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We Need to Talk About Trump’s Racist “Shithole Countries” Remark

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” -Maya Angelou

It is not new that Donald Trump says racist things. His continued stance on the Central Park Five alone is grotesque. His closed-door comments on accepting immigrants from “shithole countries,” his take on African nations, are not new for him. He’s now denied those comments, but we can tell a lot from how long it took for an outright denial to come out, as well as Senator Dick Durbin saying this morning that the headline-making “shithole” comment was not an isolated incident, but that “he said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”

Part of those repeated marks was apparently disparaging the people of Haiti, as well, reportedly saying, “Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?” and, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” (He’s also denied the specific phrase “take them out,” but even if we believe him about that specific wording, the sentiment stands.) But this is not new for him. Here he is spreading his malignant ignorance about African countries in 2013:

It’s also not new for presidents (or you or me) to use swear words, as many people have pointed out with the mistaken belief that they’re clever for doing so, but that is not even close to the point. Anyone who’s preoccupied by the palatability of the specific word he chose is missing the point just as badly as those who don’t see a problem at all.

Trump indicated he believes that, somehow, the worse a person’s circumstances are, the less worthy they are of a chance to make a better life for themselves in our country. That’s pushing the idea that people who are worse off are in that situation because of some intrinsic failing in themselves, rather than a worldwide system of oppression that has played out throughout history. Not only has he decided that entire groups of people are irredeemable—a label some of his supporters didn’t like applied to themselves during the election—but you might recognize that line of thought as the entire basis of white supremacy. It is white supremacy.

It’s worth noting that, to make the assumption that these immigrants are bad and unworthy, he is willfully overlooking facts:

This is a pattern with his administration, and they’ve done the same thing with regards to refugees. But ultimately, we need to remember that these facts aren’t necessary for Trump to be wrong. Even though they have, refugees don’t need to bring in more government revenue than they cost to be worth helping. No matter how many stories we can point to of immigrants doing great things in our country, that is not, and should not be the bar for admission.

A defense of the comments came from, predictably, Fox News, where host Jesse Watters, (again, predictably) said, “I think it’s either fake news or if it’s true, this is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar. This is how Trump relates to people.” Leaving aside the obvious disingenuousness in trying to deny the comment and then explaining why it’s a good comment that shouldn’t need a denial, he’s not wrong that there are certainly men and women in America who talk like this and believe these things. Where he’s wrong is in the assumption that it’s therefore OK for us to have a president who thinks and speaks the same way.

This line of thought has followed Trump’s candidacy and presidency around for a while—that as long as he’s speaking for some percentage of U.S. citizens, he shouldn’t be denounced, because it’s a politician’s job to represent their constituents, and those constituents deserve a voice. But that’s an abdication of responsibility. These same TV hosts have argued endlessly against the actions and words of politicians they disagree with, despite those politicians all representing some percentage of voters.

If they’re really going to argue that Trump’s comments are OK just because the most ignorant and hateful people among us need representation, then I never want to hear them ever criticize another politician again, because anyone who represents any portion of public opinion is supposedly beyond reproach. Otherwise, it’s clear that they’re giving Trump a pass because he’s speaking for them, not some imaginary citizens.

And as always, it matters that talk like this is coming from the White House, rather than the anonymous drunk racist crowd that Fox News wants to defend. It’s no different from their insidious use of the term “chain migration,” which is their way to make the practice of citizens bringing their family members to their new home sound somehow bad and dangerous. It’s a disgusting ploy to set the ground rules of immigration conversations as demeaning to immigrants, and its effectiveness is startling. Here’s MSNBC, widely known for leaning to the left, using the dehumanizing term in a straightforward fashion, skewing the conversation with anti-immigrant sentiment right from the start:

I doubt it was intended as an anti-immigrant tweet on MSNBC’s end, but that’s why it’s so effective to bake the tone of discussion into the terminology. In the same way, if Trump is allowed to say things like this without being challenged, then his ignorance is accepted as legitimate fact.

We can’t allow that, which is why, even though comments like this are not surprising coming from him, they must be roundly denounced. He seems pleased with all the media attention he’s getting, and it’s up to us to make sure that attention does him no good.

(image: Ildar vector / Shutterstock.com)

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