Last week, during discussions on a bipartisan immigration compromise, President Trump set a new low bar. During the conversation, he purportedly demanded to know why we wanted “all these people from s---hole countries” in Central America and Africa coming to the United States, requesting people from “places like Norway” instead.
This comment was not an isolated incident. No one should make accusations of racism without evidence - but in the case of Donald Trump, there is plenty.
- Donald Trump, the businessman, was sued for discrimination by tenants and employees, and was quoted preferring “short guys who wear yarmulkes” to “black guys” as accountants.
- Donald Trump, the public figure, proudly funded an ad campaign calling for the execution of five nonwhite youths accused of rape (doubling down when they were eventually proven innocent), and he led the ‘birther’ movement, a years-long effort to delegitimize the first African American President of the United States.
- Donald Trump, the candidate, called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals,” did impressions of Asian people at his rallies, retweeted white nationalists, attacked the religion of Muslim Gold Star parents, and claimed a judge was biased against him because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.
- Donald Trump the president has tried to ban Muslims from entering the United States, pardoned and lauded Maricopa County’s disgraced Sheriff Joe Arpaio, pursued a slew of draconian immigration policies, repeated the epithet of “Pocahontas” against Senator Elizabeth Warren (in front of Navajo Code Talkers), claimed that Haitians “have AIDS” and that Nigerians “live in huts,” asked a Korean-American civil servant why she wasn’t negotiating with Pyongyang, and found himself repeatedly embattled with prominent people of color from Colin Kaepernick to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.
We’ve seen so much of Donald Trump’s racism that commentators are largely skipping the usual “is he or isn’t he” handwringing that accompanies such a remark by a public figure. Indeed, most defenses of the s---hole remark have focused on how Trump’s base won’t be alienated by the comments - as if a widely held abhorrent view is somehow more excusable. But this most recent transgression does have consequences beyond profound national embarrassment.
First, there is the personal pain it caused. It is undeniably President Trump’s forte to ‘trigger the liberals’ (present company included), and his base loves him for it - in the same way that a bully’s lackeys cheer when he takes out his (and their) insecurities upon the weak. But that does not make the insult of hearing the President of the United States describe entire nations in profane terms any less real for the peoples of those nations.
These hurt feelings on a governmental scale can lead to diplomatic fallout, too. Public figures in Kenya, Mexico, South Africa, and El Salvador denounced the president’s rhetoric, while American diplomats in Haiti, Senegal, and Botswana were summoned by their host governments to answer for it. International organizations like the African Union and the United Nations registered their shock and dismay as well. President Trump’s racism might play well with his base at home, but it is surely eroding American goodwill abroad - as well as already low global confidence that the United States is led by a stable man capable of good judgment.
And finally, there are the policy implications. The point of this conversation was a bipartisan deal to preserve DACA, which affects hundreds of thousands of people who have known no home but the United States and been held to higher-than-average academic, legal, and career standards. It also could have partially stunted attacks on family-based migration, Temporary Protected Status programs, and the Diversity Visa Lottery - all longstanding tenets of U.S. immigration policy with economic and diplomatic benefits as well as thorough security procedures.
But the compromise was shot down. And not even in the name of “merit-based” immigration (for what skills are inherent in being Norwegian?) but simply because the president doesn’t want more people he assumes are poor, uneducated, and unskilled coming to the United States. An incorrect assumption compared to the real data on those immigrants - but of course, that’s the only kind of assumption that racists make.
So yes, President Trump is racist, and his racism is affecting people at home and abroad, and America’s standing in the world. And regardless of whether or not the Republican-controlled Congress includes a DACA fix in their efforts to fund the government, his racism will continue to have consequences for all of us - even though his small-minded views are antithetical to our country’s values.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.