A Heartbreaking Work of Stable Genius

Let's not pretend that when the president calls countries "shitholes," the real problem is his use of profanity.

This man is a white supremacist, and to pretend otherwise is a disservice.

If you want proof that Washington, D.C. is hardwired for Republicanism, ask yourself this: What would be the response if a Democratic president talked about undesirable people from shithole states? Would we read stories about how that such language lawmakers and diplomats “alarmed” or “concerned” or “reeling“? Or would that person be hanged in effigy?

Career civil servants may be resigning, but nothing like that is happening today. I remember when the prospect of a Democratic president having oral sex was sufficient grounds to shut down the universe — with consequences a decade later — but a Republican casually slandering five billion people is good for one news cycle, tops. At worst, we’ll get the same faux-shock and faux-anguish that characterized the Republican response to the Access Hollywood recordings.

Who on Earth is surprised that Donald Trump said what he said? We know he nominated people for Cabinet-level positions as if he were casting them in a reality TV show, and now we know he prefers the country be populated by Aryans (or maybe people from Nambia). This isn’t even news. Only last month, Trump said Haitians all have AIDS and Nigerian immigrants wouldn’t go back to their huts. And he’s tried three times to ban Muslims from entering the country.

I’m struggling to remember the last time progressives tried to ram an ugly, unconstitutional executive order through the courts three times in one year. (Republicans used to hate those executive orders, once upon a time from 2009-2017.) Further, they just passed a catastrophic tax bill without a single Democratic vote in either chamber, and I don’t recall the centrist D.C. press corps wailing about failures of bipartisanship then, either. When it came time to pass the Affordable Care Act — which, as the diametric opposite of December’s tax scam, was intended to help working Americans, imperfect thought it was — those same people lost sleep every night because Obama couldn’t get a Republican on board. These days, the courtesan press just drops the pretense that Trump ever campaigned as a populist, preferring to speak about oligarchy in neutral terms. To criticize Republicans is simply uncouth.

But yesterday’s outburst gives them nowhere to hide. Donald Trump is an open white supremacist, and if you’re a journalist who refuses to acknowledge that, you need to resign. (It’s Friday afternoon, just put out a press release and go away forever.) If you choose to recognize reality, please don’t put an asterisk in “shithole” and don’t bleep out the first syllable. The time for genteel responses to repugnant vitriol has to wind down, and everybody who gets an audience with the autocrat should be more like April Ryan. Trump is not merely a racist, he’s the racist, in the sense that both his rhetoric and his refusal to hide it have corrupting effects. The more he talks, the more accustomed we all get to the erosion of the taboo against being a horrible, racist prick in private conversation as well as in public discourse. And the Nazis are happy once again.

Letting him off easy isn’t the only mistake to make. There are two other inadequate ways to confront Trump’s brazen racism, and unfortunately, we’re seeing plenty of both. The first is the pearl-clutching route. Sen. Dick Durbin got extremely pious today when noting that he was in the room when Trump spoke, saying, “I cannot believe in this history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.”

Really, senator? You can’t believe it? Because I can believe it without any trouble. Also, Nixon and Johnson reach had a serious case of caca-mouth, everybody knows that, and pretending otherwise is ridiculous. 

Then we have things like this. In a since-deleted tweet, the Washington Post‘s Josh Rogin excused Trump’s comment about shithole countries by noting that Obama once said Republican opposition to his legislation was “horseshit.” What level of sophistry do you need to invest yourself in to think that’s an apples-to-apples comparison? Liberals pull this crap a lot. People got super-upset one time after Dick Cheney called Pat Leahy a “fucking asshole” on the Senate floor, as if that sullied the very integrity of the chamber or something.

Boo-fucking-hoo. The issue here is not profanity. The issue is racism — and lying about it.

The other bad route is to pretend that Trump represents an aberration from decades of American foreign policy. The U.S. routinely treats impoverished countries as client states whose resources our corporations may extract at will or as ideal places for proxy wars against Communists or Islamists or whatever boogeymen du jour. We prop up vicious dictatorships who acquiesce to empire and we assassinate leaders who stand up to us — and we do so in the name of spreading democracy. The entire neoliberal global order is predicated on America using its military might to keep potential troublemakers in check. “Shithole countries” are expected to know their place.  

This week, Trump screwed over hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans who’ve been living in the U.S., some for decades. If forced to return, they face gang violence on one side and police violence on the other. Ask a right-winger why so many Salvadorans came to the United States, and they’ll give you the whole litany of bullshit, with drugs and rape and MS-13 and “calves the size of cantaloupes” and all that xenophobic racist nonsense. But the real answer is that they fled to safety after we funded a civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. Some 75,000 people died in a 12-year period, the equivalent of almost 4 million casualties in a country the size of ours. 

At the risk of reinforcing the president’s appalling word choice via repetition, it’s simply a fact that if El Salvador is a “shithole,” it’s because we worked very hard to make it one. Or take Haiti, which has been so victimized by colonialism that even attempts to help it recover from a devastating earthquake made matters worse. The president is in such cognitive decline that it’s a given he has no idea about any of this. (Wonkette for the win on a related point.) But his racist bluster is revealing. A great deal of American foreign policy operates just as Trump says, only it’s too impolitic to blurt it out so explicitly, just as it’s too impolitic for The New York Times to say full-stop that the president is a belligerent white supremacist and we’re all in grave danger.

What I’m really left wondering is this: Just how racist are we in our dealings with the world? Did we avoid a thermonuclear war with the Soviets during the Cold War because our ruling elite was prudent and wise? Or did we fight Communists in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere simply because Russians, Poles, and Hungarians are white?

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