In a remarkable about-face, after many news reports and first-hand accounts alleging that President Trump referred to African countries and Haiti as “shitholes,” Mr. Trump announced that it was all more fake news, that he never said what was reported. Trump is reported to have uttered these vulgarities within a discussion of who should be allowed to legally migrate to the United States, Trump expressing a preference for people from Norway.
The fact that more than 80% of ethnic Norwegians are white, whereas the countries Trump disparaged have largely black or brown populations is naturally a cause for outrage, another self-inflicted would for Trump. And, despite the media maelstrom and the ping-ponged accusations from both sides of the political divide, Trump’s alleged statement is entirely consistent with a long public record of unfavorable bias against people of color.
A reporter from a conservative outlet defended Trump’s language by pointing out that this is the language that ordinary Americans, specifically Trump’s base, would use to describe these countries. That is if he said it – and he said he didn’t – it would be ok because he was speaking the language of the “forgotten man.”
I wasn’t in the room. I did not hear what was said. Maybe Trump barked profanely (probability high), or he didn’t (probability low), or he said some variant of the same language (probably medium). In any case, this is language that should not cross a U.S. President’s lips within earshot of public officials or the media. Many of the disparaged countries are swimming with AK-47 rifles, the leftover’s from long forgotten Cold War conflicts. All it would take is one enraged foreigner to answer Trump’s alleged words with a volley of gunfire in a tourist hotel to demonstrate the danger of this kind of disparaging rhetoric.
If you want to call Haiti or all of Africa a “shithole” in your local pub, I will disagree, but I will support your right to free speech. If you want to say the same thing from the Oval Office, you still have a right to say it, but be prepared for consequences, from other countries and the electorate writ large. It plays to Trump’s base, but he now is the servant of We the People.
Or maybe that is Trump’s aim, to rile up his base and anger other countries. The lesson learned from George W. Bush is that terrorist attack is an opportunity to bring up poll numbers, and it seems that Trump could use a bump in popularity. Is that hypothesis too cynical?
Thoughts? I’d love to hear your (moderated) comments.