S**tholes Revisited

Yesterday, I wrote that I wasn’t particularly alarmed about Trump’s most recent remarks about “s**thole countries”, and I’m still that way. But this lack of alarm does not connote endorsement or approval. I also said that he was probably talking in shorthand–that he was talking about s**thole governments and not the nations or peoples as a whole–but he has also left the door ajar enough to be open for interpretation. The problem is that he could have just as easily been letting his inner racist come out for some air.

I don’t disagree that there are s**thole countries out there, but it is important to articulate what brought those countries to their present s**thole status. In the case of Haiti, their leaders have let down the Haitian people time and again, but the United shares some responsibility for its present cumulative condition (along with cholera-spreading UN Peacekeepers and so forth).

To be clear, the Haitian state and its leaders have perpetually hamstrung their own people, when not outright decimating them. But Haiti’s history also includes a United States that initially refused to acknowledge or trade with the second free republic in the New World—the first free black republic, borne of a successful slave revolution. It includes two decades of occupation by U.S. Marines, a time when free Haitians were conscripted into chain gangs and shot dead for attempting to escape. It includes hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to a father-son dictatorship whose three-decade reign ruined the country’s economy and murdered thousands of citizens. And it includes a foreign aid faucet that continues to flow today, despite the ill incentives it creates. Tweaks to immigration policy would do orders of magnitude more to help ordinary Haitians than that aid—as if helping Haitians were a concern of the present administration.

For everyday Haitians, life working as in the United States as a manual laborer, hotel housekeeper, or fruit picker is often much better and more lucrative than doing much of anything in Haiti. Roughly 80 percent of the half-a-million-plus Haitians who live in the U.S. are working age. Eight in 10 of them who are over 25 have high school degrees, which means they’re slightly more educated than the average immigrant and only slightly less than native-born Americans.

Clemens has called immigration Haiti’s “most successful poverty reduction program.” He and fellow economist Lant Pritchett have estimated that a low-skilled worker from Haiti can increase his or her earnings by sixfold by immigrating to the United States. A coherent immigration system would allow employers to hire willing foreigners from Haiti and any other country on the president’s shit list to fill niches in the service sector, on construction sites, and wherever else they’re needed. It would also make it much easier for highly skilled or entrepreneurial foreign nationals to invest in the U.S. regardless of where they come from.

In this respect, there is some history with Haiti does not apply to El Salvador and African nations, and it’s a history that I doubt Trump is aware of. Also, I can’t help but think about this comment.


Or the son of Haitian immigrants who became a Pro Bowl defensive end and pledged to build a house in Haiti for each sack (sadly, his career is probably done because of a neck injury). Replace “Ghanan” with “Haitian” and it’s the same point, and its contradicts his earlier mantra that he wants to accept immigrants on their merits; now, his stated preference is national origin. Mr. French, whose adopted daughter is an African immigrant, has more:

The president of the United States should not, by word or deed, communicate that he is hostile to or disdainful of entire classes of the American population. It doesn’t matter if such divisive rhetoric helps him win elections, nor if the reaction of his opponents is often overblown. As president, his obligation remains the same: Make your case without demonizing whole groups of people.

This shouldn’t be difficult for conservatives to understand. It’s an argument they’ve been making against Democrats for the better part of a decade. It’s the argument against identity politics.

French cites the easy example of Candidate Obama, who played his own game of Identity Politics.

And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Trump is a former Democrat who is using the same Democratic tactic of identity politics. More from French:

With all that in mind, how should a conservative react to President Trump’s alleged comments about immigration from “sh**hole” or “sh**house” countries?

First, if you’re spending your time defending the notion that some countries are truly bad places to live, you’re missing the point entirely. Of course some countries are worse places to live than others. But Trump wasn’t talking about which countries he’d most like to visit or retire to. He was talking about which countries’ immigrants should be most and least welcomed by the United States.

Second, these comments must be understood in the context of Trump’s relatively short history as the country’s most visible political figure. From the opening moments of his presidential campaign, Trump has made sweeping, negative remarks about immigrants from third-world nations. Even when he qualifies those remarks (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”) the qualification is weak. Isn’t it reasonable for a Mexican American to assume that when Trump says Mexico is “forcing their most unwanted people into the United States,” he is expressing a negative personal perception of Mexican immigrants?

Moreover, time and again, Trump has engaged in actions and rhetoric that inflame broader racial tensions and betray possible racial bias. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out this morning, the president’s businesses have been credibly accused of racial discrimination, he claimed that an American judge couldn’t do his job fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage, he delayed condemning David Duke as long as he possibly could, and after the dreadful alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, he went out of his way to declare that there were “very fine people” on both sides. One doesn’t even have to delve too deeply into Trump’s alleged comparison of Norway with the “sh**holes” of Africa to understand why a reasonable observer would believe that he has problems with entire classes of Americans, immigrants, and citizens of other nations.

The fact that modern debate has become extraordinarily stupid does not excuse us from understanding and recognizing the core problem with Trump’s comments. Yes, it’s ridiculous to see a parade of progressives take to Twitter to argue that desperately poor and often terribly corrupt third-world nations are really just lovely and amazing places. Yes, it’s even more ridiculous to see a different group of progressives argue that, wait, America is the true “sh**hole.” But it’s just as ridiculous for conservatives to pretend that the outrage over Trump’s comments truly centers around his assessment of Haiti and Africa when it clearly centers around his assessment of Haitians and Africans. His remarks came amid a discussion of immigration policy, after all.

At this point I simply can’t see how a conservative could look a concerned third-world immigrant (or descendant of a third-world immigrant) in the eye and assert that this president judges them fairly and without bias. The intellectual and rhetorical gymnastics necessary to justify not just Trump’s alleged comments yesterday but his entire history and record of transparent hostility to certain immigrants are getting embarrassing to watch. Some of his comments may “work” politically — divisive comments often do — but that doesn’t make them any less damaging to American political culture as a whole.

I said from the outset Trump would be bad for America as president (and so too would Hillary), and his comments were bad for America. Worse, IMO, it adds one more piece to his body of work, supporting that he actually is a racist. The real s**thole that I’m seeing right now is this presidency.

P.S. I’ll still judge this president as he goes, but it gets no easier over time.