An owl's eye view of forests and trees

Beyond Casual Racism: Confronting Trump’s Immigration Comments

Here I go adding my voice to the wave of commentary on the controversial words President Donald J. Trump allegedly uttered on immigration.


Let me surprise you and cut to the chase immediately.  Profanity or no profanity.  The words were racist.


I don’t say that lightly.  I don’t say that to accuse everyone who supports Trump of racism. If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know I also don’t say that without first giving this a thorough examination.


I’ve tried to be fair. I’ve tried to look at this from different angles. To give the President some credit. To weigh what he meant to say against what he supposedly said.


I just can’t escape the conclusion that the President most likely did say exactly what he is accused of saying. And that what he said was racist. Or bigoted. Take your pick.  It all stems from the same poisonous prejudiced fruit.  It all rots and corrupts.


I have talked about the President’s casual racism before.   Nothing about this was casual. This was deliberate and directly applied to policy making.


Having said that up front, of course I am going to dig into an analysis of what was said and the basis for my conclusions. I hope you’ll stick around.  But first, let’s set the table.





It helps to put things in context. In this case, being clear on what Trump supposedly said and context in which it was said.


As reported just about everywhere, Trump had some choice words to say on immigration. From a Washington Post article:


President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday [January 11, 2018] in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday. The president, according to a White House official, also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt that they help the United States economically.

In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal, these people said.

“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. “Take them out.”




Many people, from various parties, and ideologies, have called for some form of immigration reform in the U.S.  Among the various concerns: Security along the Mexican border.  Chain migration.  Dreamers and DACA.  Temporary protective status (“TPS”), including for El Salvadorans in this country for close to twenty years and Haitians in this country for several years due to earthquakes and ongoing dangerous conditions in those countries. Diversity lottery visas.  Merit based immigration.


Many of these issues have gone unaddressed for some time.  Rural denizens along Mexico’s border feel vulnerable, and that the fat cats in Washington have repeatedly ignored their realistic concerns.  President Trump’s actions essentially ending DACA (which offered protections to Dreamers) and the TPS status for Haitians and El Salvadorans impacts about 1 million people in the U.S. who have been contributing the economy and paying taxes.  Doing nothing could have a huge impact on the U.S. And Democrats can apply leverage due to a need to pass funding for the government or face shutdown. Thus, legislators right now feel pressure to finally move forward on immigration reform of some kind fairly quickly.


On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, the President met with both Republican and Democratic Congresspersons to discuss immigration. The President allowed the meeting to be filmed.  By the end of the recorded meeting, the President indicated he would be willing to sign whatever bipartisan bill on immigration reform Congress put before him.  In part, his reasoning seemed to be “If these folks can come to an agreement on it, it’s got to be good.”  That’s a paraphrase, not a quote, by the way.




That sentiment did not last apparently.  On Thursday, January 12, 2018, six Senators had put together a bipartisan compromise proposal on immigration reform.  This is important.  See, the House is still dominated by Republicans. They don’t need a bipartisan proposal to pass a bill. But the Senate no longer contains a Republican majority. It is now essentially evenly split between the two parties. Which means compromise has become a necessity in the Senate.  Getting a compromise proposal worked out in the Senate matters the most.


Having gotten the proposal together, a Republican Senator and a Democratic Senator were summoned to the White House to meet with the President about it. They expected it to be just them. But instead, several other Congress people, all Republican and several essentially, “anti-immigration”, were also there.


The proposal addressed the issues of “Dreamers” and DACA.  It also included limiting or ending the diversity lottery visas, but allowing those with TPS to stay in the country. It provided for some of the Mexican border security funding that the President had requested.  In short it was truly a compromise.


As the proposal was discussed, Trump uttered his expletive commentary.  Allegedly.  He also allegedly used the expletive more than once, and doubled down on the thoughts expressed in those comments.  In the process, he torpedoed the compromise proposal and has thrown a serious wrench into negotiations on any of the pending immigration reform issues.


Journalists published their initial accounts of the meeting based on statements from one of the Congressmen present, no doubt Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. However, reporters also independently verified Durbin’s statements with statements by others.  They had not been present at the meeting, but people in attendance told these people what had been said immediately afterwards.  So, this was not something sourced solely from one Democrat’s account. It was sourced by others, mostly Republicans.




