In an off-the-cuff comment with legislators gathered in the Oval Office on Thursday to discuss immigration, President Trump laid bare his world vision. There are wealthy white countries such as Norway, which are welcome to send immigrants to the United States. Then there are what the president called “shithole countries” — Haiti and all the nations of Africa — whose people (overwhelmingly black and brown) the president doesn’t think belong here.
Trump’s comment was outrageous, immature, inhumane and vulgar — and it shames the nation. It’s shocking that an American president would think so reductively and heartlessly about so much of the world. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the president himself will feel shame. Instead, he’ll bluster and bray about “fake news” and try to drag in the 2016 election results and the stock market, and in the end, he is unlikely to be punished by his base for what he said.
But his comments stand for themselves. “What do we want Haitians here for?” the president reportedly asked. “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from shithole countries?" Then he added: “We should have people from places like Norway.”
The Washington Post first reported the president’s comments, based on information from people briefed on the meeting. The White House quickly issued a statement that didn’t deny the comments, but defended Trump’s efforts to “fight for the American people.” None of whom, apparently in the eyes of the White House, are people who trace their ancestry to Africa, Haiti or El Salvador, which was also part of the immigration policy discussion.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” spokesman Raj Shah told the Post. “… Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, 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.”
So Trump’s dismissal of a large portion of the world is framed now as an argument for merit-based immigration?
That’s self-serving baloney. It’s hard to interpret Trump’s statement — comparing Haiti and Africa with Norway, in effect — as anything other than an attack on people of color around the world. But even those who don’t interpret it that way should be appalled that the president would express such disdain and disgust for countries where poverty is rampant, where people struggle because they lack the economic advantages of Americans, where wars are not infrequent.
Ten months ago, the Los Angeles Times editorial board published a multipart series about President Trump calling him “Our Dishonest President.” We called him that because of a pattern of lies, misstatements and denials of reality that we argued were designed not just to deflect criticism, but to undermine the very idea of objective truth.
But sometimes Donald Trump is at his scariest when he’s saying what he truly believes.