Accusing critics of a 'lynching' is not just a Trump thing

Ed Timms, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's description of his impeachment travails as a "lynching" is by no means the first time a public figure has used that term to attack critics.

But there's one thing Trump, a self-described billionaire who's spoken repeatedly -- if not always accurately -- about his European roots, does not have in common with many who have resorted to the political lynching defense. His ancestors were neither slaves nor descended from free blacks, historically the most frequent targets of mob violence and extrajudicial hangings.

Does comparing a political battle over impeachment, accusations of sexual misconduct or even a criminal indictment trivialize the historic meaning? And how readily should the term be appropriated by white Americans who have no experience with racism and no cultural connection to lynching? Those are among the questions that the president's lynching tweet has prompted.

Whatever the answer to those questions may be, using the term "lynching" in a metaphorical sense -- more often than not -- has involved black public figures. But not exclusively.

Earlier this year, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax alluded to lynchings after he was accused of sexual assault. Fairfax is the descendant of slaves in Virginia and carried the manumission papers -- the documents that freed that ancestor -- with him when he was sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2018.

"I have heard much about anti-lynching on the floor of this very Senate, where people are not given any due process whatsoever, and we rue that," Fairfax said in February. "And yet we stand here in a rush to judgment in nothing but accusations and no facts, and we are deciding we are willing to do the same thing."


Fairfax has denied the accusations. He remains in office.

In response to allegations that R&B singer R. Kelly had mistreated women, his management issued a statement in 2018 asserting that they would "vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture."

And after disgraced entertainer Bill Cosby was convicted on sexual assault charges in 2018, his crisis manager Andrew Wyatt compared the proceedings to a "public lynching." Cosby's wife Camille alleged on Facebook that "unproven accusations evolved into lynch mobs."

Other than Trump, perhaps the most prominent public figure to use the term was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who described the furor over accusations of sexual impropriety that emerged during his confirmation hearing in 1991 as a "high-tech lynching."


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