United States President Donald J Trump this week marked the close of his first year in Office with two inglorious milestones. The first by telling his 2000 misleading or false statement and the second by targeting for exclusion to the United States the people from countries he termed “shitholes”.
Trump made the latter remarks during bipartisan talks on immigration reform in respect of Haiti and African nations on January 11, 2018. During the negotiations the America First and Make America Great Again President questioned “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” as opposed to allowing people from countries such as Norway to immigrate to the United States.
In a Press Statement released on January 12, the Botswana government condemned the US President’s remarks. Haiti, El Salvador, South Africa, Ghana and the African Union among other countries and regional organisations echoed Government’s condemnation of Trump’s use of the “descriptor and derogatory word” and called on American diplomats to “explain” the American President’s comments. The expectedly tense diplomatic meetings are likely to take place on Monday, January 15. The US diplomatic service, a traditionally non-political branch of the American civil service will be hard pushed to fall in line with official White House denials on the President’s choice of language and the underlying sentiments that such language implies, which career diplomats see as an international breach of trust between the US and developing countries.
In the fallout over the comments, the US State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs issued an official statement via Twitter that “the United States will continue to robustly, enthusiastically and forcefully engage in #Africa, promoting this vital relationship, and to listen and build on the trust and views we share with our African partners”.
Trump’s “shithole” comments came the same week as American media reported that the U.S. Ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, a career diplomat, had resigned in December last year over Trump’s policies towards South America. Feeley’s resignation predated the latest disparaging remarks by the US president on South America and Africa. The resignation was reportedly premised however, on Trump’s sentiments and vilification of 3rd World countries.
Trump has denied that he used “derogatory” language at the meeting, claiming instead that his language while “strong”, merely acknowledged that Haiti was “undeniable poor”. Two US Senators, one Republican (Trump’s party) Flake, and another a Democrat, Durbin, have however confirmed that the media reports on the language used by Trump during the meeting was accurate. White House spokesman Raj Shah last week defended Trump’s position on immigration but did not directly address his “shithole” remarks. White House officials have not disputed the media reports.
While there has been widespread public and international outrage of Trump’s labelling countries as “shitholes”, there has also been support. A Botswana Congress Party legal advisor, Busang Manewe, posted on his social media account soon after the “shithole” comments become public, that “Trump is my main man. He doesn’t worship anybody and says it as is.” (January 12, 2018), a sentiment supported by some. Research into Trump’s first year in office indicates that contrary to telling it like it is, Trump has set a record in his first year in office for the number of outright untruths, misleading statements and obfuscation of facts.
According to the Fact Checking Unit in the Washington Post, the US President has mislead on a number of issues and taken credit for acts that were not his. On over 2000 occasions Trump has told outright lies, misstatements and obscured the truth, while labelling the media as “fake news”. He has also laid blame on key policy issues on his predecessor Obama, which commenced prior to Obama’s term of office. Recently Trump issued a statement that he was cancelling a trip to the United Kingdom, a major US ally, as he did not want to officiate the establishment of the new US Embassy as it was a “bad deal” by Obama. The sale of the property of the previous location for the Embassy and the purchase of the new property was initiated under the George W. Bush administration.
Trump’s policies, such as they may be, both at home and aboard have been reactionary, conservative and bigoted. His narrative and political discourse, such as it may be, whether as an ordinary citizen, presidential candidate or as President of the United States has been underpinned by race and gender; Obama was Kenyan (and forged his birth certificate), Mexican are “rapists”, Nigerians coming to the US will not return to their “Huts”, Haitians all have AIDS, women allow celebrities (himself) to “grab them by the pussy” to list but a few, without going into the more complex economic and global issues.
Trump’s claims are justified by his supporters as “locker room talk”, “bar room talk” and “telling it like it is”, but such justification vindicates Trump as a normal every day man on the street and seeks to paint his critics as naïve and out of touch with societal norms. The support for Trump’s comments seeks to underlie the notion that the sentiments behind them are entirely acceptable and normal and that Trump’s view of the world is the reality.
The United States, is larger in population than most of the “shithole” countries, but not all, and of course it is far stronger economically and militarily than the “shithole” countries that Trump referred to. But it also has a higher crime rate than many of the same “shithole” countries. It has a lower economic growth rate than many of the “shithole” countries. It does not provide free health care or education, unlike many of the “shithole” countries. Its infrastructure is under threat, unlike many shithole countries. What defines “shithole” for Trump is not the commonality for the problems these countries face with the US, as they are many, what defines them as “shitholes” is that they are non-white “shitholes”. Nor, in labelling countries as “shitholes” is Trump referring to their democratic dispensations. If he was then many “white” European countries would have been included. “Shitholes” was not directed at counties economies or political democratic standing but by the makeup of their populations.
When protestors took to the streets of Charlottesville to in opposition to racism and bigotry and one of their members was killed by a neo Nazi, Trump was unable to unequivocally condemn the far right movement he has fed with his Make America Great Again campaign, asserting instead that he needed “all the facts, before he could issue such a statement”. In response to the neo Nazi’s Charlottesville parade, last year, Trump repeatedly stated that “both sides” were to blame for the violence, drawing a moral equivalence between white supremacists and anti-racism protesters. He added that there were “some very fine people” among the white supremacists.
The sentiments behind Trump’s labelling of people and countries and the acceptance of such sentiments as normal because they are “locker room talk, Bar room talk” and “telling it like it is” is a lot more dangerous, than the use of a “derogatory descriptor”.