An Analysis of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the racist rhetoric of Donald Trump
by Abe Rose
(Note: this is an analysis of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and will therefore constitute minor spoilers. Muggle readers beware.)
Fantasy tends to derive a coolness factor for its characters sporting the dark arts. Every now and then on social media, I find clickbait articles like “Top Ten Coolest Minions of Lord Sauron” or surveys like “Which Ancient Sith Lord are You?” I may either be exaggerating or it speaks to the kind of cookies I collect in my browsing. In most fantasy worlds, it is cool to be bad; being a dark lord is as trendy as a marketed fashion at Hot Topic. But not so in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Rowling makes joining the Death Eaters akin to joining the Hitler Youth.
Definitely not the epitome of cool.
Darth Vader and Lord Sauron are ideal costumes for a cosplayer with a hefty budget. If we were to see someone dressed up as Darth, we would nod our heads and say, “Oh cool, destroyer of Alderaan. Deep voice, death-grip, laser sword… pretty nice.” Darth Vader is the equivalent of one of those bad boys with the backwards hat that made smoking look cool in the nineties. Because of the incessant marketing and memorabilia, “Join the Dark Side” has become somewhat of a joke outside of the context of the films.
So why hasn’t joining the Death Eaters become a similar kind of playful joke? Why aren’t the Death Eaters cool to join?
Because they are racist sons-of-bitches, that’s why.
The Wizarding World has a social heirarchy of bloodlines. Those from strictly Wizarding families are given the title of being “pureblood,” whereas someone from a mixed Wizarding-Muggle family would be a “Half-blood.” And a wizard born strictly from regular ol’ Muggles would be given a derogatory term of “Mudblood.” The blood status is a thing of honor for the Malfoys and the Gaunts, even though in order to keep the bloodlines strictly pure, it means that all the pureblood families are all genetically related to each other. They would have to intermarry, and that would encroach upon Game of Thrones territory right there.
In the final book of Harry Potter, Voldemort has taken over the Ministry of Magic. He uses the media outlet The Daily Prophet like a Joseph Goebbels-esque propaganda machine. A new measure is enacted in which all witches and wizards are to be checked for a blood status. Those who fail to meet the pureblood status are subjugated to ridicule, torture, imprisonment, and even death. The echoes of the Jewish treatment in the early days of World War II are quite intentional. The same kind of hateful speech that the Death Eaters use is almost identical to white supremacists pushing an Aryan Supremacist ideology. According to the Muggle-Born Register:
Recent research undertaken by the Department of Mysteries reveals that magic can only be passed from person to person when Wizards reproduce. Where no proven Wizarding ancestry exists, therefore, the so-called Muggle-born is likely to have obtained magical powers by theft or force. The Ministry is determined to root out such usurpers of magical power.(209)
Just weeks before, the Ministry was doing all that it could to defeat Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. But now that the tides have turned, why does the Ministry jump onto the Death Eater bandwagon so quickly? The legislation was crafted by a Ministry member, after all, not a Death Eater.
The pure embodiment of evil.
When Harry, Ron and Hermione travel in disguise to the Ministry, they see for themselves how willing the Ministry is willing to push the anti-muggle agenda. They find a living statute made from naked muggles, men, women and children all twisted and contorted to make a dehumanized symbol of wizard superiority. “MAGIC IS MIGHT.” the plaque reads. You’d almost think that an image like this cannot exist in our real world, that this is strictly a thing of fantasy, but you have to remember that the images of torture from Abu Ghraib prison exist.
The most disturbing thing to me about those Abu Ghraib is the gleeful looks on the faces of the people administering the torture. Thumbs up are given when a naked man is forced to wear women’s underwear over his face. Forced masturbation and forced homosexual acts are met with smiles. The naked pyramids seemed to be the favorite; they laughed at those like they were all drunk at a frat party.
I believe that whenever one group is made to feel superior over others, the worst in humanity will inevitably manifest itself. It does not draw lines of distinction in political or religious terms. Far too many of those “on the good guy’s side” are indistinguishable from the Death Eater. Umbridge, at one point, was fighting the war against Voldemort, but their racist ideologies are almost identical. The same goes for the others in the Ministry. Maybe the real reason why Voldemort’s rise to power was so successful is because a lot of the uneducated wizards sat at home, watched their equivalent of a Wizarding TV, listened to what Voldemort had to say, and went, “Okay, he may be over-the-top in his speech, but he says-it-like-it-is with those Mudbloods. Damn mudbloods takin’ our jobs.”
Maybe Donald Trump actually is right when he said, “I could shoot someone and not lose voters.” I wrongly thought he would be gone by the end of the week of his announcement candidacy speech in which he managed to lose the entire Mexican-American demographic by saying, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we are getting.” It’s not the first time that a politician has used a racial group as a scapegoat for fear and hate-mongering, and sadly, it probably won’t be the last. And for that reason, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows might always be relevant.
There’s something inherently dishonest about the way that the Death Eaters hate Half-bloods and Mudbloods. Some of the most prominent Death Eaters are themselves from mixed families. Snape is a half-blood. And more importantly, so is Voldemort. There was considerable evidence for Hitler being a quarter Jewish. But because they remain on top of the political systems of fear, no one would dare question the bloodlines. If they were to be completely honest, they would have to subjugate themselves to the same cruel treatment that they give to the impure-blooded. The fear and hate of the scapegoat group is a tool to direct an army of followers. When people hate and fear, they tend to stay fixated on those that they deem inferior, not superior. Feeling insecure? Quick, beat up that loser whose at the bottom of the social hierarchy. It’s not surprising to me when the most popular bully turns out to be quite the closet nerd himself.
Hitler believed the pure-blooded Aryan people to be the victim of Jews, gypsies, and outsiders. Trump’s slogan is “Make America Great Again,” which implies that America is not great right now. He blames foreigners, even though, ironically, America is a nation made of foreigners. When clarifying if he would require Muslim Americans to register on a list, he gave an extremely vague answer. Trump even called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. Ask quickly as possible, House Speaker Paul Ryan had to backpeddle the Republican Party away from Trump’s proposed ban: “This is not conservatism.” And Voldemort blames the ills of the Wizarding World on those shifty Muggles and Muggle-borns. These men have inspired their followers by telling them, “You are great, you are perfect, and the problems that you find yourselves in is not your fault, but Group X’s fault.” Blame the immigrant, blame the Jew, blame the Muslim, blame the refugee, blame the poor, blame the gays, blame the half-bloods, blame the mud-bloods, blame the Japanese, blame the Chinese, blame the neighbor, blame the person to your left, to the right. The biggest problem in understanding how to solve the complexities of the world is that they require a high-level education, while understanding how to fear and blame take less than a first grade education.
“People won’t let this happen.” Ron says.
Lupin responds “It is happening, Ron. Muggle-borns are being rounded up as we speak.” (209)
It’s not a great stretch to draw this comparison between the rhetoric of Trump with the rhetoric of Death Eaters. Recently a Trump spokesperson, Katrina Pierson took to Twitter to voice her anti-immigrant stance.
To which J.K. Rowling quickly followed up with:
Accio aquamenti for that BURN.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J. K.Rowling – Mary GrandPré – Arthur A. Levine Books – 2007