President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.
Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday. The president, according to a White House official, also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt that they help the United States economically.
In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal, these people said.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. “Take them out.”
I. “According to several people briefed on the meeting”? What? Not even according to people AT the meeting?
Based on this, without any attributions, the news media is stating that Trump making those alleged comments are fact. Here’s the Times version,
“…according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.“
No, they don’t have “direct knowledge.” What someone tells you about what someone else said at a meeting you were not attending is indirect knowledge. It is, in fact, hearsay. If the Times and the Post did not get confirmation on the record from someone who heard what he said, then this is not fact, but rumor, inadmissible in court because of extreme prejudice and lack of reliability.
Never mind. The Times headline is Trump Alarms Lawmakers With Disparaging Words for Haiti and Africa, as if the second-hand accounts were confirmed fact. This is unethical journalism. Outrageously so, in fact. Meanwhile, all of the news channels, including Fox, were basing hours of reporting on it.
This is not acceptable. It is not professional, and it is not justifiable. It is a disgrace, and if you accept it, you should be ashamed of yourself.
II. Trump denies that he uttered those words, on Twitter, of course:
“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!…Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said “take them out.” Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”
The denials mean nothing, I know. The President has such a bizarre view of reality and such a record of misstatements and reversals that he has no credibility and deserves none. However, that doesn’t mean that he did make the alleged statements either. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. I certainly wouldn’t be “shocked.” It sounds like something he would say, because nuances of language and tone, not to mention civility ande diplomacy, are alien concepts to him. In other words, it rings true. That doesn’t mean it’s ethical to report it as fact.
III. Senator Durbin, after the headlines and hearsay-based reporting, responded to the President’s denial today by saying that during the meeting, Trump said things “in the course of his comments which were hate-filed, vile and racist,” and added,
“I use those word advisedly. I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe in the history of the White House in that Oval Office that any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.”
That’s still a characterization, not a quote. I’ll decide what words are “hate-filed, vile and racist,” thanks—especially when the speaker is a leader of a party whose members have been calling all sorts of words and opinions “racist” and “hate speech” for years now as a dirty political tactic.
IV. Let us assume, for the benefit of discussion, that Trump did say what has been reported.
- Is it fair to leak what he said to the news media?
No, it’s not. The leaks are unethical. Closed meetings are meant to encourage free and uninhibited discussion by all participants. Such leaks impede the legislative process and the governing process, undermine trust, and harm all participants.
- Was it irresponsible nonetheless for the President to say anything this inflammatory, knowing that he cannot trust the people in the room, many of which he knows are, if fact, committed foes?
Irresponsible and incompetent. The President has a flat learning curve.
- Was it racist to pronounce Haiti and Nigeria, and other African countries “shitholes”?
The proper and accurate term is “hellholes,” and the truth is not racist. Hellholes they are, by any measure. Nigeria is actually one of the happier African nations, and it’s a mess. Lagos, the capital, is the ugliest, poorest, scariest place I have ever been in my life. Yet Nigeria is in a lot better shape than many other African nations. As for Haiti, it is routinely ranked as one of the worst places to live in the world, and it has been that way for centuries.
It is vulgar to call a hellhole a shithole, though members of a party with a chairman, Tom Perez, who uses “shit” routinely in public addresses are estopped from outrage when someone uses the word in a private meeting. It is certainly poor diplomacy, and needlessly hurtful. It is bad politics.
It is not racist. It is, sadly, true.
- Was there anything inherently racist about insisting that the U.S. should seek immigrants from “first world” nations like Norway—which the President didn’t choose because of its stereotype Aryan populace but because he had just hosted the Norwegian prime minister at the White House—in preference to those of Third World nations plagued with disease, poverty and persistent cultural maladies?
No. The argument that the U.S. should prioritize admitting immigrants with better education, skills and financial resources has been a legitimate policy position for decades. Of course, that position is often called racist, because calling a position racist when the Left disagrees with it is de rigeur. Trump’s manner of expressing that argument was, typically, clumsy, crude, and easy to cast in the worst light by his opponents, but nonetheless, a fair translation of his comment would be,
“Egad! Is it really wise to take our new Americans from these damaged countries that have least prepared them for the challenges and benefits of our democracy? Doesn’t it make far more sense to seek the best and the brightest from nations that share our values?”
- Finally, is there any justification for reacting with horror when the President expresses himself in exactly the same, meat-axe, uncivil, crude and obnoxious way about essentially the same issue, immigration policy, that he did in his speech announcing his candidacy in 2015?
No. This is how the man speaks. We all know it. It is uncivil, imprecise, presidential and often stupid, but that’s him. Behaving as if it is a nation-rending cataclysm every time Trump acts, tweets and talks like we know Trump acts, tweets and talks s a cynical partisan ploy designed to spread fear and division.
UPDATE: A commenter implied that my analysis might jibe with Althouse’s, and so it did: I just read Ann’s post. Highlights…
“A wretched place… (a) a dirty or dilapidated dwelling; (b) a remote, downtrodden, or unpleasant city, town, etc.”
That’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “shithole,” with examples going back to 1930…
It was said by the President of the United States, but at a private meeting, where I presume he, like many Presidents before him say “fuck” and other bad words all the time. We know Nixon did. LBJ did.
So what is the big deal? The big deal is that it’s racist. Supposedly. That’s in the mind of the hearer, as the hearer really hears it or chooses to speak of it, and the motivations there are not untainted. Anything about Trump that can be called racist, will be called racist, but Trump said (we’re told) “shithole countries,” and “shithole,” in this context means a wretched place. Is Haiti not a wretched place? There are connotations of dirtiness, obviously, but more notably, that the place is just awful, not that the people are bad in some way because of their race. There’s enough reason to think of Haiti as dilapidated and downtrodden without needing to start assuming that there’s something about the people because of their race. Perhaps the racism is in the mind of the person who hears “shithole” about the country and starts thinking about the race of the people who live there.