Boomer Opinion: Should we call them “shithole countries?”

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.

Greg on location.

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.

Trump playing golf.

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.)

Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon

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.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

The Denver Post

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.

Check out Greg’s latest book, Life in the Wrong Lane.

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10 Comments

  1. Great piece, Greg. Throughout the presidential campaign, my feelings about Trump were that he was a pig and a clown. Now, a year later, I fear that those two may be among his better qualities.

  2. Trump and the GOP have overused the “fake news” phrase and their blame game until it’s threadbare. Their behavior has convinced me that they and no one else are the “mothership” of lies and inaccurate, misleading and fake news. Trump is behaving in a boneheaded manner, frequently recycling what he hears on Fox and Friends which is little more than right-wing propaganda. Even the White House explanation of Saturday’s alarming ballistic missile warning in Hawaii was blamed on an “exercise” when officials in Hawaii just admitted that someone pushed the wrong button. At the time the incorrect alert went out Trump was finishing up a round of golf at Trump National Golf Course in Florida. It was an abdication of leadership by Trump, clear and alarming. Anything that’s a blush of truth for Trump and many in the GOP (like the sleazy US ambassador to The Netherlands) seems intentionally twisted into a distortion … as if they are hardwired to prevent them from telling the truth.

    Politico is running a series of reports on Trump supporters, his voters — would they support him now even if they knew or sensed that what he represented was not in their best interests. Sadly it seems that they would … even as they lose their jobs and ways of life as Trump gives away America to his wealthy pals.

    I hear this phrase being used more often and although it’s crass, it’s accurate — “America, wake the fuck up!”

  3. Such even-handed, straightforward assessment deserves to be far more widely diffused than present conditions permit. More power to your pen, Greg.

  4. Trump has shown himself to be racist, bigoted, and un-American. Whenever I hear such things, I think how far the ethical fiber of this nation has been stretched, and I wonder whether history will show Trump to be nothing more than a cheap Russian puppet.

  5. Well said, Greg, I totally agree! Abroad, that comment of his has reverberated around the world, further damaging America’s image abroad. Bad, really bad. At this point, all of us who have always liked America and sided with Americans against their foes (my case), really feel sorry. And hopeful that America will wake up from this nightmare and shake off Trump and his misguided fans…

    Though Trump is only half the problem, if he’s impeached or if he drops dead tomorrow, nothing will change. Pence is more of the same (without the insults). Bottom line, the Republican Party is to blame for bringing Trump into the White House and for supporting “Trumpian policies”. But those policies are in fact not “Trumpian” at all, they are right in line with post-Tea Party policies, from tax breaks for the ultra-rich to bringing down Obamacare and all other “entitlements”, another way of saying that immigrants should be kicked out of the country and the poor should “take it” and stay poor because they “deserve” to be poor. Extraordinary mentality!

  6. Unfortunate but true. The President doesn’t seem to understand the word “presidential”. His comments are certainly not befitting a president.

  7. Imagine if your letters had become public. I’m sure he is not the first president to refer to them as “shithole countries”. He was just trying to make a point to those in attendance. For Durbin to put that out to the public and the world is where the disgrace lies.

    1. Sandy,
      Can you please name another President of the United States who has so excessively name-called, insulted, defamed or demeaned as Trump? Name another president who has referred to other nations in such crude, nasty and profane words. Has the United States fallen to such a low that reprehensible language and behavior is not only condoned but excused and accepted. Is that the kind of America that makes you proud? Durbin told his true because he was shocked by such behavior.
      Norman

      1. Durbin released the details of a private meeting because it benefited his political party. Dirty politics, yes, but that’s Washington. Yes, Trump puts both feet in his mouth a lot, but mostly because he’s not a lifelong politician. He calls a spade, a spade. Want to take any bets on what JFK called the Cubans and Russians in private?

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