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OUR VIEWS

With bigot-based policy, who'll want to come here?

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

President Donald Trump proved once again last week why he’s uniformly unfit to lead the greatest nation in the world.

The president, speaking during a meeting with several senators at the White House about a bipartisan immigration deal they had just crafted, said America has too many immigrants entering from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa. What it really needs instead, he said, are more immigrants from European countries like Norway.

Trump’s use of offensive and disparaging language with the senators wasn’t new. Nor was the racism — black-majority countries whose people should be blocked from the U.S.; white majority countries are great places whose people should be welcomed with open arms — that informed the president’s remarks. Anyone paying half-attention for the past two years should know by now that our 45th president holds deeply racist beliefs.

Nor was it surprising that Trump wouldn’t own up to his recent remark after the senators in the room reported to others what he said. Instead, Trump — the Washington Post estimates he’s either lied or misstated the truth more than 2,000 times since taking office in January 2017 — lied about his comments in a series of tweets Friday morning. The president claimed he used “tough” language but “not the language” he was accused of, falsely blaming the media (what else is new?) for misinterpreting what he said. He also tweeted that he never said anything derogatory about Haitians “other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”

Privately, however, Trump is giddy about his remarks. He thinks what he said about blocking immigrants from African nations and allowing in better ones from Europe should be U.S. policy, and what’s more, he believes his supporters think the same thing. Indeed, a White House official told CNN on Thursday that the reason the president’s spokesmen weren’t immediately denying the vulgar comment is that they were confident it “would play well with the base.” The “base” being the 40 percent of Americans — the only people who apparently count in Trump’s America — who claim to still support the president. A confidant of Trump’s also told The Associated Press on Friday that the president didn’t apologize for his remarks in phone calls to his friends and outside advisers Thursday night because he thinks he was only expressing what many people think but won’t say about immigrants from places like Haiti and Africa.

Sad to say, Trump is likely right about that. The president’s base contains too many people who share his narrow-minded and bigoted views about the world’s black- and brown-skinned peoples. Like Trump, they believe no one from these countries should enter the U.S. — not even through legal immigration — because they see them as an existential threat to America continuing as a majority white country.

Of course Trump’s base also contains a lot of people who don’t share these views but are unwilling to break with the president. They cynically cling to their Trump card because they believe he, empowered by a Republican-led Congress, can deliver policy goodies they desire like more conservative judges, more rollbacks of regulations, and deeper tax cuts for the well-to-do.

These folks don’t consider themselves a party to Trump’s racism, but by holding their tongues and refusing to condemn the worst of what he says or does, they only give racism a stronger foothold in our country. Because, make no mistake: painting every man, woman and child from Africa as someone from a “shithole” is racist. It’s in fact the textbook definition of racism. It’s saying no one from a black majority country or continent should enter the U.S. to live and work simply because of the color of their skin.

Trump apologists — including the two spineless GOP senators who sat in the room and heard Trump disparaging Africa and then claimed afterward they didn’t “recall the president saying those comments specifically” — of course say it’s not racism that motivated the president’s remarks. They claim he was moved instead by a desire to fix a broken legal immigration system that rewards family connections and diversity over individual skills and economic value to the U.S.

But Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue’s grasp of the facts when it comes to Africa is as faulty as their hearing. Overwhelming numbers of Africans who come to the U.S. already arrive with skills and provide economic value to this country. According to the Migration Policy Institute, sub-Saharan Africans who’ve immigrated to the U.S. — 83 percent of the 2.1 million African immigrants here — achieve higher rates of higher education (39 percent) than both their foreign-born peers overall (29 percent) and native-born Americans (31 percent). Sub-Saharan Africans also participate in the U.S. labor force at a higher rate (75 percent) than the overall immigrant population in the U.S. (66 percent) and native-born Americans (62 percent).

Trump’s vulgar, racist description of Africa obviously has ramifications for this country, a nation that still struggles to come to grips with its history of bringing Africans here as slaves. But it also has consequences for America’s role in the world and the idea of America in the world. Our nation has spent more than 200 years building an image of itself as a beacon of hope for the world — an image that’s drawn millions of immigrants here to live, work and make our country great. It’s taken Trump less than a year to do serious damage to that image. And if he stays president for the next three years, expect the damage to only get worse.

The irony is that Trump could very well get what he wants: zero immigration to the U.S. After all, who will want to come here? 

 

 

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