Columnists are rarely presented with situations to freely use a crude word or term without worrying about an editor’s dreaded red pen. Hence, I’m going to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
What’s this in reference to? U.S. President Donald Trump’s alleged use of the derogatory phrase “shithole countries” to describe some Central American and African nations.
Here’s what reportedly happened.
After a successful bipartisan meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders last week, things broke down in a closed-door session about immigration reform. When the topic of conversation shifted to Haiti, El Salvador and Africa, the president apparently said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
According to sources, Trump’s preference was to look at immigration opportunities with countries like Norway – which was likely mentioned because he had recently met with Prime Minister Erna Solberg – and throughout Asia.
He then started to focus on Haiti. “Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump apparently said, and claimed the U.S. should “[t]ake them out.”
Is this true? Trump denied using this phrase on Twitter and told reporters last Sunday, “I am not a racist.” The jury is still out among some of the attendees, however.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said he was appalled by the president’s “hate-filled, vile and racist” remarks. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said the reports were “basically accurate.”
Yet Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton issued a joint statement noting they didn’t “recall the president saying those comments specifically.” Last weekend, Perdue told ABC’s This Week, “I am telling you that he did not use that word. And I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation.” Cotton said on CBS’s Face the Nation he didn’t hear this term “and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was.”
There’s also some debate whether Trump used the word “shithole” or “shithouse.” For the sake of accuracy, someone should figure it out – but I’m not sure it really matters.
This controversy was the straw that broke the orange-haired camel’s back for some people. They would probably stand with CNN anchor Don Lemon, who opened his Jan. 11 newscast with this hyperbolic line: “The president of the United States is racist.”
I don’t know what’s in Trump’s heart or in his head. While there’s no question he’s made some offensive remarks over the years (including this one) and rarely chooses his words very well, it’s more than likely another example of his intemperate behaviour and the fact he has no filter.
Oxford Dictionary defines “shithole” as an “extremely dirty, shabby, or otherwise unpleasant place.” While it was an exceedingly poor choice of words by the president to describe the difficult situation faced in impoverished countries like Haiti, it’s not necessarily racist in this particular instance.
Yes, this controversy isn’t going to move the needle in the slightest with Trump’s supporters. And yes, as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein told CNN on Jan. 15, Trump “has the right to make whatever remarks he wants and we respect the president,” but diplomats will need to “reaffirm that the U.S. remains committed to its relationships with these countries and cares deeply about their people.”
Nevertheless, why did Trump use this vulgar term (or whatever he ultimately said) in public? It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with his assessment. I think we can all accept there were better ways for him to make his point with cleaner language – and without creating a short-term international incident.
Wishful thinking on my part? Perhaps, but it would have prevented these regions from being forever known as, for the final time in this column, “shithole countries.”
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.