Hateful. Vile. Racist. And nothing new for Donald Trump. In June the US president reportedly said immigrants from Haiti “all have Aids.” By Thursday, those immigrants were subject to a humiliating re-classification, coming – along with immigrants from El Salvador and the nations that comprise Africa – from “sh**hole countries”. And this vulgar language at a meeting about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca or Dreamers) programme!
As with the disclosures in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, the latest revelation adds little to what we already know. Trump once fanned the flames of the “birther” movement against Barack Obama. He called Mexican immigrants rapists. And he said there were “very fine people on both sides” after deadly violence at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. But Thursday’s remarks in the Oval Office are a graphic escalation.
“I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and of that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak,” said Dick Durbin, the lone democrat at the meeting. Trump added insult to injury on Friday. Instead of showing contrition, he equivocated: admitting to “tough” language but belatedly denying use of the derogatory word. But said Durbin, “sh**hole was the exact word used not once not twice but repeatedly.”
Even more shameful is Trump’s denigration of the role these nations play in America’s own development. Trade with them alone accounts for a combined total of 146,000 American jobs, according to figures held by the US Office of the United States Trade Representative. In 2015, America transacted US$37 billion in business with sub-Saharan Africa, US$7.6 billion with El Salvador and US$2 billion with Haiti, a country still ravaged by history as well as the after effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Most of this trade benefitted small and medium enterprises in the US.
But Trump’s remarks have little to do with decency or economics. Thus far in his presidency, he has pointedly neglected Africa. Many Africa-focused posts in his administration remain unfilled. In September, he appeared to invent a new country called “Nambia” while addressing African leaders in Washington. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream seems farther away than ever before. Perhaps it was inevitable that the racism which fuelled Trump’s campaign has now become a part of his day-to-day governance.
Such racism is outrageous and, by the way, ignores the substantial contribution members of the African, Caribbean and Latin American diaspora make to US society. It also ignores the irrefutable fact that America’s wealth was built on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. That is a cold hard fact which no outburst, no tweet from the Oval Office will ever erase.