Politicians like to throw out the word lynching when they or someone they support is in hot water.

The problem is that it makes it seem as though racially motivated killings are a thing of the past. Lynchings survived the Jim Crow era and continue to evolve. Today, we call them hate crimes.

The last officially recorded lynching occurred in Mobile, Alabama, in 1981. Michael Donald, a 19-year-old technical college student, was beaten and killed by a group of Ku Klux Klansmen who then hung his body from a tree. In 1998, a group of self-proclaimed white supremacists tied James Byrd to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him for a mile and a half down a rural dirt road in Texas, eventually ripping his head from his body.

That was not a lynching in the traditional sense of the word. There were no crowds of white people standing around cheering as life drained from the body of a black person hanging from a tree.

What happened to Byrd — a 49-year-old black man who was abducted while walking home from a party in Jasper, Texas, was a modern-day lynching. His murder proved that the belief among some whites that they had the moral right to kill a black man, woman or child simply because they could had not vanished.

These days, white Americans are more likely to take a stand against such acts of evil. And those who commit these acts of violence are less likely to get away with them.

Now it appears that President Donald Trump thinks he's being lynched.

"So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!" he tweeted Tuesday.

The concept of Trump being lynched is so ridiculous that we should not waste our anger. His comments do, however, deserve our attention. Racial messages often are coded in extemporaneous statements, but their vile undertones are both powerful and persuasive to their intended audience.

The term lynching has as much emotional baggage as the N-word. Every high-profile person, from politicians to the black Supreme Court justice, who has used the term was looking to effect shock. But they also were sending a message.

Clarence Thomas' use of the term, "high-tech" lynching, got his point across to both African Americans and white people better than anything else he said during his tumultuous Senate confirmation hearing in 1991. Here was a black man, only the second in history, on his way to a seat on the high court, being bombarded by allegations of sexual improprieties involving Anita Hill. The sexual prowess of black men was often the impetus for Jim Crow lynchings.

Emmett Till, for example, was murdered by a mob of white men in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955.

"From my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I'm concerned it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree," Thomas said.

This statement coming from a black man, a child of the South no less, was a powerful message to the white senators who would determine whether he was suitable to sit on the Supreme Court. Would their fear of being labeled racist force them to cower and allow the confirmation, though Hill had been a credible witness? Yes, they would. And Thomas knew they would.

Several Democrats used the term to defend President Bill Clinton when he was impeached in 1998. Rep. Danny Davis called it a "lynching" and Rep. Greg Meeks of New York called it a "political lynching." Both are African American. Then-Sen. Joe Biden called Clinton's impeachment proceedings a "partisan lynching." Rep. Charlie Rangel referred to the "lynch mob," as did Rep. Jerry Nadler.

If we're going to be honest about it, all of them, including Thomas, were just as wrong to use the term as it was for Trump to use it. But there is a difference.

There is something more sinister about it coming from Trump. As president, he has exhibited a tendency to support white supremacy. Most Americans were able to dismiss the inappropriate language of other politicians as politics as usual. But with Trump, it's more like racism as usual. That's harder to ignore.

Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. She can be reached at dglanton@chicagotribune.com.

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