The basic formula for every new Trumpism can be broken down as follows: The president says something absurdly simplistic or ill-considered. Trump supporters spring to not only defend, but resolutely support whatever vulgarity was spoken. On the other hand, detractors readily sound 25th Amendment alarms for the upteenth time this month. Any position in between is quickly struck down as merely ceding ground in what is perceived to be an irreconcilable, great political war.
The White House’s weak defense of Trump’s comment that “certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people” certainly reflects the feeling of Trump’s diehard supporters. Instead of correcting what the president meant to say, they choose to resort to the sort of tribalistic jingoism that is continuing to erode their credibility.
The script by now is a tired one, and won’t convince anyone who isn’t already unquestioningly loyal to Trump.
The media takes an equally ridiculous approach by offering such inane commentary like the US is more of a shithole than Haiti because Trump is our President. Meanwhile, Haitians have to resort to eating literal dirt cookies to scrape away a modicum of nutrition. Yet, in some minds, Trump saying silly things makes Haiti less of a shithole than the US.
One thing should be said about the sheer outrage with which the media is reacting to this development. While pretending to take issue with Trump’s vulgar word choice, they’re grasping at every opportunity they get to repeat the word “shithole” like a naughty 3rd grader. Where they would ordinarily censor such a word, they choose not to so as to offer the least flattering coverage of Trump’s words possible. This does nobody a service and only encourages Trump’s supporters to flock to his defense while currying outsized offense on the part of their viewers. Not to mention it abets the downfall of civil discourse. Naturally, Trump shouldn’t have spoken in such a wanton fashion, but when the exact words are repeated with relish by all of his critics it makes their sanctimony appear all the more hollow.
Of course, all of the controversy that ensued from Trump’s shit blurb only succeeded at muddying the waters when attempting to implement a rational immigration system that is decidedly uncontroversial. None of the countries with this merit-based immigration would be construed by any sensible human being as racist. For some, the idea of discriminating against anyone for any reason is automatically wrong, even if it’s to benefit the host country. That is a suicidal policy for any nation.
Can some countries be shitholes? Yes, self-evidently some countries are shitholes. Many frame the comment as though making any value judgement about a country is intrinsically racist. It isn’t, but it is racist to attach the substandard value of a country to its racial composition. Easily Trump’s detractors could make a case that his comments were racist insofar as he potentially implies that its citizens are less desirable by virtue of their country being a shithole. That’s not the case, and there is much evidence that highlights the value of immigrants from shithole countries — who leave precisely because they’re shitholes. A shithole country is one that doesn’t reward greatness on the part of its citizenry. Luckily, capitalism, in non-shithole countries like the United States, does. Hence, they come here, seeking the fruits of their labor. Trump’s suggestion that we ought to look on an individual basis for the skillset immigrants have to offer our country is right, but he undermines that by suggesting country of origin defines what a person is capable of.
A plausible interpretation of Trump’s comments could be that he was making a case against lottery visas — why should we bring Haitians here specifically for being Haitian? Shouldn’t it be about merit? If so, he’s right. Selecting people at random to come to our country simply on the basis of national origin is an awful policy, and Trump’s right to call attention to the chain migration by which relatives of the lottery’s beneficiaries follow in an endless cascade. For this, he deserves credit. It’s in no way obvious that Republicans would otherwise be talking about such a contentious issue.
On the other hand, if he means we need fewer Haitians simply because they’re Haitian (and not Norwegian), he’s contradicting his own merit-based stance, and this could be construed as racist.
While it’s very tempting for people in both the pro and anti-Trump camps to want easy answers like “He’s a racist!” or “He’s right — they are shitholes!”, the reality is not as one-dimensional. You can acknowledge both that Trump’s words were irresponsible for a sitting President & grossly-simplistic — all the while supporting rational policies like merit-based immigration. At the same time, Trump’s clumsy framing of the issue doesn’t render the policies themselves racist. If Trump has any hope of garnering political support for reasonable policy proposals, his words should start reflecting on them as the reasonable proposals they are.
Written by Christian O’Brien and Lex Villena