By now hundreds of political pundits, as well as thousands on social media, have weighed in on Trump’s comments Friday referring to countries in Africa as “s&ithole countries.” So I may as well also. Now most people, politicians included, have used salty or inappropriate language at some point in their lives. Even though my Twitter bio does proudly state that I am an ordained deacon in the Presbyterian Church (USA); I have also been known to say words stronger than “drat” or “darn.”
Anyone who is familiar with the transcripts of the Watergate tapes recall the number of times the term <expletive deleted> appeared in the documents. There are times when such language is completely inappropriate – when you are in church, for example. But just try working in the commodities department of a brokerage firm, and you will hear words rarely used in polite society. Especially if you forget to sell those cattle futures, as one of our brokers did, and you find yourself owning a herd of cattle.
Trump defenders have tried to use the argument that this is the type of language that your average working Joe would say in his local bar. They have even pointed to former Vice-President Joe Biden referring to something as a “big “effing” deal.” But they are completely missing the critical point here.
The problem with Trump’s language is not the vocabulary he used – it’s the attitude it reflected. His use of that word multiple times came up during a bi-partisan discussion in the Oval Office regarding the diversity visa lottery, and Trump’s main concern was that we were accepting people from “those” countries instead of countries like, say, Norway. The difference between African countries and Norway is immediately obvious – and it has nothing to do with the merits of the people who want to immigrate. It has to do with the color of their skin.
Some people are acting like Claude Rains in the classic movie “Casablanca.” “I am shocked, shocked, to find out that Donald Trump is a racist.” Not if you have been paying attention. Not if you have looked at his history of discriminatory practices in renting housing, his campaign against the Central Park Five – after they had been found innocent – after he said a judge named Curiel, who was born in Indiana, couldn’t judge his case fairly because he was a “Mexican.”
If Trump were to refer to a competitor’s property, whether residences or golf courses, as “s$itholes” nobody would blink an eye. What makes Trump’s language so problematic, and yes, racist, is that he is not referring to things – he is referring to people. People whose skin is not white. As a born and bred Southerner, I grew up surrounded by racists. I heard them talk. I know how they think. My husband and I did everything within our power not to pass those attitudes on to our children – even when it came to a point where I told my father he would no longer be welcome in my house if he continued to use the “n” word.
Writers and politicians appreciate the power that certain words convey. They can be used to uplift or to discourage. They can be used to unite or to divide. Donald Trump claims he has “the best words” better words than anyone else.
Sadly, the best he could come up with was “s$ithole.”