“Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?”
These are the words that President Trump chose to employ when referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and all African countries in a meeting with Members of Congress on Thursday. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a bipartisan immigration deal – all in all, an excellent time and place to flaunt racist inclinations.
The world’s responses to Trump’s remark were, although unanimously condemning, varied – the African Union, in the understatement of the year, declared themselves to be “frankly alarmed.” Former Mexican President Vincente Fox Quesada opted for something fruitier: “Your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world.”
What is most clear from the reports exploding from an outraged press is that Trump has levelled up. He is now a fully-fledged racist:
New York Times – “Just Say It: Trump is a Racist”
CNN – “This is CNN Tonight. I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist.”
The New Yorker – “A Racist in the Oval Office”
The Boston Globe – “President Trump, Our Racist-in-Chief”
These statements are far from baseless, but the idea that the complexities of Trump’s attitudes regarding race can be condensed into a single, damning epithet, ‘racist’, is a damaging oversimplification. People cannot be summarized by a single word, nor can their actions be explained or, in a perverse way, justified. Statements like “Trump did this because he’s a racist” offer nothing.
Trump holds many troubling views, and every display of said views offers an opportunity to examine precisely why the view exists and the impact that it could have. I have no doubt that Trump perceives Africa as one homogeneous, violent blob. He is a rabid consumer of ‘Fox and Friends’, a malignant tumour in the body of journalism, and is a victim of a damaging and pervasive style of reporting that aims to alarm and entertain, not inform. It is also clear that Trump perceives Haiti in a horribly skewed way: he has stated in the past that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS.” El Salvador, lastly, has a weird foreign name.
But Trump did not set out to be racist. He is a product of the culture – through media and other means – in which he was raised. He is not a racist anomaly, a random mutation of an otherwise healthy America; he reflects wider attitudes and beliefs. By pigeonholing Trump, we prematurely close the door on a valuable question: Why is Trump the way he is?
Conveniently, we also manage to avert blame from ourselves. By dismissing Trump as a racist, we place him outside the normal range of people. He’s not an average, flawed man, sculpted by the society in which he finds himself – he’s something else, a racist. Such a simple descriptor discourages thoughtful analysis and encourages dismissiveness. The problem is not with the world, but with him, and him alone.
Words like ‘sh*thole’ and accusations of racism make for catchy headlines. Plus it’s fun to keep ridiculing Trump for every last inane statement that he makes. But instead of labelling and moving on, categorizing and dismissing, our analysis should reflect the complex product of history, culture, and media that is Donald Trump.
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