*President Trump recently used the word “shithole” to describe countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa. There are multiple things wrong with this statement.
Before I address the problems with this statement allow me to explain why this something I believe happened instead of a misquotation or misunderstanding. There is a lengthy list of incidents in which Trump has proven he will say grossly impolite things because of his sense of superiority. This latest comment falls in line with this pattern of behavior. In addition there were multiple people in the room who were ear witnesses. No one in the room immediately denied that Trump made the comment. President Trump himself only did so the next day after he had time to assess the public reaction to the comment. If there were a more positive acceptance of his sentiment Trump would have proudly owned up to the quotation and used the publicity to double down on his immigration policies. But because there was a bit of negative feedback Trump halfway walked the statement back.
All of these elements make it very plausible that Trump actually made the statement. Furthermore my opinion is that Trump actually believes the statement. Trump’s main business was real estate and, putting aside whether he was good at that business for a second, a very valuable skill in real estate is identifying an undervalued property or area. So Trump probably looks at places in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa and sees economically depressed areas that could be exploited. I’ll save my thoughts about that perspective for another time, but suffice it to say I believe Trump was expressing his honest opinion about certain areas in the world.
But why is that a problem?
I’m glad you asked. The president’s statement expressly contrasts people of color with people of Norwegian background in that he expresses a desire for people of Scandinavian descent to emigrate to the United States instead of from the shithole countries. By offering no context for why he preferred one over the other it is easy to speculate that Trump was thinking in racial terms. But assuming he was not broadcasting such a racist statement, the responsibility would then be President Trump’s to clarify his statement and explain why Norwegians were preferred. He did not. The point is that whether he truly is a racist, or whether he is only expressing racially problematic ideas, the end result is the same: the legitimization of racist ideas. The President of the United States is colloquially labeled the “Leader of the Free World.” To then categorize a section of the free world as shitholes, and by extension not worth leading, would be the first step to turning his back on those countries.
Furthermore even ignoring the racial aspect of Trump’s comment, the president words exposed a fairly common perspective in successful businessmen but rare in politicians. Trump basically criticized people from shithole countries for coming to the United States because, as he has already repeatedly expressed, he doesn’t believe they do enough to push our country in a positive direction. This is ironic given his personal history of marrying and hiring immigrants (undocumented or otherwise). Nevertheless the sentiment boils down to “if you can’t help me I don’t want to be bothered with you.” My quick response is that a supposed Christian leader should want to and be trying to help other countries out of a moral obligation. But on top of that I would argue however that helping people in those downtrodden countries ultimately alleviates the immigration situation Trump seems so interested in changing.
In my opinion a better perspective to take would be to attempt to help economically depressed countries improve their situation so that people wouldn’t be as eager to leave. Admittedly that would only lessen the influx of immigrants instead of completely stopping it. But a decrease in immigration should be the goal. Eliminating immigration is a foolhardy mission that is just as likely to hurt Americans economically as it is to benefit them. And calling places in the world shithole countries does nothing to decrease immigration; it does however increase animosity toward the United States and Americans in general because our spokesperson is insulting people.
To some degree everyone can agree with Trump’s basic economic assessment. There are places in the world that aren’t doing as well as others. Many policies of liberal politicians acknowledge this and attempt to address it. But to use a vulgarity is dismissive – and wrong. And to highlight racial differences is dangerous – and wrong. But the biggest problem is that this probably isn’t the last time we’ll be having this conversation.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.