In the immediate aftermath, the White House did not deny the statements at all.  Instead it virtually confirmed the statements slamming certain countries and the immigrants from them, stating, “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”


Others from the White House told reporters that inside the White House they believed what the President said would resonate with his base.


Meanwhile, as news broke, Trump apparently spent time calling up friends and political allies to see how they thought the statements played.  He offered no denial whatsoever.


The President has a proudly proclaimed and well-established tendency to counter-punch. And an itchy Twitter finger. If he had not actually uttered those words, he would most likely have Tweeted a defiant denial. He did not at the time.


Democratic Senator Durbin confirmed the reporting and indicated that Senator Lindsay Graham, the other Senator who had offered the bipartisan proposal, had upbraided the President over his remarks at the meeting. Consistent with that story, Senator Graham did not deny the account, and again virtually confirmed that the accounts were true by indicating he had “said his piece directly to the President” during the meeting.


Other Congresspersons present initially said they could not recall what was said.  Three days later, they started denying the President made the statements. Notably, the stories changed well after the events and initial reporting. However, they have mostly denied the use of the specific word “shithole.” They have not really denied the substance of the words.


Similarly, the President eventually denied he used a vulgarity but did confirm he used “tough language”. Again, the was quite some time after the reporting, and after he had consulted with others to see how it played.  And he did not deny saying the rest of the words he reportedly uttered, other than to deny swearing.


Just for some reference, here are some links to two articles from Snopes regarding the incident and the response.  More abound on the internet.




Add all this together. It seems that the correct story is the initial one. If the words, complete with “shithole” had truly not been said, Trump would have taken to Twitter immediately to let us all know how this was a Democratic plot against him. The White House would have denied it.  So, would have Graham and other Republicans given contemporaneous accounts of what went on in the meeting before the news broke.  Given the administration’s history of telling falsehoods that are easily disprovable, it also lacks credibility when it makes non-denials or half-hearted ones after the fact.


So, let’s set aside the debate of whether President said what he is alleged to have said. I am willing to leave up in the air the question of whether he said “shithole”, if that makes anyone feel better. But it appears the basic reporting of what was said is accurate.


Let’s proceed with the understanding that the President complained about having to allow immigrants from countries with a bad economy or problematic government come to the U.S. instead of the U.S. taking in people from other “nicer” countries. Why should the U.S. take in people from El Salvador, Haiti or African nations, instead of people from Norway?




Let’s summarize the defenses to this statement I have seen from Trump supporters:


  1. He did not swear.
  2. It is not racist.
  3. They are, in fact, “shithole countries.” Corollary: Graham called them “hellhole countries” previously.
  4. The people from “shithole countries” make less money, are less educated, etc. and therefore they are less likely to be able to contribute to the U.S. then people from other nations who are better educated and make more money.
  5. The comments were not about shithole countries or not; they were about protecting Americans (i.e., who needs immigrants).
  6. The comments were not about shithole countries or racism, but were about switching to merit based immigration, like some other countries have. Who can disagree that if people want to come to this country, they should exhibit some desirable qualities? What’s so bad about that?


Let me give you a big tip in assessing people’s defenses to or arguments against something. When they take the “fly the flags of all nations” or “shoot all the flares you have” approach, it’s usually because there really isn’t a good argument or defense to be had.  When there exists a true problem with what someone is saying, you can refute it by sticking to that cohesive problem. When you try every excuse you can think of, some of which are contradictory to each other, that’s usually a sign there is no serious argument or defense to be made.


Since that is happening here, that’s your first clue that the defenses don’t hold up.




For many people, what the President said was clearly racist – He said he did not want brown people, he wanted white people.  Now there are plenty of defenses to be made that even if Trump said exactly what he is alleged to have said, he still did not necessarily mean it in a racist way.  But, by my analysis, even if those defenses were true, it still means Trump is a racist and a bigot. By his own words.


Whether Trump called the countries “shitholes” or just said they were bad countries does not matter. So, to address Trump’s denials directly, whether he swore or just used tough language does not change the racist sentiment of what he said.


