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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 Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/16/2018

Print Headline: Talk of the talk

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  • Blpgtate
    January 16, 2018 at 7:54 a.m.

    Remarks seem racist as well as elitest . Of the 10 black billionaires in the world, several are from Africa. Hummmmm.

  • BoudinMan
    January 16, 2018 at 8:55 a.m.

    The notion that trump was referring to the economic conditions of these depri(a)ed nations, brings up an interesting parallel. Mississippi and West Virginia are the 2 poorest states in the union. McDowell County, W.V. is the poorest county in that state. Predominantly white, and heavily trump-leaning, one would think that if we applied the economics argument here, McDowell County would be considered s-hole territory by trump.

  • drs01
    January 16, 2018 at 9 a.m.

    JB - to cite FDR's comment about "moral leadership foremost" to describe the office of the president is laughable coming from the man who was f**king his secretary while he was president. Moral leadership?
    Elitist journalism for sure.
    I won't try to interpret what Trump meant in his descriptive and accurate definition of parts of Africa and all of Haiti. If he meant we already have enough immigrants (legal and illegal) who are sucking the life out of our welfare programs, then I agree.
    Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is dealing with a bunch of a**hole hypocrites.

  • Packman
    January 16, 2018 at 9:23 a.m.

    Once again Brummett writes to his job description throwing red meat in the direction of useful idiots. Always remember if you paid Brummett enough he could make Rush Limbaugh sound like Rachael Madcow.
    You can say John Brummett is big boned or he's a fat a$$. Both descriptions are accurate. Some people talk straight. Others are mealy-mouthed. President Trump talks straight.
    Will somone, anyone explain why it's wrong to desire to attract immigrants that are problem solvers instead of problem makers?

  • TimberTopper
    January 16, 2018 at 9:33 a.m.

    drs01, it appears that like your hero Trump, you may have thought yourself to have walked across the waters of your bathtub this morning, and are now perched on your throne, whereby you feel it is your duty to make judgement on one FDR, and one JB. My question to your highness is: What have to accomplished for others that measures up to the accomplishments of either of the named people you make judgement of. Be sure not to forget to wipe!

  • Foghorn
    January 16, 2018 at 9:56 a.m.

    Cotton makes my skin crawl. I also can’t believe how he seems to be squandering an expensive Harvard education and subsequent turn as a McKensie mgmt guru. He should be coaching Trump to focus on the economic impact of illegal immigration rather than calling people - and countries - names. The focus on a wall makes no sense. Mexicans and Latin Americans, by and large, are not a homeland security threat. When was the last time you read that one of them flew a plane into a building or drove a rented truck into pedestrians. Meanwhile, they represent a deficit of around $55Billion a year. But that assumes Trump’s base understands basic math concepts.

  • DEE672
    January 16, 2018 at 10:26 a.m.

    Beware of Cotton as I have constantly warned. His hunger for power and eventually the throne are neon blinking signs to anyone with the eyes to see. He will do anything to get there.

  • Foghorn
    January 16, 2018 at 10:35 a.m.

    Cotton got completely skewered in the press yesterday. Jennifer Rubin, a very conservative WaPo columnist ripped him a new one. Check it out.

  • MaxCady
    January 16, 2018 at 10:39 a.m.

    Is he debasing the culture or just reflecting it? What would FDR say about the morals of your boy Slick Willie?? This is just a case of the chickens coming home to roost.

  • GeneralMac
    January 16, 2018 at 10:52 a.m.

    JB loves to use the term.........." 2nd place president "

    Seems to me the person who comes in FIRST in electoral votes becomes president.
    That is the way we elect our president in the US.

    If some " shxx hole' country elects their president in a manner more pleasing to arrogant JB, he should move there.