The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion On ‘shitholes’: When it comes to Trump’s values, something surely smells

The Fix’s Eugene Scott explains how Trump’s “shithole countries” comment is the latest example of his history of demeaning statements on nonwhite immigrants. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

During an Oval Office discussion on Wednesday about potentially restoring protected status for refugees from El Salvador, Haiti, and African nations, President Trump let fly his latest superlatively sensitive bit of commentary:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested the United States should instead bring in more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he also met with on Wednesday.

Oh, where to begin.

It’s likely that Norwegians might prefer to stay where they are, what with their functional health-care systems and social safety nets, to go along with leaders who aren’t attempting to make each day more vulgar, uncertain, and generally appalling than the one before. In the majority of the northern European nations our president fetishizes, feelings towards the United States range from confusion to pity to disgust. (See the recent tribulations of our new ambassador to The Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, who was so roundly mocked by the Dutch that he may well flee back to the United States.)

It’s also more than likely that decades of U.S. policy — occupations, blockades, electoral interference and meddling in internal conflicts — might have something to do with the struggles of countries such as Haiti and El Salvador. Granting their immigrants refuge from crises we may have helped seed is the least we could do.  And with our own internal conflicts — Sky-high infant and maternal mortality rates! Escalating nuclear conflict! Extreme poverty, to the degree that the United Nations has begun to investigate! — maybe now isn’t the best time to be calling anyone else names.

Follow Christine Emba's opinionsFollow

Yet all this, somehow, is secondary. What is most disheartening about our president’s statement is that it betrays the values we used to be proud to defend.

Here’s the thing: America has always taken immigrants from “shithole” countries. Ireland was suffering from a terrible famine when its citizens began to flee to our shores; Italy wasn’t in great shape either. Frankly, every country has had its unattractive moments, including our own. Yet the United States has best embodied its promise when it has acted as a place of welcome. Our darkest moments have occurred when we turned the needy away.

Not that any of this matters to our president. This was not a considered examination of policy or history. It is clear that ignorance and racism are the inspiration for our president’s latest round of uninformed commentary.  Perhaps, as has been whispered, our president takes his cues from the last person who has spoken to him. Perhaps he found the Norwegian prime minister particularly engaging. Even so, our president has now stated outright that he wants more white immigrants and fewer “shithole” black and brown ones.

We’ve been cautious — with reason — when it comes to accusations of racism and white nationalism. But can we now finally admit that our president is a white supremacist and move on? We’ve wallowed in this excrement long enough.

Read more:

Joe Scarborough: There is nothing ‘professional’ about this president

Eugene Robinson: Trump has no idea what he thinks (except about those ‘shithole’ countries)

Alexandra Petri: Trump and ‘shithole’: I’m shocked, shocked!

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans: More reasons to be scared about the midterms

Joel Dreyfuss: No, President Trump, we Haitians don’t all have AIDS

Karen Attiah: The dark side of Trump’s focus on immigration and ‘merit’