At 4:46 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 11, in the Year of our Lord 2018, the word “shithole” started trending in the United States of America.
“I never thought I’d see the day when ‘s---hole’ appears on CNN,” tweeted a professor from the University of Cincinnati.
[Of course she typed out the full word, but you think our editors would let us get away with it more than once in a story?]
“The s---hole is the White House,” tweeted a political advisor to Hillary Clinton.
Unmoored from a sense of decorum, heavy with the realization that, again, no adults were coming to lay down the law, the nation turned its eyes to the sky, its fingers to its keyboard and loosed a keening wail:
“S---HOLE S---HOLE,” wrote a dancer and activist.
The launchpad was President Trump, who had reportedly used the word in a meeting with lawmakers about immigration: “Why are we having all these people from s---hole countries come here?” he said, about Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, according to a Washington Post article citing the accounts of several people in the room. He would prefer, he added, immigrants from Norway.
And so, following the tacit permission of the leader of the free world, we add to the keening chorus:
You know, just — crap, right? Just, ugh.
We cannot add to the cursing for more shock value. Nothing has shock value.
“S---hole” stopped us in our tracks at first, before we realized we had been off-roading it since the “very fine people” Nazi incident of Charlottesville. Or maybe since “grab ’em by the [kitty]” during the campaign. There was a time at which likening Mexican immigrants to “rapists” would have been a last straw — but behold, we have discovered an endless straw supply with which to keep sucking things down.
“I look forward to getting a more detailed explanation regarding the President’s comments,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement.
(A more vivid description, perhaps, about what kind of crater, precisely, contained the excrement?)
“President Trump will always fight for the American people,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said.
(Good, because Norwegians are never going to let us live this down. You think they want to leave their 100 percent literacy and 82-year life expectancy — ours is 78 — to move here?)
The profanity is why the president’s remarks went viral. As inured as America may be to political chaos, we still have a seven-second delay on live television, we still don’t expect to turn on the news and see which dirty word we will now have to temporarily allow, to discuss current events. (We never use that word at home, Jaden. Only at the White House.)
Get too caught up in the profanity, though, and it is easy to forget the real shock is not an eight-letter word but the most charitable interpretation of the sentiment — that the quality of people’s living conditions is what makes them worthy Americans. In which case, we need to deport a lot of crusty college students immediately.
In which case, nobody ever would have come to America, since our ancestors often immigrated because their home countries were junkheaps, in one way or another. Unless, of course, our ancestors were dragged here, unwilling, by people bent on creating a real s---hole of an existence for a whole race of people.
Language is important. Language is specific. There are some 170,000 currently-used words in the English language. We are writing this because Trump chose “s---hole,” and people took notice. Words are just words, though. It is usually the thoughts behind them that need to be cleaned up.