Littwin: Which is worse in a president — saying ‘shithole’ or being a racist?

So, before we get to the point of this column — that Donald Trump has once again revealed himself to the world as a racist — let’s get ”shithole” out of the way because 1) using it has been liberating for those of us who have spent a lifetime working for editors who would have fainted if someone had tried to get that word into a family newspaper and 2) we’re quoting the fu——ing president of the United States who used it to demean an entire continent and more.

The word itself is beside the point. I’ve said worse. Many presidents have undoubtedly said worse. We’ve got tapes of some of them saying worse. What does matter is which countries Trump considers shitholes — yes, countries with a lot of black people — and why he thinks America would be better off with Norwegian immigrants (read: white people) than Haitians (read: not white people).

Remarkably, as has been reported everywhere, Trump spent Thursday evening on the phone asking friends how his “shithole countries” comments on Africa were going over. One White House official described it to CNN as Trump taking a “victory lap.”

The next day, faced with the fact that his comments might not have been a success, Trump semi-denied the quotes, not that anyone would believe him. But if you’re still having doubts, there’s more.

I talked to Michael Bennet about Trump’s comments. Bennet — who along with Cory Gardner is a member of the Gang of 6 that wrote up the compromise immigration proposal Trump rejected — said he saw Sen. Dick Durbin soon after Durbin had left the meeting with Trump and before the Washington Post reported the story.

Bennet said Durbin “looked shaken.” And while Bennet wouldn’t reveal the details of his conversation, he did say that after talking to Durbin, “I have no doubt the president said exactly what he was quoted as saying.” Let’s just say Bennet did not mean that as a good thing.

And there’s this.

After Trump’s semi-denial — which followed White House non-denials — Durbin took to the microphones Friday morning to say that shithole was the least of it and that Trump’s comments were, in fact, “hate-filled, vile and racist.” He noted that he used those words “advisedly,” saying, “I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe in the history of the White House in that Oval Office that any president has spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak today.”

And this.

Durbin also said that Lindsey Graham, a Republican Gang of Sixer who made the presentation to Trump, called Trump out on his comments while sitting next to him, with Durbin noting that it took “extraordinary political courage” for Graham to have done so.

Graham, who has been going around saying unexpectedly nice things about Trump recently, wouldn’t comment directly on the meeting, but fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott said that Graham told him the quotes were “basically accurate.” Which is not exactly courageous, but still.

No one should be surprised by Trump’s latest outrage, even though many continue to be. There’s a reason for that, I guess. Whatever Trump does or says, we still try to cling to a notion of normalcy — and that as abnormal as Trump might be, the office of the presidency must be respected.

And then we remember. That Trump said if Nigerians come to America, they’ll never go back to their huts. And that immigrating Haitians all have AIDS.

And then we remember everything else. The good people among the neo-Nazi marchers. The Muslim ban. The Mexicans-as-rapists trope. The American-born Indiana judge Trump called out for the great crime of having been born to Mexican-American parents. And on and on.

We also shouldn’t be surprised by how many Republicans refuse to call Trump out. Paul Ryan said Trump’s shithole comments were “unfortunate,” which isn’t the same as calling them “racist.” We’re waiting for Gardner, who was recently called a “model” for coming out strongly against Jeff Sessions’ anti-pot crusade, to say something about Trump’s comments regarding a proposal that Gardner helped write. Here’s what a model response would be: Are you bleeping kidding me?

It’s even less surprising that Trump’s ideas on immigration are so backward. First of all, Norwegians are basically happy where they are. They’ve got universal healthcare. They’ve got good schools. Sure, the weather is problematic, but in the last reading, they were named the happiest country in the world. So they’re not immigrating.

Of course people who do immigrate to America often come from poverty and come to make a better life. It’s right there on the Statue of Liberty. These were the people who, according to everything we learned in school, have made America great, and these were the people who, in 1924, America all but cut off from immigrating here because they weren’t white enough (including, at that point, Italians and Slavs) or Christian enough or something enough. It wasn’t until 1965 that Lyndon Johnson and Congress upended the bigoted law.

Meanwhile, this just in: Botswana summoned the U.S. ambassador to the country “to clarify whether Botswana is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country.”

But it’s interesting, maybe even ironic, that, according to a Washington Post story, when large numbers of Norwegians did immigrate to the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century, they didn’t perform as well economically as most other immigrant groups.

Which is, of course, indicative of … nothing. Except that there are shitholes and then there are shitholes. As any stable genius would know.

Photo by Alex.m.Hayward, via Flickr: Creative Commons


  1. Again Trump has managed to distract us from what he’s not doing…saving the DreDreamers and establishing a bipartisan plan for a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already here by yet again saying something shockingly repugnant and racist. He got everyone’s attention. And now we’ve forgotten what the senators etc were in the room to do in the first place. Trump may be smart as he himself believes. Smart and evil enough to sabotage what America stands for. Thanks, Mr. Littwin.

  2. I’m not sure why this news comes as a surprise to some inhabitants of the left…or for some of the Republicans in the middle for that matter. It was clear during the election that Republicans like Michael above were voting for Trump in spite of his racism, and possibly because of it.

    Consider that even though Trump lost the vote, Republicans, for only the second time in modern history, desperately ushered in a bigoted fool who didn’t get the majority of the vote (and thus against the will of the people)…with full knowledge of what they were doing and for whom they were doing it.

    The political autopsy involving those decisions is still being performed, but it ain’t tough to see why the Republican party ain’t gonna make it.

    It’s time for the voters who have not been paying attention to wake up and smell the bigotry and the kleptocracy that have permeated Republican ranks. If you’re ashamed, along with the majority of Americans, at what this country, and the conservative movement, have become, you have no one to blame but yourself.


    I’m talking directly to the Republicans in the center (if they even exist any longer) still clinging to some sense of self-awareness and intellectual honesty, along with the legions of Bernie Bots who stayed home and pouted on election day instead of doing what was right for the country (a sure sign of immaturity and lack of thought about the long term ramifications of their apathy).

    Let me repeat that sentiment for the cheap seats. Centrist Republicans and Bernie Zombies are at fault for allowing the conditions through which the will of the voters was usurped yet again by Republican machinations.

    The fault for this global quagmire falls directly at their feet. If you think blaming centrist Republicans and Bernie supporters for the mess we’re in is beyond the pale…think about this notion:

    Everyone expected the evangelical bigots, corporate robber barons and the shameless war-drum-beating sociopaths to vote for this clown, but no one really thought you folks would stand by and watch the house burn because your feelings got hurt during the process.

    The rest of us did our parts. It’s a shame you didn’t do yours. People have died and will continue to die because of your inaction.

    That’s on you.


    I, for one, expect more from both groups this fall. If you’re not on the side which is opposing bigotry and authoritarian governance, then you’re just as much a part of the problem as the Fox “news” cultists who clearly no longer live on this planet.

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