Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies

First Advisor

Judah Schept

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Second Advisor

William McClanahan

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Third Advisor

Scott A. Hunt

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies


From mass shootings targeting specific ethnic, racial and religious communities to detention centers for immigrant children, it is imperative to ask of such violent contemporary phenomena: "how did we get here? How is this possible in a place like the United States?" The purpose of this study is to begin to address such questions by analyzing the historical legacy of dehumanizing narratives towards immigrants, and by querying how that history may shape and inform contemporary manifestations, illustrated by the rhetoric stemming from the Trump administration. Examining examples of such rhetoric through ethnographic content analysis of President Trump’s speeches and social media posts, this study ultimately finds that the president relies on the same dehumanizing tropes and myths regarding non-white people-groups, particularly immigrants, that have long-circulated in the United States. This dehumanization is instrumental to several purposes, including leading to increased profit for the companies that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the provision of political scapegoats in times of crisis; and the upholding of symbolic power to a white majority. This last purpose can be seen in the various historical attempts by elites to curate a white-majority nation for the sake of power in numbers and is part of a broader (white) nationalistic approach by the administration. Adding to the established literature, this thesis also proposes that such racialization within capitalism is a way of safeguarding those considered to be in power from the dehumanizing labor necessary to capitalism. Non-whites, and eventually poor whites, are pushed to those places of dehumanizing labor within society, in order for the whole system to survive. Although the purposes this dehumanization serve might seem to be at odds with each other at times, the push for the survival of the socioeconomic system triumphs over its internal contradictions.