Donald Trump has used the phrase “witch hunt” so often in recent months that the term has lost its potency. Trump casually tosses the term around via Twitter with frequency. His references to Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia as a witch hunt appear to have accomplished Trump’s apparent goal of diminishing the legitimacy of the investigation – at least to his supporters.
Of Trump’s supporters, 51 percent disapprove of the Mueller investigation, and just 43 percent support it. Overall, 69 percent of Americans support the Mueller investigation.
The modern definition of a witch hunt is “an attempt to find and punish a particular group of people who are being blamed for something, often simply because of their opinions and not because they have actually done anything wrong,” according to the Collins Dictionary.
The origins of the term, of course, harken back to the days of the Salem witch trials. Today, people are fond of applying the term “witch hunt” hyperbolically when they feel – or want to appear – wrongly targeted or scrutinized, even if the application of the term is ridiculous and has no real parallel.
In the 1692 Salem Village witch hunt, those who were accused of witchcraft were held without a fair investigation. Nineteen accused people were hanged, and one was crushed to death. Their “guilt” was based on hearsay and mass hysteria, and little or no real evidence. Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt,” on the other hand, has been a year-long, careful endeavor, aimed at finding facts and amassing solid evidence.
“…Trump comparing the investigation into his campaign to a crisis that left 20 people dead in the 17th century is clearly ridiculous — there is much more evidence in the criminal indictments, the court-sanctioned wiretaps, and the consensus of Republican and Democratic investigators for Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election than there is for witchcraft — and rather unsavory,” write Dylan Scott and Tara Isabella Burton, of Vox.
In 17th-century Salem Village, the (mostly) women who were charged did not have the option to loudly undercut their accusers. They had no support; those who might have supported them lived in fear of being accused themselves. Regarding Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt,” on the other hand, Trump feels free to speak and tweet his opinion.
“You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!” Trump tweeted on June 15, 2017.
“It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!” tweeted Trump on May 1, 2018.
“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” he tweeted on May 18, 2018.
“We’ve turned the expression on its head. Traditionally a witchcraft charge amounted to powerful men charging powerless women with a phony crime. Now it is powerful men screeching that they are being charged with phony crimes,” says Stacey Schiff, author of The Witches, a book about the Salem witch trials.
Hyperbole, though, is Donald Trump’s style. Misappropriation of terms is a Trump hallmark, as is good old-fashioned gaslighting. But to Trump’s supporters, the more often he tosses out the phrase “witch hunt” in a tweet, the more they see the idea as truth.
Donald Trump’s ‘Witch Hunt’ | HuffPost [2018-04-11]
Trump slams Mueller probe calling it a ‘witch hunt’ | Fox Business [2018-03-19]