Further, let’s make clear, Trump’s statements were obviously not against immigration in general. So, it was not about protecting Americans, or American jobs, or any of that. His statements indicate he is all for immigration of the right source, with no comment on whether it might hurt American jobs or not. Think about that.  If we take Trump’s statements in the best possible light according to his defenders, Trump wants immigrants in this country who are more capable of pushing out qualified Americans from existing jobs.  So, this is not about “American Workers First”.




I also would argue that this is not about merit based immigration. Well, perhaps it is, to an extent, but not in a way that takes away from the racist charge of the statements.


During the 2016 election a lot of people (real people, not bots) told me that one of the things they liked about Donald Trump is that he tells it like he sees it. He does not dress up his language to be politically correct. Or diplomatic. Or traditionally political.  What he says, he says, and it’s genuine. So, according to those most in Trump’s corner, we have to take him at his words in this instance, and the sentiment behind them.


The President did not say, “We need to have more merit based immigration, so that we only get the good people from ‘messed up’ countries.” He said that we don’t need people from those “messed up” countries at all; why can’t we get them from countries that are not “messed up.”


If Trump meant to put forward standards for merit based immigration, the standards he put forward were about where a person came from, not the individual’s qualities.  That’s not about merit, at all. That’s about block judgements. Against a country. But more importantly, against people.


That is racism and bigotry at its basic level.  And that is why what he said, no matter how you try to dress it up, was racist. Pure and simple. Even if he did not swear. Even if it were not about brown vs. white populations.  It still would be racist and/or bigoted.




Let’s stop for a moment and look at that merit business though. Who immigrates? Who choses to leave the only home they know, leave their country, often their language, customs, extended family and every comfort zone they have behind? To give them up permanently? To burn those bridges behind them? For complete uncertainty? No job guaranteed? No home? No acceptance? Who does that?


Is it people in great situations, who have high paying jobs, great benefits, reasonable work hours, education paid for, healthcare paid for, a house, a stable and fair government that is not seeking to persecute them or otherwise endanger them?  Hardly ever.


Instead people largely immigrate to the U.S. because their situation in their home country is perilous. Usually that means poverty, persecution, bad government, dangerous weather, precarious living situations, risks to health and life.  In short, of course most of our immigrants, and in fact any country’s immigrants, come from lands that tend to be worse off than the country the immigrants are fleeing to. That’s just common sense. That’s how all of this works.


There was a time when folks would be coming from Norway. And the rest of Europe. Back then, there was possibility of better opportunities and jobs in the U.S. than in Europe.  That made sense back then. Not now.  And back then, those immigrants, who were paid less back home than in their new country, who were generally less educated than their American-born new neighbors. Those immigrants formed the backbone of this country. When we talk about what made America great, those non-merit vetted immigrants make up a huge part of it.


Which tells you two things about merit based immigration. First, if implemented, it still won’t get you more people from “better off” countries like Norway.  Second, that merit based immigration is no more likely to guarantee you immigration of people who will strongly contribute to American society, than if you did not implement it. Usually, only the determined and will-driven will try to immigrate in the first place. Only the desperate. Those kinds of drivers tend to make immigrants very determined to do well, to work hard, to contribute, and to fit in to their new home.  Ready-made Janissaries, wiling to pledge true devotion and the fullest measure of themselves to their new home in thanks for the escape from the old conditions.  It does not get more committed than that.  The process of immigration itself is one that leads to meritorious newcomers without any governmental oversight needed.


And please, do not confuse merit based immigration with whether proposed immigrants to this country are vetted. Vetting already occurs.




And let’s take a moment to think about this a little further.  Norwegians are generally paid better than Americans. They work fewer hours for that pay. They get more guaranteed vacation time. They get better parental benefits and leave time for children. They have guaranteed healthcare and education. The life expectancy in Norway is higher than that of the U.S.


During the Trump administration already there have been steps to reduce accessibility to healthcare, drive up premiums, and undermine government assistance programs and access to quality education.  There has been outright refusal on areas of parental leave.


There has been little to no movement on wage increases. In fact, the prevailing attitude I have encountered from Trump supporters has been if one can’t make a living from the wages paid for a full-time job, one should just work more jobs or be deemed lazy. In short, we are not doing much to increase wages or decrease work hours.


