An Execrable Presidential Comment
Yes, the world has many unpleasant places.
Yes, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and many other presidents used crude and salty language in private settings as president.
Yes, one can fairly ask why the United States takes in a particular number of immigrants from a particular country.
But the president’s comment is appalling. For starters, this is the Oval Office and it is a responsibility of the president show some respect for his surroundings. Conservatives objected to Bill Clinton’s infamous behavior in the office, and then blew a gasket when President Obama put his feet on the Resolute desk. Any conservative who raged about all of that but shrugs at this sort of language in one of our national secular sacred spaces is a grade-A hypocrite.
Vulgarity is a choice. No one forced the president to use that particular term, and anyone with even the smallest amount of self-awareness would have recognized that in a meeting with lawmakers, discussing a highly-charged issue, dismissing whole countries and apparently an entire continent with that term was spectacularly unwise and unlikely to win over any skeptics to the president’s position.
Beyond that, it is now abundantly clear that President Trump believes that certain countries have absolutely no value, and that the United States should not welcome or accept anyone from it. A few weeks ago, the White House denied that the president said all Haitans have AIDS and that Nigerians live in huts. That denial is harder to believe now; a president who will use the S-word to refer to Haiti and Africa might very well make those other offensive comments.
The message from the president – and the subsequent refusal to deny, retract, or disavow the comments – is clear: people from these places have no value. A person with even the most cursory knowledge of American history should see parallels to past bigotry, such as the hostility to German-Americans during and after World War One. One wonders if Trump’s grandfather, the Kallstadt, Germany-born Friedrich Drumpf, experienced it before his death in 1918, or if Trump’s father experienced it himself. Irish, Italians, Jews, Catholics – at one point or another, all kinds of groups now largely seen as “white” were seen as outsiders, untrustworthy, “dirty”, “unhealthy,” and incompatible with American values.
It was present in the United States from the very beginning: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?” That was written by Benjamin Franklin in 1751.
A lot of us thought we had largely left that behind. The story of the United States of America is a long and difficult journey towards the ever-wider recognition that a person’s value as a human being has nothing to do about where he or she comes from. A person’s value is shaped by his or her character, decisions and willingness to work hard and play by the rules.
If you want to concur with the president that Haiti is execrable, and that no one of value can possibly come from there, then you’re stating that you wish Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah had never been born in this country. Needless to say, she is disgusted by the president’s statement:
“The President’ comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation. My parents came from one of those countries but proudly took an oath of allegiance to the United States and took on the responsibilities of everything that being a citizen comes with. They never took a thing from our federal government. They worked hard, paid taxes, and rose from nothing to take care of and provide opportunities for their children. They taught their children to do the same. That’s the American Dream,” the statement continued. “The President must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.”
A person’s value is also shaped by what kind of behavior they exhibit in a position of responsibility. The president made every American parent’s life just a little bit more difficult yesterday: “In an unusual move, the word “s*******” was repeated in print and on air Thursday evening, in capital letters on the CNN and MSNBC headlines that appear on the lower part of the screen. Fox News censored the word with asterisks.”
I’m not happy with the media’s decision to use and print the word, but they wouldn’t be in this situation if the president hadn’t said it in a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office.