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Trump and shithole countries

Nigel Morris-Co...

There has been an enormous reaction to the (allegation?) that US President Trump described two countries and an entire continent as "shit-holes." Amongst the criticisms are that it was "an obscenity" and that his comments are racist. While the jury is still out as to whether he in fact used that term there is absolutely no doubt that, on other occasions, Trump is guilty of both. However, on this occasion he is not and closing speeches need to be based in fact and language and not a knee-jerk, reactionary response which is emotional rather than rational, says Nigel Morris-Cotterill.

Often, the Trump comments that get the most outrage are where he actually says the right thing. For example, when he was invited to condemn right-wing groups, he rightly condemned extremism of all kinds. That led his critics (of which there are many who are vocal) to scream the obvious falsehood that by refusing to single out hard-right groups, he was tacitly supporting them.

In relation to the "shit-hole" comment, it's important to look at exactly what he is alleged to have said (he denies it although his denials do not ring true and there are few things worse than a President one feels can't be trusted even to admit to what he has said.

It's not as if Trump's shoot from the lip then tweet-about it approach to communications doesn't get him into trouble almost daily and for good reason. It's only last week that Trump said that he was cancelling his official visit to London because the primary reason was to cut the ribbon on the new US Embassy and he disapproved of then President Obama's decision to move out of the Grosvenor Square premises into a purpose-built fortress on the South Bank. Trump is kind-of right: to move the US Embassy out of the diplomatic district and put it on the same side of the river as MI6 might have seemed like a reasonable idea but there is some logic in the site: American paranoia about security means that, if someone were to attack the Embassy by road, the South Bank's awful traffic might impede their escape (it won't - if you plan it, you can drive around the South Bank quite easily at most times of the day) and senior officials could be extracted via the River (like any terrorists wouldn't have covered off that escape route anyway). And the new fortress is a blot on the landscape whereas the existing building is a statement, imposing, planting a very obvious foot in the heart of London. But the simple fact is that its location and structure mean that it genuinely cannot be constantly improved by the addition of the latest security features. Trump says his criticism is that leaving Grosvenor Square and building the new Embassy was a "bad deal" but in truth it's a better deal than building a new Embassy in Jerusalem. Most important, however, is the stark truth that the decision to move and to build a new Embassy was nothing to do with Obama: it was Republican President George W Bush that set the whole thing under way. So, Trump has actually derided his that Party which is, at least nominally, the one he leads.

Given his disregard, which he appears to consider a positive quality, for the niceties of diplomacy, it is not at all surprising that he would use disparaging terminology but, and here is the nub of the question, is disparaging of necessity racist? The answer is no.

Trump was, in fact, only using "colourful" language. He could have said "these countries are dumps, badly run, corruption is rife, basic services are broken or lacking, there is a lack of proper schooling, lack of access to medial care. There is almost no rule of law, the police are often biased or corrupt. Criminal activity is rampant, infrastructure is broken or non-existent. The poor live on the streets and eat because of the charity of others. Of course, people run away."

He would not recognise the irony of that list, or perhaps he would which is why he described the countries from which migrants rush as "shit-holes" (allegedly).

In truth, he's right. While some people have elevated themselves by hard work and education, the vast majority of populations in the countries he talked about and several countries in Africa, do live in appalling conditions with even the most basic services of water, sanitation and electricity denied to them - and that's in the cities. Flying into Lagos, for example, takes one over mile after mile of shanty towns. Given the choice of shitting in the street outside the hut you've built out of scavenged waste and living in the land of the not-very-free with flush toilets, which would you choose?

The BBC invited reasoned argument from two people, one who says that Trump's comment was racist and one who says it was not. The one who says it is racist makes a false statement in support of his case: he says "For much of our recent history, white has always represented all

 


 

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