There’s nothing rare about Donald Trump’s latest “shithole countries” comment: the US president has a decades long history of racism
Source: The New Yorker
Donald Trump grew up in a wealthy white enclave in Queens, and he first came to public attention in 1973, when the Justice Department sued his father’s real-estate company for refusing to rent apartments to people “because of race and color.” (Trump strongly denied the charges, which eventually led to a consent decree.) In the nineteen-eighties, when Trump owned casinos in Atlantic City, some of his managers got the strong impression that he didn’t like black employees. In a 2015 story about the faded resort town, my colleague Nick Paumgarten quoted a former busboy at the Trump Castle, who said, “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.”
In a 1991 book about his experiences running Trump Plaza, in Atlantic City, “Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump—His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall,” John R. O’Donnell, a veteran casino executive, recalled a conversation that he had with his boss about an employee in the Plaza’s finance department who happened to be African-American. I cited the passage last fall, after Trump attacked Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a black soldier in the U.S. Special Forces who was killed in Niger, but it is worth reproducing it now. (The quote below begins with Trump speaking about the black employee. The “I” at the start of the second paragraph is O’Donnell.)
“Yeah, I never liked the guy. I don’t think he knows what the fuck he’s doing. My accountants in New York are always complaining about him. He’s not responsive. And it isn’t funny. I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else.”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. But Donald went on, “Besides that, I’ve got to tell you something else. I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is. I believe that. It’s not anything they can control. . . . Don’t you agree?” He looked at me straight in the eye and waited for my reply.
“Donald, you really shouldn’t say things like that to me or anybody else,” I said. “That is not the kind of image you want to project. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation, even if it’s the way you feel.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “If anybody ever heard me say that . . . holy shit . . . I’d be in a lot of trouble. But I have to tell you, that’s the way I feel.”
Is there any doubt that Trump still holds these kinds of views? Even before his latest racial slur—it was reported on Thursday that he referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and certain nations in Africa as “shithole countries” during a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office—the answer was clear. During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump described Mexican immigrants as “in many cases criminals, rapists, drug dealers, etc.”; questioned the fitness of a U.S.-born federal judge by referring to him as “Mexican”; mocked the mother of a Pakistani-American war hero; and, for a time, refused to condemn David Duke, the former Klansman.
Since taking office, Trump hasn’t changed much, if at all. He has embarked on a public crusade against black football players who kneel during the national anthem, suggested that some of the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, were “good people,” and boasted about calling Don Lemon, the African-American CNN host, “the dumbest man on television.” While some might try (lamely) to argue that Trump took some of these steps to rile up his disaffected white voting base, no such reasoning can be applied to his statements in internal meetings, where, according to a report in the Times, he has said that recent immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” and that immigrants from Nigeria, once they had seen the United States, would never “go back to their huts.”
Evidently, the subject of immigration brings out Trump’s inner Archie Bunker. His latest awful utterance—the “shithole” comment—came during a meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers who are trying to reach a deal to extend legal protections for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The deal being discussed would grant these protections while also including changes to the immigration system intended to attract conservative votes in Congress.
According to the Times (though it was the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey who first broke the story), the Republican senator Lindsey Graham and the Democratic senator Dick Durbin presented Trump with a plan that would cut the current visa lottery program and reallocate some of those slots to immigrants from troubled places like Haiti, El Salvador, and a number of African nations whose citizens have been granted so-called Temporary Protected Status in the United States. The Administration has in recent months begun cancelling the protected status of several groups of immigrants—most recently, Salvadorans—and it seems that the mention of Haiti irked the President. When the discussion moved on to African countries, he reportedly said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” And he added that the United States should admit more people from places like Norway.
Rather than denying that Trump had made these remarks, the White House press office dispatched Raj Shah, the principal deputy press secretary, who is Indian-American, to try to rationalize them. “The president will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration—two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country,” Shah’s statement said. “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.”
In appearing to suggest that immigrants from places like El Salvador, Haiti, Liberia, and Sierra Leone couldn’t become productive and assimilated American citizens, the press-office statement demonstrated that deep racial prejudices extend beyond the Oval Office to other parts of the White House. For now, though, the focus should remain on the principal offender rather than his apologists.
On Friday morning, Trump tweeted, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.” In a subsequent tweet, he said, “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country . . . Made up by Dems.” Neither of these tweets specifically addressed the reported use of the phrase “shithole countries.” Later in the morning, Senator Durbin told reporters that Trump said “things which were hate-filled, vile, and racist . . . You’ve seen the comments in the press; I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”
For the past year, Republicans, senior Democrats, and many media commentators have held back from applying the R-word to Trump. In some circumstances, there are good reasons for exercising such caution. Calling someone a bigot is not a step to take lightly. Often, it can shut down discourse and fuel animosity. With Trump, there is the added consideration that, as long as he’s the President, other politicians in Washington have little choice but to deal with him. Also, he runs his mouth so much that a lot of what comes out of it doesn’t merit serious consideration. After this latest outburst, however, the arguments for being reticent seem absurd. The obvious truth can no longer be avoided or sugarcoated: we have a racist in the Oval Office.