TV campaign, once said that “most Nigerians are generally bad people”. Joseph Quirk, a former UKIP candidate, said he reckons dogs are “more intelligent, better company and certainly better behaved than Muslims”. This is the party that 3.9 million people voted for in 2015.
And so it seems the important message of American History X, that “hate is baggage” and that “life’s too short to be pissed off all the time”, has been forgotten by many. The politics of division are thriving across the world, and we will all suffer for it.