Every week it seems — sometimes more like every day — our baby boomer president incites more controversy. Some Americans think it’s good, some think it’s bad, but the one thing no one can deny is, he is changing the whole nature of the presidency. BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs, who worked as a journalist for almost 50 years and covered several presidents off-and-on through his career, doesn’t like what he sees in this one.
Look, I’ve covered news in more than 80 countries, on every continent (except Antarctica). Some, by my own reckoning, were “shithole countries.” There was corruption and filth and hostility in every direction. The phones didn’t work, the food made you sick, you had to break the law and risk arrest to even get the story.
But I confined my pronouncement of that private judgment to letters I sent home from the field. Certainly as a network news correspondent I never vocalized it publicly in any story, because what I said on TV was seen and heard by tens of millions of Americans. My words could have repercussions. But the impact that an assessment like “shithole countries” would have had coming from me obviously pales in comparison to its impact coming from the president of the United States.
Yet last week, commenting about nations in Africa, he allegedly said it anyway (and I use “allegedly” in fairness to the president’s dubious denial that he used those words, although frankly, with no one who was with him actually denying it, I have to conclude that where there’s smoke, there’s fire).
There are so many things wrong with Trump’s coarse comment. To begin with, it is thoroughly unbecoming of the most powerful man in the world, the man who holds the office from which our moral compasses are supposed to be set. (Needless to say though, he’s not the first to dishonor his high office. Exhibit “A” in modern times: Richard Nixon. Exhibit “B”: Bill Clinton.)
Second, it nullifies the sincerity of Trump’s scripted remarks just minutes after referring to “shithole countries” when, at a public ceremony, he signed a Martin Luther King Day proclamation: “Today we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin, or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.” Empty words, because they don’t square with the president’s public portrayal of black African nations as “shitholes.”
Third, it encourages hate groups (and in the case of Donald Trump, not for the first time). Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin wrote on his white supremacist Daily Stormer website that Trump’s words about African countries were “encouraging and refreshing” and indicate that the president “is more or less on the same page as us.” On Twitter, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke simply called them “perfect.” Trump’s words put him in league with the xenophobic ultranationalist leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria. Maybe this is the kind of company Donald Trump wants to keep, but it’s not the kind of company our country needs to keep.
Fourth, it perpetuates the pattern of eroding respect worldwide for the United States of America, which exacerbates our power to prevail, even with our allies, in today’s geopolitical environment. On the website CNN.com reporters interviewed several Americans they know to be Trump supporters. One of them, a truck driver in Youngstown, Ohio named Geno DiFabio, said of Trump’s language, “In the grand scheme… it’s not going to turn any supporter I know of from him.” Maybe not, but that misses the point: it can have critical consequences, turning more countries away from him, and away from us. Trump already has trashed NATO, maligned Mexico, slurred Pakistan, abandoned Asian trading partners to China, forsaken America’s mantle as a neutral negotiator in the Middle East, and not just incidentally, taunted a demagogic dictator with a nuclear bomb in his arsenal. Does the president think that by describing nations in Africa as “shithole countries,” he brings them into the American fold?
The big city newspaper where I live, The Denver Post, put it well in an editorial. American presidents, it wrote, “should appreciate the good fortune they inherited, through no action of their own, by simply being born in our great country.” South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham, who called Trump “unfit for office” during the campaign but now has an on-again off-again relationship with the president, put it even better: “America is an idea, not a race.” Graham added that his ancestors were immigrants themselves who came from “shithole countries with no skills.” Their descendant became a United States Senator.
By making his comment about “shithole countries” (and as if it couldn’t be more bizarre, making it in the very week when his mental fitness was being broadly debated), our “stable genius” of a president proves he doesn’t have a clue. “America First” doesn’t have to mean “America Only.” Except in Trump’s small-minded little world. Which puts our bigger world in peril.