“Shithole” is now a printable and sayable vulgarism.
“A day after meeting with Norway’s prime minister in Washington, President Trump told members of Congress that the United States needed more immigrants from places like Norway …and fewer immigrants from countries like Haiti …which Trump called shitholes…” (The New York Times, January 12, 2018)
By calling Norway “good” and Haiti and African nations “shitholes,” Trump has once again put himself at the center of attention. This time he has played to a global audience and international consequences are mounting fast. Norwegians have called Trump out as a racist, venting their outrage and disgust not only at Mr. Trump’s vulgar language but at using their country to make a racially tinged insult. The African Union has called for an apology for a remark that “flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls Trump’s remarks “shocking and shameful … opening the door to humanity’s worst side … the single most damaging and dangerous consequence of this type of comment by a major political figure.”
And some countries understood the Trump quid pro quo: disagree with me, and I’ll come after you, whether it’s the press, or a judge, or a political foe. It’s a zero-sum game to him. Rather than risk being unfunded, a South Sudanese government official stated: “Unless it was specifically said about South Sudan, we have nothing to say.”
Trump has unleashed a … oh, hell, it’s a shitstorm, and we hear that he is delighted with the response. His words and his response show Trump to be a bully and a bigot who cares not for the country he was elected to lead, but for himself alone.
And here’s some good news for the President: Norwegians are already here! The bad news? They looked like “undesirables” to people like Trump when they got off the boat.
My parents were descendants of Norwegian farmers who had suffered through famine and had seen their livelihood erased by industrialization. They arrived at our shores poor, huddled, and yearning for a new life like millions of others who braved the dangerous voyage with no assurance of a future in this unknown place. The masses that teemed into Ellis Island at the end of the 1800s were the lucky ones who survived weeks at sea, poorly nourished and surrounded by disease.
We Norwegians had nothing to offer back then, except for the willingness to work hard. The Amundons made their way west to establish homesteads on the prairies of South Dakota. Michael Landon made this look like good family fun on the Little House television show, but it was a dangerous, exhausting and lonely life. Read Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth.
Today, immigrants continue to risk the ocean journey in the pursuit of a better life, but now their skin is brown. Some of the skin is shit brown.
Haitians are marching on Mar-A-Lago a few miles from my home tomorrow morning, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, in protest of the slur. They will be risking their menial jobs cleaning hotel toilets in order to tell their story. Around Palm Beach County, crews of Latino immigrants from Central America will fan out tomorrow to wrestle our gated community green spaces into shape, or to install roof tiles, or to pick strawberries. Men will stand on the corner by the Home Depot hoping some contractor needs an extra back. This is hard, hot, humiliating work – what we called “shit jobs” before getting “real jobs” – and it’s keeping their families alive back in El Salvador or Guatemala.
The Norsky’s efforts paid off, too. Two generations later, the Land of Opportunity and the post-World War II GI Bill opened college up to the grandsons and granddaughters of these pioneers, and college introduced the world.
My father left the Norwegian homesteaded farm in South Dakota for the War, then a liberal arts education, and finally an offer to join the United States Information Agency. Eisenhower, the victorious general, saw USIA as the structure through which America could rebuff Communism, not by condemning and threatening — like Trump — but by “winning hearts and minds.” Democracy was built on open elections, the freedom of assembly and the open exchange of ideas, and freedom of the press. Telling America’s story through free public libraries, visiting artists, and educational exchanges built relationships for the United States would use to keep the USSR at bay. Dad proudly represented the land that gave his Norwegian ancestors a new life during his 20-year Foreign Service career, serving under both Democrat and Republican administrations.
Dad retired before the end of the Cold War caused a paradigm shift away from the dual balance of power. The proliferation of nuclear arms and the emergence of radical terrorism around the world have created multiple players in the game of world domination. Putin is snaking Russia into the most sacred of American institutions, our elections. China is filling the space once held by the United States to fund initiatives in Latin America and Africa. It is exporting Artificial Intelligence systems designed to keep totalitarian governments in control. Democracy is no longer the obvious model.
But American values haven’t changed. Today, more than 16,000 Americans — descendants of slaves, descendants of immigrants, sons and daughters of refugees — represent our country in 270 Foreign Service posts throughout the world, promoting tolerance, fairness, equality, the rule of law, the freedom of the press. They do this despite a president who their foreign counterparts call ‘catastrophic,’ ‘terrifying,’ ‘incompetent’ and ‘dangerous.’
The Council on Foreign Relations concludes: “The president is not playing the leadership role the rest of the world has come to expect from the United States, and the consequences are piling up….when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think; it’s worse.” And that was before Thursday.
Trump does not speak for me. He does not speak for my country. Americans must call Trump out, loudly, consistently, and resoundingly now and all the way to the mid-term elections in November.
And “shithole” would be a contender for 2018 Word of the Year, except we know that the long months ahead of us will add competing crap.