Warning: this column contains vulgarity via frequent references to President Trump’s adopted expletive during a critical negotiating session on an immigration deal.
According to media reports, subsequently confirmed by two Senators present, in the midst of discussing a potential bipartisan proposal Trump blurted out in reference to Haiti and African nations, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here.” We need more immigrants from Norway, he added.
Trump denies it, though initially he didn’t, issuing a statement instead that he fights for the American people while others fight for foreign countries. Considering he previously claimed Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., that he lost the popular vote due to millions of illegal votes, that Mexico was going to pay for the wall he wants Congress to fund with $18 billion, and that Russia didn’t interfere in our elections, I’m going with the assumption he did.
But Trump saying something derogatory and racist isn’t new. What’s troubling is that America is being asked to get behind a president who presents himself, and thus us, to the world as if he’s having a booze-addled, unfettered, unfiltered conversation with like-minded buddies at some bar.
As Fox News host Jesse Watters put it defending Trump: “This is how the forgotten men and women of America talk at the bar. If you’re at a bar in Wisconsin, and you think they’re bringing in a bunch of Haiti people, or El Salvadorians, or people from Niger, this is how some people talk.”
“This doesn’t move the needle at all. This is who Trump is…and if he offends some people, fine.”
I’m pretty sure other groups of another political stripe could just as easily be at the bar, kitchen table or backyard barbeque somewhere saying unkind things about those they don’t like or understand too. And many past presidents have been crude and rude.
But in today’s world the whole world is watching and listening. What is said and how it is said matters, and people will hear about it, especially if it is disparaging and based upon false narratives, ignorance and bigotry.
Denigrating countries from a barstool is one thing. It’s another to do it while negotiating a serious policy issue with other public officials.
We let people come here from Haiti, El Salvador and other countries devastated by poverty, violence or natural disasters because it’s part of the light the Statue of Liberty raises to the world. We benefit from it. Would Trump consider the poverty-stricken 19th century Ireland a “shithole country” from which over 1.5 million adults and children came to America during the potato famine?
It’s easy for bar talk to create false realities. But when embarrassing and inaccurate public assertions alienate our allies it’s dangerous. Like Trump falsely suggesting a terror attack occurred in Sweden. Like the U.S. ambassador to Netherlands becoming persona non-grata there because he was caught falsely denying he had spread alt-right narratives about “no-go” Muslim ruled enclaves in Netherlands. Like escalating a feud with London’s mayor when the London Brietbart editor-in-chief appropriated Trump talk by claiming the mayor was turning London into a “shithole.”
Norway didn’t exactly respond kindly to Trump’s wish. Many on social media noted that compared with Norway’s economy, health care and education systems, it’s the U.S. that would be the “shithole country.”
Loose, politically incorrect bar talk may be fine for a political base but if recent polling is any indication Trump talk is narrowing his base with support declining among almost every demographic category.
It happens that bar talk may provide security among friends for outrageous behavior but it really isn’t a good way to govern a country, especially one that’s supposed to be the greatest in the world.