Poor Donald Trump. He was simply asking for information, and they’re all over him as if he were a racist thug. His choice of words was unfortunate, but the angels rejoice when an ignorant person seeks enlightenment. We should take his question seriously and answer it for him.
What Trump asked last Thursday was: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” From the context – he was meeting with congressmen and senators who were working on immigration issues – it’s clear that by ‘shithole countries’ he meant Central American and African countries. El Salvador and Haiti came in for special mention.
What marks these countries out is that many of them are very poor, and some of them are plagued by war, crime and/or massive corruption. But most of the immigrants to the US have always come from countries like that: people who are safe and prosperous generally don’t abandon the countries they grew up in.
The first wave of Irish who went to the United States in the mid-19th century were driven by famine at home. The German, Polish and Italian immigrants of the same period were fleeing both poverty and political repression; the Russian Jews were also fleeing the anti-Semitic violence. They would all have been ‘shithole countries’ at the time.
They are all safer, more prosperous places now, and the sources of the migrant flows have changed – but the motives of the migrants have not. Donald Trump should already have known that, since he grew up in New York City, but maybe he was just too privileged and isolated. At any rate, I’m glad to have cleared it up for him – and now that he understands the process all he has to do is clean up his language.
No, wait a moment. Trump had another question, too. He wanted to know why the United States couldn’t bring in immigrants from non-shithole places like Norway instead. This is a little harder to answer, because it’s a question of definition: the whole concept of a shithole depends heavily on your perspective.
From the point of view of Mexicans or Cubans, for example, El Salvador and Haiti are indeed shitholes (although they are far too polite ever to say that out loud). And from the viewpoint of a Norwegian, the United States is… Well, let me leave that question to Dr. Christian Christensen, a Norwegian-American currently living and working in Sweden, who tweeted as follows:
“Of course people from #Norway would love to move to a country where people are far more likely to get shot, live in poverty, get no healthcare because they are poor, get no paid parental leave or subsidised daycare, and see fewer women in political power. #Shithole.” A bit heavy on the sarcasm, but you get the point. Trump will have to make do with immigrants who are – how shall we put this? – darker than Norwegians.
And this brings us to the heart of the matter. Trump is a racist: such a dyed-in-the-wool racist that he is virtually unconscious of it. He openly says that he prefers immigrants from nice, white countries like Norway to brown or black immigrants from ‘shithole countries’.
He was so confident that every American who had ever voted for him or ever might shared his views that he didn’t even deny what he had said right away. It was reported as soon as the meeting finished on Thursday, but the first White House statement just defended his remarks: “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”
It was more than 24 hours later, with the outrage still growing both at home and abroad, that Trump finally put out the usual statement (we’ve heard it on dozens of other occasions) denying that he had said what many people – senior members of Congress, in this case – had heard him saying. It’s the kind of damage control that doesn’t really control the damage.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his audience that Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments were “something that almost every single person in America actually agrees with.” Wrong. What he should have said was “almost every single American who watches Fox News.”
Very few non-white Americans agree with this kind of talk, and a large number of white Americans, maybe as many as half, don’t either. That adds up to a 65-70 percent majority who don’t agree. Trump will not win this argument, and Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, knows it.
“There are, I have to say, a growing number of white Americans who are afraid of and do not want to see the browning of America. They have a picture-perfect 1950s view of mother wearing an apron as dad, in a hat, goes off to work. It looks a lot more like them than it does me, but America is starting to look more like me.”
Michael Steele is an African-American.