First let's dismiss the issue of the language. So what if the president said "****hole" in a meeting with a few members of Congress?
Profanity, vulgarity--that's not terribly uncommon in the private conversations of the political elite or the journalistic common. It can't bring Donald Trump lower than he has brought himself already.
Anyway, U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia and Our Boy Tom Cotton, close allies of the president, say they didn't hear that word from him in that meeting.
No one disputes reports that the discussion was "tough" and "impassioned" and that Trump said he'd prefer more immigrants from Norway and fewer from places that he may or may not have called "****holes," presumably Haiti and parts of Africa.
Then there is the defense of the president that a correspondent offered. It was that Trump was using the word--if indeed he used it--to describe crude and undeveloped places, rather than disparage the people living in those places.
That won't fly.
Trump was saying he didn't want people from certain poor and backward places coming to the United States. He said he'd prefer people from rich and advanced places.
I was well-trained in race seminars that I should describe acts as racist, but not people, considering that I can see the acts but not into hearts.
I don't know Trump's heart. I can only imagine. What I can see is that Haitians and Africans are generally dark-skinned and Norwegians generally fair-skinned.
Racism is plain in the president's stated preference. Whether he was just popping off recklessly or whether he was trying to make an economic point and is simply without sensitivity or discretion--that's possible.
The essential point is the same. It's the one I continue to make as each Trumpian outrage unfolds.
It's that this preposterous second-place president, whether by meanness of heart or incompetence of mind, or both, is steadily debasing our culture by his behavior and bluster. It is that he is unworthy of the office that FDR once described as about moral leadership foremost.
The underlying moral principle of the United States is that it is a beacon for those seeking freedom and better opportunity, not a scaredy-cat place that turns its back on the needy and pleads for the immigration of Scandinavians because they have assets we'd like to tap.
Trump either doesn't understand that principle intellectually or agree with it morally or possess a nerve-cell connection that causes it even to occur to him.
Then there is Cotton, credited by columnist David Brooks with being ill-served by his association with Trump. Unlike Trump, Cotton--according to Brooks--has credible conservative policy views about immigration, about the practical need to limit it in number and type, that are being smeared by the association with presidential disgrace.
If Brooks is right, then it's quite true that Cotton does not serve his innocent policy substance by the kind of statement he put out Friday fudging timidly on the Trump firestorm.
The junior senator put his name on a statement asserting that he and the president believe we must protect Americans' interests in our immigration policies and that, while he didn't hear the president say the specifically alleged word in that meeting, he understood that the president's vital purpose was standing up for Americans.
A moral American leader advocating innocently restrictive immigration policies should also have felt a responsibility to say something along this line: "While I proudly sponsor legislation supported by the president to reform immigration by number and type and process, so that we can better protect our workers and attend to general security, this raging controversy over remarks I didn't hear the president make compels me to make something clear, lest anyone wonder. It is that America's immigration and refugee policies must be inclusive and compassionate, without bias of any kind, in keeping with our self-assigned and historic responsibility of moral leadership in the world."
U.S. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is credited with telling Trump in that meeting that he must understand that America is not a race, but an idea. We could use some Republicans in Arkansas who think and talk that way.
Alas, though, there's U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers.
He told a television station that Trump was only trying to make the point that we can't go all-in on immigrants from "depraved" countries and that we could use some Europeans in the mix.
The congressman surely meant "deprived," meaning needy, rather than "depraved," meaning morally corrupt. But we could better assess any racism in his words if we knew for sure whether he really was intending to call Haitians and Africans morally corrupt rather than merely poor.
To conclude: We need a president who talks and behaves less debasingly, a junior senator who talks less for Trump and more for himself, and a congressman whose language is not so depraved ... or deprived ... or both.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 01/16/2018
Print Headline: Talk of the talk