Poor Donald Trump. He was simply asking for information, and they’re all over him as if he were a racist thug. His choice of words was unfortunate, but the angels rejoice when an ignorant person seeks enlightenment. We should take his question seriously and answer it for him.
What Trump asked last Thursday was: “Why are we having all these people from sthole countries come here?” From the context – he was meeting with Congressmen and senators who were working on immigration issues – it’s clear that by ‘sthole countries’ he meant Central American and African countries. El Salvador and Haiti came in for special mention.
What marks these countries out is that many of them are very poor, and some of them are plagued by war, crime and/or corruption. But most of the immigrants to the United States of America have always come from countries like that: people who are safe and prosperous generally don’t abandon the countries they grew up in.
The first wave of Irish who went to the US in the mid-19th century were driven by famine at home. The German, Polish and Italian immigrants of the same period were fleeing poverty and political repression; the Russian Jews were also fleeing anti-Semitic violence. They would all have been ‘sthole countries’ at the time.
They are all safer, more prosperous places now, and the sources of the migrant flows have changed – but the motives of the migrants have not. Trump should already have known that, since he grew up in New York City, but maybe he was just too privileged and isolated. At any rate, I’m glad to have cleared it up for him – and now that he understands the process all he has to do is clean up his language.
No, wait a moment. Trump had another question, too. He wanted to know why the US couldn’t bring in immigrants from non-sthole places like Norway instead. This is a little harder to answer, because it’s a question of definition: the whole concept of a sthole depends heavily on your perspective.
From the point of view of Mexicans or Cubans, for example, El Salvador and Haiti are indeed stholes. And from the viewpoint of a Norwegian, the US is… Well, let me leave that question to Christian Christensen, a Norwegian-American currently living and working in Sweden, who tweeted as follows: “Of course people from #Norway would love to move to a country where people are far more likely to get shot, live in poverty, get no healthcare because they are poor, get no paid parental leave or subsidised daycare, and see fewer women in political power. #Sthole.” A bit heavy on the sarcasm, but you get the point.
And this brings us to the heart of the matter. Trump is a racist: such a dyed-in-the-wool racist that he is virtually unconscious of it. He openly says that he prefers immigrants from nice, white countries like Norway to brown or black immigrants from ‘sthole countries’.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson told his audience that Trump’s ‘s**thole’ comments were “something that almost every single person in America actually agrees with.” Wrong. What he should have said was “almost every single American who watches Fox News.”
Very few non-white Americans agree with this kind of talk, and a large number of white Americans, maybe as many as half, don’t either. That adds up to a 65-70 per cent majority who don’t agree. Trump will not win this argument, and Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, knows it.
“There are, I have to say, a growing number of white Americans who are afraid of and do not want to see the browning of America. They have a picture-perfect 1950s view of mother wearing an apron as dad, in a hat, goes off to work. It looks a lot more like them than it does me, but America is starting to look more like me.” Michael Steele is an African-American.