We have declining life expectancy for the second year in a row, largely due to the opioid crisis. About which the Trump administration pledged to do something but has done next to nothing.


In summary, rather than move us closer to being a desirable place for a Norwegian to go, this administration has moved us further away.



But none of the holes in the merit based immigration argument as supposedly evinced in Trump’s words actually matter as much as the big issue here.  The racism and bigotry in the President’s comments.


What is racism or bigotry? At the core, it’s judging a group of people as a group, without any consideration for individuals.  All those of sub-Saharan African descent are dumb. All American-Indians are drunkards.  All women are conniving, man-haters.


Trump’s statements at their essence say exactly that.  There are countries that are messed up. Bad governments, bad economies, ecological disasters, etc. have made them messed up. Therefore, everyone from those countries is automatically messed up. Why do we want any immigrants from there? Trump applied the allegations against an economy or a government universally to every single person coming from that region.  Regardless of who the individual actually is as a person. That is textbook racism and bigotry. Period.


So, setting aside the lack of compassion these sentiments show. Setting aside the blanket judgments against nations. Setting aside the problems I find in the logic supposedly in play here.  There is no walk back from racism and bigotry this displays. There is no hand waving that away. Trump speaks his mind, right?  He says what he means, correct? Thus, I am left to conclude, he spoke his mind here. And that mind is racist and bigoted. It’s not the first time. But it is one of the more explicit times.


And he has tried to overtly apply it to policymaking. To have it dictate immigration policies. And to quash any deal to protect “Dreamers” by attacking other parts of any immigration compromise.


International reaction is instructional here. It largely condemns the President and his words as racist. Also instructive is that foreign governments and citizens don’t care about Democrat or Republican. They don’t care about Trump’s claims of a Democratic smear job. They don’t care about our political divides. Internationally, our President has already burned through all of his credibility. He denies, and internationally, no one believes him.  And they too see his words for what they are. Racist. Pure and simple.  And that impacts U.S. ability to project influence and protect its interests internationally.




We are past questions of whether Trump is a racist, or whether what he said is racist.  He is a racist, and his words were racist.  Not only that. The President did not say these words in passing. Or to attack a rival.  He used them to sink a bipartisan compromise on immigration reform. He meant his sentiments to be applied to immigration legislation.  He wanted to enshrine racist policy as law of this land.


You remember this land, right? This country? The United States of America?We supposedly believe and act on the principle that all persons are created equal.  The President of the United States of America tried to impose policy that says otherwise.


This is not about rejecting Conservative or Republican ideals. This is not about small vs. big government, or entitlements, or taxes, or healthcare. This is not even about securing our borders and protecting American jobs.


No, the question is what are you going to do about this? Are you going to stand up for American ideals? Are you going to stand up at all?  Who do you want to be?


We are a nation built on diversity. It gives us our strength. It has grown us.


Do we throw away those goals on the mistaken idea that isolation and bullying will somehow make us strong internally and internationally? Do we embrace racism as something that can make us better, despite numerous historical examples that it weakens a nation? Do we embrace or reject the example of our President?


We can’t ignore this. We can’t let it passively wash over us. If we do that, we run the risk of manipulation. Of legislation. Of having our choice on this swept away.


Time to choose. Time to ask yourself.  Who do you want to be?  What kind of American? What kind of human being?


  1. Ross Anderson

    Just as a clarifying piece of information for people not familiar with the source, the “fly the flags of all nations” line is from the comedy movie, ‘The Big Bus’, in which a nuclear-powered bus is sent on its maiden voyage across the country. At one point, in a desperate move to slow the Bus down, the Captain of the Bus proclaims, “Fly the flags of all nation!”, and some 150 or so tiny flags pop up on the Bus’ roof, affording an extra bit of drag to slow them …er… really, not at all. An exercise in futility, in other words.

  2. Tom

    Excellent commentary on the current environment in trump’s Washington. This needs wider release Ann. Might I suggest linking with or contacting Digby at ? I think she’d like what you’ve said since it is very much in line with her type of analysis.

    • Ann Anderson

      Thank you very much. I took your advice, and emailed Digby. I am honored you think that my type of analysis is in line with hers. I’ve received no response yet, but it was certainly worth a shot.

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