The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion ‘Shithole’ wasn’t the most offensive part of Trump’s Haiti comments

Elisabeth Volmar, originally from Haiti, becomes a U.S. citizen Jan. 12 in Hialeah, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

TWO MONTHS ago, the Haitian Roundtable, a nonprofit organization based in New York, handed out its annual awards to Haitian Americans who have succeeded in the United States. Among them were a police chief, a museum curator, a hospital director, two Olympic athletes, a college chancellor, a poet and a state senator.

Their achievements are impressive — but in some ways no more impressive than those of 700,000 other Haitian immigrants who are teachers, taxi drivers, nurses, janitors, firefighters and other hard-working, law-abiding contributors to U.S. society and the U.S. economy. Every one of them struggling honorably every day to make a better life for their children is a reminder of what President Trump fails to understand about this country.

What is most offensive in the president's comment on immigration to a group of senators on Thursday is not the vulgarity. "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Trump said, referring to Haiti and countries in Africa and Central America. "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out." What is most offensive is not even the insult to other nations, though that is certainly unacceptable from a president of the United States.

It’s not just Trump: Western media has long treated black and brown countries like ‘shitholes’

No, what should sadden every American is to have someone living in the White House with so little respect for the courage of women and men who have been coming here from "shithole" countries for centuries — and who have built the United States into the great nation it is today. The Jews who fled the shtetls, the Irish who escaped the potato famine, the Italians who left hardscrabble farms in Sicily, the Vietnamese who crammed onto rickety fishing boats, the Afghans and Eritreans and Nicaraguans who ran from bloody civil wars — each and every one of them could have been turned back to their "shithole" native lands had U.S. leaders then been as obtuse as Mr. Trump is today.

President Trump is under fire for referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as “shithole countries.” (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

But they were welcomed, or at least tolerated — and thank goodness, because what they brought with them was far more valuable than what this country gave them, as generous as that often was. What they brought was not, in most cases, college degrees or fat bank accounts. What they brought was moxie and gumption. A refusal to give up. A belief in opportunity and in an American dream that was available to everyone, to black Haitians and blond Norwegians alike.

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

Shortly after The Post reported Mr. Trump's comment, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol reminded us on Twitter of Emmanuel Mensah, who immigrated from Ghana five years ago and joined the Army National Guard. He was home in the Bronx last month when a devastating fire broke out in his apartment building; he lost his life as he rescued others. "He brought four people out," his uncle, Twum Bredu, who lives next door, told the New York Times. "When he went to bring a fifth person out, the fire caught up with him."

Most Americans understand how fortunate we are to attract such heroes to our shores.

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)

The Post's View: Trump's crusade against immigrants is an attack on America

James Downie: Now can we call the president a white supremacist?

Christine Emba: When it comes to Trump's values, something surely smells