FACTS: On Thursday, President Donald Trump hosted a bipartisan meeting with U.S. senators at the White House to discuss immigration policy. According to three sources, including Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Trump used derogatory language when discussing immigration law. While the initial conversation centered on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) negotiations, lawmakers turned their attention to immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, and African nations.
Recapping Trump’s reaction to these discussion topics, meeting attendee Sen. Durbin stated to the press, “When the question was raised about Haitians for example — we have a group that have temporary protected status in the United States because they were the victims of crises and disasters and political upheaval. The largest group is El Salvador and the second is Honduran and the third is Haitian, and when I mentioned that fact to him, he said, ‘Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?’” According to sources, the President also claimed the United States needed to “take them out,” meaning remove the country from the immigration legislation at hand.
When the meeting turned to the topic of African immigration, the President grew frustrated and asked his fellow politicians, “Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?” Sen. Durbin claimed that the term “sh*thole” was the “exact word used by the President, not just once, but repeatedly.”
Fifteen hours after initial reports began circling, President Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning to deny some of the claims:
While the White House and President Trump himself denied the claim that he demanded the United States “take them [Haitian immigrants] out,” they have yet to address the President’s derogatory “sh*thole” reference to African countries. Rather than explicitly deny it, President Trump tweeted that “this was not the language used.”
Despite these vague denials, many of the President’s fellow conservatives condemned his vulgar language. Haitian-American congresswoman Mia Love (R-UT) released a statement that referred to the comments as “unkind” and “divisive.” She called for the President to issue an apology to both Americans and the countries offended by his statements, and further cited her parents’ migration from Haiti as an immigration success story.
House Speaker Paul Ryan also mentioned his family’s migration to America from Ireland in his disapproval of President Trump’s comments. The Speaker labeled such language “very unfortunate, unhelpful.” He told his audience at a luncheon in Milwaukee on Friday that immigration is “a thing to celebrate…it’s a big part of our strength.”
This Friday is the anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti eight years ago at a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude. Experts estimate that the quake affected three million Haitians and took hundreds of thousands of lives. Talk about poor timing on the part of the President.
In order for the Republican Party to salvage both its reputation and its dignity, its members must separate themselves from this divisive and hateful rhetoric. No matter your views on immigration, this vulgarity cannot be the method our federal representatives use when discussing policy. Had the President chosen other words to express his sentiments, not only would it have prevented offending foreign countries and feeding into the divisive nature of modern politics, but the discussion could focus instead on the actual issue at hand – immigration.
There are two sides to this argument. On one side, many Americans – journalists, celebrities, and average citizens – have labeled the President and his remarks from Thursday as racist. This, of course, is based on the fact that the countries being discussed are mostly occupied by a black or Latino populations. However, referring to President Trump as a racist is nothing new from this side of the argument. Since the first day of his campaign, Democrats and even some Republicans have accused him of racism. With this mentality, of course, the anti-Trump electorate will paint this entire story as an example of the President’s personal racist convictions.
The other side has staunchly defended the statements as “facts” that must be said in these sorts of discussions. This is the group of Trump supporters that revere him for his political incorrectness and ability to “tell it like it is.” While not all of members of this side believe that “sh*thole” was the right word, they agree with the overall point the President was trying to make, which is the belief that America should permit immigrants from countries with strong economies and high rates of education, not poor countries tainted by natural disaster, poverty, and authoritarian regimes. They point to harsh words used by former leaders, such as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, offering it as some sort of distraction from current events. These statements, of course, were also inappropriate. However, we cannot use these “whataboutism” tactics as an excuse for our President’s current behavior. Past mistakes cannot justify the errors of today.
There should be a third side to this argument. This side is not clouded by their biases or party affiliation, but thinks both logically and compassionately when judging the individual actions of this country’s leaders. President Trump could easily have addressed the same point in a much respectful manner. Using a derogatory word like “sh*thole” demeans an entire nation, culture, and people who have struggled their entire lives to grasp even just some of the privileges we take for granted here in America. Rather than blatantly offend entire countries, the President could easily substitute a word such as “impoverished” for a disparaging smear like “sh*thole.”
You can be a Republican and still condemn certain words or actions of the President, just as you can be a Democrat and support certain words or actions. Party affiliation is a voluntary association, not a compulsory contract. When the American President uses vulgar and demeaning language, condemn it. When he uses unifying and inspirational language, praise it.
If the President could avoid Twitter and be slow to speak, I believe he can be a phenomenal leader. However, with every disparaging comment he makes, that possibility is slowly chipping away, fragmenting our country and its people.