President Trump, on his 356th day in office, once again reset the norms of vulgarity for how we talk to and think about each other and the world.
A rash and reckless leader of the free world whined during a bipartisan meeting on immigration about America accepting immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti and some African nations. Then he waited 15 hours, while his White House staff released a statement that did not deny the remark, as “shithole” churned through an enveloping evening cable television news cycle. Fox News seized on and endorsed his complaint while other channels shook their collective talking heads and editors asked the question: “Can we use ‘shithole’ in a headline?”
It is far too easy these days to imagine the president in bed with his cheeseburger Thursday evening, doing the math on whether titillating his base with thinly-coded racism was worth upending a bipartisan deal on immigration, derailing a “win” for a man so desperate to tout victories.
Finally, on Friday morning Trump did what so many critics have previously advised — he thought first and then tweeted. This time, it was a weak denial of “the language” attributed to him.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018
It turns out, a delayed Trump tweet is not an improvement. From The Washington Post’s initial scoop on “shithole,” the story went in many directions Thursday and Friday but two main paths appeared.
The president is right or the president is racist.
The White House responded Thursday with a 120-word statement that did not address the one word everyone was suddenly talking about. In Washington, that’s as good as confirmation that the president uttered the word.
— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) January 11, 2018
The San Francisco Chronical’s Josh Gohlke (an Inquirer alum) recalled when America was leery of accepting German immigrants (like Trump’s grandfather).
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) January 12, 2018
And Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune saw Trump’s comments as a mirror for us to ask ourselves a question: What do we have to say about this president?
What did you say when our president called other countries “shitholes.”
Were you outraged? Or did you make excuses?
Did you speak out? Or keep quiet?
What did you say? Mark it down, let it be known.
Because you will be asked this again someday.https://t.co/lYSPlvLg7u
— Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke) January 12, 2018
And then the evening news shows were off the races, sprinting in predictably partisan fashion. Cable news complimented or castigated the president. Over at Fox News, calling some countries “shitholes” was simple logic.
Option A: El Salvador isn't a "shithole," so they don't need 17 years of Temporary Protected Status, and migrants from there should be sent home immediately. Option B: El Salvador is, in fact, a "shithole." https://t.co/sea1sKoY8K
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) January 11, 2018
Philadelphia’s own Jesse Watters said on Fox that Trump’s comment was “a little offensive … and if he offends some people, fine.”
Over on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was wondering if Democrats could leverage Trump’s comments for some good.
Maddow: Can Trump's racist remarks be used to undo his racist policies? Watch. https://t.co/FH1CD7Yx5d
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 12, 2018
It wasn’t just news networks that reacted strongly to Trump’s comments. Botswana, an African nation that denounced Trump and actually asked if it “is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country.”
— Botswana Government (@BWGovernment) January 12, 2018
While we wait for the mess to continue unfolding through the weekend — on Friday, Trump, at the White House, honored the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., while ducking questions about his own comments — the Los Angeles Times posits something truly startling: that the president scares them the most when he says what he is really thinking.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) January 12, 2018