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    President Donald Trump denies being a racist after senators say he insulted Haiti and African countries; international controversy unfolds as a result

    President Donald Trump denies being a racist after senators say he insulted Haiti and African countries; international controversy unfolds as a result


    On Jan. 11, 2018, during a meeting between lawmakers and President Donald Trump at the White House to work on a biprtisan immigration deal, an international controversy exploded over an insulting characterization by the president.


    The meeting, which was attended by both Democratic and Republican members of Congress, was intended to try to forge a bipartisan immigration deal.  Of particular interest was the goal of finding a solution for persons of various nationalities  living in the United States and affected by Trump's decision to withdraw Temporary Protected Status (TPS).


    According to accounts from senators who attended the meeting, Trump asked the following question: "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Trump also reportedly pointed to Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country should be left out of any deal. “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” Trump reportedly further asserted that rather than granting temporary residency to citizens of countries affected by wars, natural disasters, and other catastrophes, the United States should accept immigrants from countries like Norway. 


    While two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, claimed to have no recollection of these assertions by Trump, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin went on the record to assert the president did, indeed, characterize Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries, in a pejorative manner.  Durbin emphasized that Trump had indeed used racist language during the meeting. Durbin asserted:  "Trump said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly." Republican Senator Lindsay Graham was described as having challenged Trump's comments, and later himself acknowledged that the president's comments were as described in the media.  Graham said, "Following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel."


    It should be noted that the White House did not dispute Trump’s use of vulgarity when the story was first reported by in the news. The White House's immediate response was to state that Trump's comments would likely be viewed favorably by the Republican base, given its xenophobic proclivities.  Indeed, the White House went so far as to suggest to journalists that it was taking a "victory lap" in the wake of the media's reports on Trump's epithet. 


    The Republican base aside, the general reaction at home and internationally  to Trump's insulting characterization of developing countries was a mix of shock, horror, outrage, and condemnation. 


    In the United States, several Democratic lawmakers, including civil rights icon John Lewis, announced that they would be boycotting the president's State of the Union address, and accused Trump of racism.  Of note was the statement by Rep. Cedric Richmond, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who noted that Trump’s remarks were “further proof that his Make America Great Again Agenda is really a Make America White Again agenda.”


    The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) condemned Trump, declaring, “These shameful and profoundly offensive statements are beneath the dignity of the office.”  The Jewish advocacy group, J Street, stated in unambigious terms: "We said it nearly three years ago and we'll keep saying it: Trump is unfit to lead this great, diverse nation of immigrants from every walk of life." Meanwhile,  the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) warned that the president was falling "deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of racism and xenophobia."


    The United Nations spokesperson, Rupert Colville, cast Trump's remarks as “racist."  He further added,  “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes,’ whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”


    The African country of Senegal summoned the United States ambassador to that country for an explanation.  Senegal's President Macky Sall directly entered the fray, saying that he was “shocked” by Trump’s comments. He added that Africa and people of African ancestry deserved "the respect and consideration of all.” 


    The African country of Botswana summoned the United States ambassador to that country “to clarify whether Botswana is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country” as well." Botswana additionally took the rare step of issuing an official statement. In that statement, Botswana wondered why “President Trump must use this descriptor and derogatory word when talking about countries with whom the U.S. has had cordial and mutually beneficial bilateral relations for many years.” The statement also characterized Trump's remarks as racist.


    The government of South Africa announced that it would formally issue a protest to the United State Embassy in Pretoria.  The country's Department of International Relations issued a statement that read as follows: "The Department will provide an opportunity to the Charges de Affaires to explain the statement that African countries, alongside Haiti and El Salvador, constitute 'shitholes' from where migrants into the United States are undesirable."


    Ebba Kalondo, the spokesperson for the African Union, expressed alarm as follows: “The African Union Commission is frankly alarmed at statements by the president of the United States when referring to migrants of African countries and others in such contemptuous terms.” Kalondo added, “Considering the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the U.S. during the Atlantic slave trade, this flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice.”


    Soon thereafter, the African Union issued an official statement of condemnation, declaring that Trump's remarks, "dishonour the celebrated American creed and respect for diversity and human dignity." The statement  added: "While expressing our shock, dismay and outrage, the African Union strongly believes that there is a huge misunderstanding of the African continent and its people by the current Administration."  Moreover, the African Union, which represents the 55 countries of Africa, demanded a formal apology from Trump. 


    Meanwhile, the ambassador of Haiti to the United States, Paul Altidor, castigated Trump, saying, “We feel in the statements, if they were made, the president was either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people.”


    CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, bitterly condemned in the strongest terms, the "derogatory and repulsive language," and "unenlightened views" of the President of the United States. 


    Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American State, issued a history lesson to the United States of America on the world's first free republic, Haiti.  In a scathing opinion editorial, Sanders included the following admonishment: "Every Caribbean person, at all levels, should make it abundantly and crystal clear that we resent this depiction of Haiti; we call for acknowledgement by all who have exploited it and kept it in poverty; and we urge that, instead of dismissing it in unfortunate language, they implement programmes to atone for their part in its pauperisation." 


    The foreign minister of El Salavdor, Hugo Martinez, declared, “It’s always been a foreign policy priority of our government to fight for the respect and dignity of our countrymen independent of their immigration status. Our countrymen are hard-working people, who are always contributing to the countries where they’re living and, of course, also in our country.”


    Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico took to the social media outlet, Twitter, to harshly condemn Trump.  Fox addressed Trump as follows: “Your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world. With what authority do you proclaim who’s welcome in America and who’s not. America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”


    Norway - the country whose people were deemed to be worthy, according to Trump -- also issued its own verdict of sorts. Norwegians made it clear on social media that they would not want to immigrate to a country with a gun violence problem and bereft of paid parental leave and free universal health care.  Moreover,  Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, tweeted: “I’m a Norwegian who enjoyed studying and working in the U.S. The only thing that would attract me to emigrate to the U.S. is your vibrant multicultural society. Don’t take that away." 


    Perhaps realizing that the president's epithet was turning into an international fiasco, and cementing the popularly held view that Trump was at best, racially insensitive, and at worst, a standpoint racist, the White House changed tactics.  


    First, via Twitter, the president acknowledged that he may have used strong language in the bipartisan meeting on immigration, but accused lawmakers or mischaracterizing him.  Via Twitter, Trump said: "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!"  


    In a subsequent tweet, Trump appeared to deny the reports of his derogatrory remarks on Haiti and accused Democrats of lying about the incident.  Trump said, "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said “take them out.” Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!"


    With scandal unfolding over his words -- the very words the White House at first never bothered to deny and claimed would be resonate positively with his base -- the president was now feeling the pressure to pushback against assertions that he was a blatant racist.  In comments to White House reporters at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Jan. 14, 2018, Trump said: "I am not a racist. I'm the least racist person you will ever interview."


    Trump also denied poisoning the chances for finding a bipartisan immigration solution.  In fact, the president blamed Democrats for obstacles preventing passage of a  deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  He said, “Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal. I think they talk about DACA, but they don’t want to help the DACA people.”  Trump added, "They [Democrats] don’t want security at the border, there are people pouring in. They don’t want security at the border, they don’t want to stop the drugs. And they want to take money away from our military, which we will not do.”




    -- Jan. 15, 2018



    Written by:

    Denise Youngblood Coleman,  PhD.

    President and Editor in Chief

    CountryWatch Inc.


    Copyright CountryWatch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
    No portion of CountryWatch content can ever be reproduced or republished without expressed written consent from CountryWatch Editor in Chief.

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