On February 23rd 2018, President Trump addressed CPAC (The Conservative Political Action Conference). He put aside his written remarks again and spoke extemporaneously for seventy-five minutes on other issues, including immigration. During that part of his talk, he once more told the story that has become his recurring parable on immigration, one he used on the campaign trail in 2016.
Essentially, it tells the tale of a woman who has pity on a snake she finds in distress. She nurses it back to health, shows compassion and even embraces it. During the embrace, it bites her and as she is dying, she asks “Why?” As Trump told it, the snake answers: “Oh, shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin. “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” He continued, “And that’s what we’re doing with our country, folks. We’re letting people in. And it is going to be a lot of trouble. It is only getting worse. But we’re giving you protection like never before.”
What is that protection? A wall, to keep “them” out and “us” in? (In this, The Handmaid’s Tale is prophetic.) Deportation of those who were born before their parents brought them to the U.S.? A media that follows the Trump’s lead in stereotyping immigrants and refugees from the Latin America and other places as illegal aliens, drug dealers, rapists, gang members and terrorists?
Dr. Gregory Stanton, a sociologist and president of Genocide Watch, has researched the topic of genocide for a number of years. He detected ten stages in society’s moving towards genocide.Of course not all groups, nations or societies where violence occurs go through all of the stages and end in genocide. Intervention by bystanders, within and outside of the culture, during crucial stages can prevent this. Furthermore, the stages are much like the stages of grief Dr. Kubler-Ross detected during her research on dying: They are not linear, but intermittent. People, groups and nations can pass and re-pass through them again and again, even during the stages of persecution and extermination.
What is of interest here is Stanton’s fourth stage, “dehumanization.” It involves the use of language to remove the humanity of the victims and encourage those who would attack them to destroy them because they are vile, dirty and “sneaky.” Dr. Stanton says, “One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder.” The Nazis categorized the Jews as vermin and rats during the Shoah and used the media of the time very effectively to do this. It convinced people that it was their duty to ostracize the Jews, and even to kill them. Prior to and during the Rwandan Genocide which killed between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi, the (Hutu) government supported Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) in its continual broadcast of demeaning, derogatory and dehumanizing language called the Tutsi “cockroaches” (inyenzi) and “snakes” (inkoza). As Dr. Stanton puts it, “Inyenzi was only one of the names used to equate Tutsi with animals deserving of death. There was also inzoka (snakes) which again evoked the notion of vile, sneaky and dangerous.“
My blood chills at the notion, but I think we have sufficient reason, with the resurgence of the neo-Nazi groups and the rise of a demagogic media, to ask ourselves if the United States is not headed down the road to becoming a genocidal culture, society and nation? We might think our institutions and values will keep us safe, but will they? Not if the “President” continues to weaken them each day and multiple times a day in 20 words or less using Twitter.
There comes a moment in the list of Stanton’s stages, when the leader of the genocidal nation puts aside civil rights and even asks for a change in the constitution of the nation to prolong what he sees is his work for “the good” of the citizens. Trump just suggested that as part of his agenda during a fundraiser where he mentioned the efforts in China to remove term limits for his great friend, President Xi Jiping. He actually said, “Maybe we’ll give it a shot someday!” to the approval of the crowd. Dr. Stanton’s research, as well as the work of the respected holocaust survivor and psychologist, Dr. Erwin Staub have outlined what we can expect next (Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict and Terrorism, Oxford University Press; July 15, 2013).
There is one last thing that I find terribly disturbing in Trump’s parable. While the film industry, educational institutions, major corporations and even the legislative branches of the federal and state governments have been forced to review their views and policies on their image and treatment of women, the reference in the CPAC speech shows that the latest advances in changing the mind of our patriarchal society have not yet affected the executive branch of the United States. If we look closely at the parable Trump used, it is clear that he has forgotten (or never knew) that the term “snake” is one that connotes vile and sneaky and the word “serpent,” conveys a completely different world of meaning: feminine power, wisdom, knowledge, and even the divine.
Alexander the Great (whose sexuality patriarchy often forgets was very fluid) was strongly attached to and influenced by Olympias his mother. She was one of the most powerful women in the ancient world who “knew” in a carnal way the God Apollo in the form of a serpent and was convinced that her child was a demi-God. She had such power that she was the only woman to attend Phillip II of Macedonia’s council meetings. A woman who had her say and was listened to in Ancient Greece had to be powerful. The serpent, when associated with a woman, denotes strength and wisdom.
To call a woman “silly” when she shows compassion and love to a serpent and is so courageous as to handle it forgets centuries of wisdom, and instead attempts to demean the power of both woman and serpent. I am amazed that the women who were in the audience at CPAC applauded and cheered the parable and its application. I am appalled that they overlooked the context and vocabulary of the parable. It renders the woman “silly” and “stupid,” not compassionate and powerful. She “stupidly” let the snake (here the image of penis) bite (penetrate) her. She was “put in her place” which, in the mind of the teller, is that of a submissive plaything for man, ready to do whatever she is told and follow him into whichever chaos he wants to lead her. How can we continue to ignore the obvious? We are being led down the road to genocide.
Fr. Guillermo C. Garcia, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Religious Studies Department at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. His specific interests in research are the psychology and sociology of violence, war and genocide and their effects on women and children; the rights and safety of LGBT+ citizens in the U.S. and in other nations; the various means of healing from trauma and moral injury. Fr. Garcia is an alumnus of the Catholic University of Louvain (K.U.L.) He commuted between the U.S. and Belgium for twenty-three years and frequently visited the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1974 and 2001.
https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/23/17044760/transcript-trump-cpac-speech-snake-mccainHe may have gotten it from “Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie (Gonzo Papers vol. 4) by Hunter S. Thompson or another source.
 Healy and Haberman, “95,000 Words”; Joe Klein, “Trump – The Incoherent Demagogue,” Time, January 10, 2016, http://time.com/4174328/donald-trump-thoughts-politician/
 Stanton, Dr. Gregory, The Ten Stages of Genocide, Genocide Watch, http://www.genocidewatch.org/genocide/8stagesofgenocide.html
Ndahiro, Kennedy, Dehumanisation: How Tutsis were reduced to cockroaches, snakes to be killed, March 13, 2014, re-published in The New Times, Rwanda, February 27, 2017. http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/73836
Witcombe, C. “Eve and the Identity of Women” http://witcombe.sbc.edu/eve-women/serpents.html