President Donald Trump is now denying that he ever described developing nations as “shithole countries,” though he is acknowledging that he did use “tough” language in the context of the debate over whether to take in people from said shitholes. In so doing, he is only confirming that the mask has now been torn off for good.
Multiple TV journalists have flatly declared that Trump has revealed himself as a racist. It’s good that it’s now safe to say this on prime time television, but we already knew that. What this episode also does is shatter the endless euphemisms and dissembling that Trump and his allies have employed to obscure a related truth: That the nationalism at the core of Trumpism is heavily driven by a reactionary backlash to the current ethnic and racial mix of the U.S. population - it is white nationalism, despite all the what-me-racist protestation to the contrary.
Trump’s comments also reveal that this basic truth is shaping the White House’s policy stances in the current immigration debate, something that is also being obscured with all sorts of rhetorical trickery. Trump’s comments have upended the negotiations under way over a deal to protect the “dreamers.” But it can no longer be denied that Trump opposes the deal at least in part because it does not do enough to resist or roll back ongoing racial and demographic trends.
Consider the particulars of the current immigration talks, and Trump’s response to them. In the White House, a bipartisan group of senators Thursday presented an agreement that would grant protected status to the “dreamers” who were brought here illegally as children, pump more money into border security, tweak family-based immigration, and end the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program,” which distributes visas to countries with historically low immigration rates, many in Africa and Central Asia, channeling those visas to some U.S. residents with Temporary Protected Status from countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Haiti, a program Trump is rolling back.
Trump reportedly reacted to a discussion of that last component of the deal by saying: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” before suggesting the U.S. should instead allow in more people from countries like Norway. Trump now claims he only used “tough” language about this deal, but in light of those comments, his actual policy stance confirms the broader point: Trump is, in fact, rejecting the deal because it lets in too many people from what he thinks are “shithole countries,” or lets too many of them remain.
Trump objects to this deal because he claims it makes “chain migration” and the lottery system “worse,” meaning we must take in “large numbers of people” from “high crime countries which are doing badly.” That openly concedes that Trump wants fewer people from those countries here.
To wit: Trump has claimed he objects to the lottery program because it admits terrorists, but he still objects to the deal reached on it because it still allows people (those with TPS) from the wrong countries, the “shithole” countries, to remain. He wants more funding for the wall, which is symbolic, yes, but that’s exactly the point: As Frank Sharry of America’s Voice puts it to me, the wall is a “middle finger to Latin America,” a statement that “we don’t want your kind.” It’s a middle finger to shithole countries, but more to the point, it’s a statement that we don’t want the people from them.
Trump also opposes the current deal because it would only restrict family-based immigration (in which current immigrant citizens or permanent residents sponsor relatives for entry) for the parents of the dreamers and some others, whereas Trump wants much greater reductions in family-based immigration. But as Dara Lind points out, while this debate is complicated, this functionally means large reductions in the numbers of people from countries who already have large immigrant populations here - which means resisting trends shaping our current ethnic and national mix.
In light of Trump’s apparent claim that he wants to prioritize people from countries like Norway, the uglier white nationalist cast of all of this is inescapable. Trump’s fellow travelers have gone to great lengths to obscure this posture. In a now-infamous exchange, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked White House immigration hardliner Stephen Miller whether Trump’s policies are designed “to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country.” Miller reacted with outrage, and repeatedly cast the goal as reducing the mere numbers of immigrants - ostensibly to protect American workers from competition - which he said was in keeping with previous periods of lower immigration.
It is very hard to disentangle the goal of reducing the overall numbers of immigrant arrivals from the goal of shifting our current ethnic and racial mix. But Trump has now left little to no doubt that the real animating impulse is the latter.
▪ TRUMP’S ‘SHITHOLE’ COMMENT DRAWS GLOBAL CONDEMNATION: The Post tallies up all the criticism pouring in from around the world:
“The reaction from United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville was uncharacteristically blunt, describing the remarks as ‘racist.’ . . . In El Salvador, the news of the comments quickly shot to the top of news websites. . . . In Haiti, people took to Twitter to share pictures of their country - verdant green hills, palm trees in the sunset, and sparkling turquoise water. . . . In Africa, where the entire continent was dismissed by Trump, there were similar reactions celebrating their countries’ beauty.”
We are only beginning to glimpse the damage that Trump is doing to America’s standing in the world.
▪ TRUMP JUST WEAKENED HIS OWN LEVERAGE: NBC News’ Jonathan Allen notes that Trump’s “shithole” comments may have made it harder for him to get a deal on the “dreamers,” meaning he’ll now have to give up more:
“If Trump wants a big immigration deal now, he’ll have to ‘give a lot more to both Democrats and Republicans who want a more compassionate approach,’ said Ali Noorani, executive director of the advocacy group National Immigration Forum. . . . The backlash against the president’s comments [may] make it harder for Democrats to vote for a deal he likes, forcing him to make concessions that could anger his own base to win majorities in the House and Senate.”
He really is the greatest dealmaker, believe me.
▪ JEFF FLAKE DEFENDS DEMOCRATS: Trump tweeted Thursday night that Democrats “seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country.” Sen. Jeff Flake responded:
“I’ve served with ‘The Democrats’ for 17 years, and not one has ever been intent on ‘having people and drugs pour into our country.’”
People scoff at Flake for voting with Trump and the GOP, but this sort of thing actually has some value - we need more Republicans defending the norms that Trump is shredding.
▪ TRUMP’S LANGUAGE IS UNFIT FOR CHILDREN: Jake Tapper actually had to say this on CNN, in his introduction to a segment on Trump’s “shithole” comments: “Parents with children, you might want to mute for the next 35 seconds.” This is what we’ve come to, folks.
▪ IMMIGRATION DEAL FACES TOUGHER ROAD IN HOUSE: Senators have reached a deal in principle to protect the “dreamers” that includes some limits on family-based immigration and border security. But as CNN’s Tal Kopan points out:
“In the Republican-controlled House . . . the differences between Democrats and Republicans are even greater. House Speaker Paul Ryan has far more hardline immigration hawks in his conference. Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, has far more members who are opposed to any kind of deal that set back the parents of DACA recipients either by limiting chain migration or other mechanisms.”
It seems obvious that a deal can only pass with a lot of Democrats, so the trick for Dem leaders will be to thread the needle by keeping just enough Dems on board to offset the conservatives who vote no.
▪ PAUL RYAN EXPLAINS WHITE HOUSE POSITION TO TRUMP: Trump Thursday got confused and tweeted opposition to a surveillance bill supported by the White House and most Republicans. The Post reports on what came next:
“Ryan spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly also directly intervened with Trump, reiterating the program’s importance before traveling to the Capitol, where he parried questions from confused lawmakers.”
Remember when conservative pundits and some reporters were telling us how Trump’s ability to sit through an immigration meeting showcased his blazing competence?
▪ REPUBLICANS TELL THEMSELVES EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE: The Washington Examiner reports on the state of mind among Republicans as they contemplate the coming midterm elections:
“With so many Republicans in Congress having been elected since the GOP wave elections of 2010 and 2014, few have experience in withstanding the sort of strong headwinds generated by full control of government and an unpopular president of their own party. Many Republicans appear unconvinced that major Democratic gains are even possible this November. . . . they are comforting themselves with the memory of Trump’s unlikely victory, in defiance of long political odds and expert prognosticators.”
This is another aspect of the Trump Effect: Even though the national polls were actually pretty close to right, his win must mean that there’s no reason to take any polling seriously. #FakePolls