COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two days before the assault on the U.S. Capitol, Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican, said supporters of then-President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud were basically in a “death match with the Democrat Party.”
A day later, right-wing activist Alan Hostetter, a staunch Trump supporter known for railing against California’s virus-inspired stay-at-home orders, urged rallygoers in Washington to “put the fear of God in the cowards, the traitors, the RINOs, the communists of the Democrat Party.”
The shared grammatical construction — incorrect use of the noun “Democrat” as an adjective — was far from the most shocking thing about the two men’s statements. But it identified them as members of the same tribe, conservatives seeking to define the opposition through demeaning language.
Amid bipartisan calls to dial back extreme partisanship following the insurrection, the intentional misuse of “Democrat” as an adjective remains in nearly universal use among Republicans. Propelled by conservative media, it also has caught on with far-right elements that were energized by the Trump presidency.
Academics and partisans disagree on the significance of the word play. Is it a harmless political tactic intended to annoy Republican opponents, or a maliciously subtle vilification of one of America’s two major political parties that further divides the nation?
Thomas Patterson, a political communication professor at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said using “Democrat” as an adjective delivers a “little twist” of the knife with each usage because it irritates Democrats, but sees it as little more than that.
“This is,” he says, “just another piece in a big bubbling kettle of animosities that are out there.”
Others disagree. Purposely mispronouncing the formal name of the Democratic Party and equating it with political ideas that are not democratic goes beyond mere incivility, said Vanessa Beasley, an associate professor of communications at Vanderbilt University who studies presidential rhetoric. She said creating short-hand descriptions of people or groups is a way to dehumanize them.
In short: Language matters.
“The idea is to strip it down to that noun and make it into this blur, so that you can say that these are bad people — and my party, the people who are using the term, are going to be the upholders of democracy,” she said.
To those who see the discussion as an exercise in political correctness, Susan Benesch, executive director of the Dangerous Speech Project, said to look deeper.
“It’s just two little letters — i and c — added to the end of a word, right?” she said. “But the small difference in the two terms, linguistically or grammatically, does not protect against a large difference in meaning and impact of the language.”
During the “Stop the Steal” rallies that emerged to support Trump’s groundless allegations that the 2020 election was stolen from him, the construction was everywhere. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel accused “Democrat…