Certain parts of the world are made up of “shithole countries” whose citizens are undeserving of a chance for a better life in America, President Donald Trump claimed Thursday during an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers. Although many saw those crass remarks as a clear window into the president’s bigoted worldview, Trump’s supporters rushed to his defense in an effort to distract from the simple reality at the heart of this latest White House scandal: The president of the United States is a racist man pursuing a racist immigration agenda.
Let’s take a look at these arguments and why they’re so bad.
Trump was talking like a liquored-up barfly, so it’s fine.
“This is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar,” said Fox News commentator and perpetual disappointment to his parents Jesse Watters. “This is how Trump relates to people. If you’re at a bar, and you’re from Wisconsin, and you’re thinking, ‘They’re bringing in a bunch of Haiti people, or El Salvadorians, or people from Niger.’ This is how some people talk.”
Other supporters likened Trump’s comments to locker room banter ― we’ve heard that before ― or even “kitchen table” talk, suggesting the president was just mimicking conversations that happen in some corners of the U.S. every day.
That’s no doubt true. But historically, American presidents have been held to a higher standard than racist uncles or drunks at the bar. Typically they’ve been better qualified to lead a nation, too. And while it would be foolish to pretend some of these sorts of people aren’t among Trump’s base, that doesn’t mean everyone else has to shut up and go along when the president tries to write national policy with ink tainted by their ideology.
Trump was right: Some of these countries are “shitholes”!
A number of conservative pundits leapt to this explanation, arguing that if nations like Haiti and El Salvador were doing well, people wouldn’t be coming to the U.S. in the first place.
Option A: El Salvador isn't a "shithole," so they don't need 17 years of Temporary Protected Status, and migrants from there should be sent home immediately. Option B: El Salvador is, in fact, a "shithole." https://t.co/sea1sKoY8K— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) January 11, 2018
We’ll get this out of the way quickly: Calling a country or continent a “shithole” is deeply offensive, entirely unproductive and seemingly counter to core American values grounded in compassion and inclusivity.
Beyond all that, the dismissive jab also conveniently skirts any deeper consideration of the many uncomfortable reasons why those nations are in bad shape today. It has everything to do with a centuries-long history of racism, exploitation and aggressive Western incursion, noted journalist Jonathan Katz, who recently wrote a book about Haiti.
“Racists have needed Haiti to be poor since it was founded,” he wrote. “They pushed for its poverty. They have celebrated its poverty. They have tried to profit from its poverty. They wanted it to be a shithole. And they still do.”
Check out his whole thread below.
Lot of folks, from the alt-right to @RichLowry, think they’re making a great argument in the president’s defense tonight by noting that Haiti and El Salvador are, in fact, poor.— Jonathan M. Katz (@KatzOnEarth) January 12, 2018
But they’re just revealing their own racism. Here’s why:
Because what they are showing is that they ASSUME that Haiti is just naturally poor, that it’s an inherent state borne of the corruption of the people there, in all senses of the word.— Jonathan M. Katz (@KatzOnEarth) January 12, 2018
And let’s just say out loud why that is: It’s because Haitians are black.
Trump was calling out nationality, not race.
When Trump said he wanted fewer immigrants coming to the U.S. from Haiti, El Salvador or the entire continent of Africa, and more from places like Norway, he was saying exactly that and nothing more, his supporters argue. MAGA types were out in force on social media Friday noting that words like “Haitian” or “Salvadoran” describe a nationality, not a race, and therefore any derogatory statements Trump had made toward them couldn’t be inherently racist.
Why might Trump, a man with a long history of racially insensitive and racist comments, be so quick to write off millions of black and brown people while showing preference for white ones? Who’s to say?
Trump’s words sound icky, but his point is actually good!
It can be hard to extract concrete policy proposals out of the president’s off-the-cuff remarks, so we’ll leave that task to his loyal translators. Trump’s message was obvious to White House spokesman Raj Shah: Trump supports “merit-based immigration,” as opposed to a system that weighs family connections or country of origin.
“President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation,” Shah said in a statement.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) felt similarly, wrapping an endorsement of merit-based immigration into a mealy-mouthed rebuke of the president.
Although there is evidence that a family-based system of immigration provides a number of benefits to the U.S., that’s really beside the point: Trump didn’t argue for a policy that gives preference to doctors or other high-skilled workers. He said give me more Norwegians and fewer people of color.
It was a surprisingly transparent presentation of Trump’s broader immigration agenda, which would disproportionately affect non-white people in a number of other ways, from the large proportion of Africans who benefit from the diversity visa lottery to Americans and legal permanent residents, often Latino and Asian, who want to sponsor family members to come to the U.S.
Other presidents were foul-mouthed racists, so what’s the big deal?
In some circles, Trump’s apparent utterance of the word “shit” was the actual issue here. Setting the bar for our current president at Richard Nixon, a notorious anti-Semite and racist, or other similarly controversial presidents from a half-century ago seems like a bad idea.
If the President saying "shithole countries" bothers you, don't ever listen to the JFK, LBJ, or Nixon tapes of your ears will explode. #PearlClutching— Derek Hunter (@derekahunter) January 11, 2018
Trump didn’t actually say it.
The president attempted to do a little damage control on Friday, saying that he’d used “tough” language during the Oval Office meeting, though perhaps not the word “shithole.”
The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018
Trump later claimed he “never said anything derogatory about Haitians” and got some cover from Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.), who released a joint statement saying, “We do not recall the President saying these comments specifically.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had a clearer recollection:
″[Trump] went on and started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure. That’s where he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from ‘shitholes’ ― the exact word used by the president not just once, but repeatedly.”
But a newer, dumber explanation emerged over the new few days: Trump had actually said “shithouse,” not “shithole,” sources said, and according to their retelling, the difference was significant.
Why are some Trump allies arguing that POTUS said "shithouse" rather than "shithole"? Some Rs say "shithouse countries" refers to poor countries w/no plumbing -- places where u have to walk out to the shithouse -- and therefore the phrase is NOT racist.— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) January 16, 2018
Most normal people don’t say “shithouse” ― and certainly not in reference to entire regions of the world. Still, Trump could have said it.
But either way, none of this rebuts the essential problem that Trump’s comments expose: The U.S. president has strong negative opinions of certain nations and continents, which serve as a guiding force for his immigration policy.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.