According to a story, bylined for John Bowden that I read at thehill.com last Thursday evening, (drawing on an article by Josh Dawsey at the Washington Post) “during a heated Oval office meeting with lawmakers to discuss immigration, [President] Trump reportedly grew frustrated with restoring protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and African nations as part of an immigration deal and suggested the U.S. instead bring in more immigrants from countries such as Norway, the prime minister of which he met Wednesday.” The Washington Post report alleges, of course, that Trump asked: “Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?”
I say “alleges” because, on Friday morning, President Trump published the following tweet denying that this was the language he used.
According to the stories I first read, the initial White House response to reports about President Trump’s alleged statement came in a statement that “did not deny Trump’s use of the term vulgar term to describe Haiti and African nations.” After the President’s some GOP attendees at the meeting addressed the controversy. Following the President’s lead, they focused on denying his use of the vulgar language reported in the Washington Post. Some said they did not remember hearing it. GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, without being specific about the language used, said he raised objections to it. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen eventually testified that she did not hear President Trump use the term. But, in agreement with some other GOP attendees, she reported that he “used tough language.” It’s noteworthy that, though both Nielsen and others profess to remember what the President did not say, they do not recall what he actually said.
Both the President’s tweet and the responses of these others treated the President’s alleged remark as if it were simply a matter of vulgar language. But even if the most vulgar term was not used, the import of his statement denigrates people from the countries to which he specifically (or generally, in the case of Africa) referred.
No matter the word he employed, the plain meaning of his statement understandably offended the pride and goodwill of the people to whom he referred, as well as their descendants or relations in the United States. People can pretend, if they like, that they do not understand this angry reaction. But it’s hard to believe that Americans would take no offense if the Head of State of France, China or Brazil described our nation in such language, even if it politely compared Americans coming to their country to waste coming out of an excrement filled utility.
Coming from someone who supposedly speaks for the whole people of the United States, such a comparison arms our nation’s enemies with an anti-American meme weaponized to stir hatred against us. But, more than this, it smacks of an utter disregard for decent humanity — i.e., the people who struggle against hellish material conditions in places throughout the world, without surrendering to violence, or abandoning the effort to care for their family and community. Such hellish conditions include, for example, unjustly coercive political repression, and aggressively unjust economic institutions and practices (like slavery in the United States in the 19th century, or Jim Crow segregation and discrimination in the 20th century.)
In the societies where they prevail, such conditions often lead to a deliberate, massive waste of human lives. It is outrageous to suggest, even were it done by polite implication, that the people thus wickedly wasted should be treated like waste. Where humanity, equity and right are systematically disregarded, even countries that gleam with the best technology and revel in vast wealth and material power, may deserve to be excoriated with terms that evoke the foul stench of the wrongs being done. But should it ever be done in a way that seems to degrade the people whose lives, potential, hope and dignity such stinking injustices befoul?
President Trump’s alleged statement seems to deny that their plight should have any special bearing on the immigration policies of the United States. But if the allegation be true, the statement reveals a narrow-minded rejection of the creed that has, above all else, represented the moral ground in which the identity of the American people is planted, ground that also nurtures its greatest resource of moral spirit.
Throughout my lifetime and for decades before it began, Americans of different political persuasions, races and creeds have been moved by the words of the Emma Lazurus poem engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty:
…Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Good-hearted Americans of all stripes have been moved by these words — enough to feel their hearts swell with resounding pride because our nation aspires to be a light unto the nations — in stark contrast with countries that contemptuously extinguish the human sense of worth, along with the decent ambition that may endure, despite material adversity. It can live on even when people are reduced to scrounging near starvation by a potato famine; or driven, destitute, to hide from the richly armed power of unrighteous hatred and persecution.
We take pride in knowing that beleaguered people everywhere on earth have seen this nation as a hope and refuge for the poor, the persecuted and the oppressed — even if and when ruthless ambition, greed and indifference confine them to s***holes, unfit for human life or habitation, as has happened even on our own soil. The challenge this sense of God-endowed human worth implies, is why so many Americans fought for racial justice and equity here at home. It’s why so many were willing to fight against tyranny abroad, though it meant risking wounds and death far from homes and neighborhoods they left profoundly at peace.
Because we are determined to live up to our nation’s creed, many Americans refuse to forget that we have become, as the faith of our nation’s Founders foresaw, a people comprised of many peoples. But we are still moved by a common sentiment of respect for our God-endowed humanity. For, in whatever unaccustomed guise their humanity appears, many Americas realize that other people strive, as we have had to strive, to rise above adverse circumstances and contemptuous opinions, that are meant to waste our courage, our spirit and our stubborn good faith. Their nature, like our own, includes the dispositions, breathed into us with life, by our Creator, that impel us to preserve and perpetuate the life He forms and informs in us; and to cherish the sacrificial deeds sometimes required to respect or vindicate its worth.
We have always had people from places the world despised, and nations some arrogant elitist clique contemned, coming to America. Sometimes they came in desperate hope, from places of economic blight. Or, they came in good faith, from places of religious persecution. In any case, they often came with decent pride from places where contemptuous nobility had little respect for the seed of true nobleness God has implanted in the moral heart and conscience of every human being.
All different kinds of people have reached out to our land in their heart’s imagination, because it seemed a place where people could claim, and strive to be worthy of, the likeness of God we human beings are supposed to represent. And some, like my ancestors, were brought here in chains to slave. They had to toil through s***holes of body, mind, and soul. But they arrived in the land others imagined this to be only after centuries of living on American soil, without really living in America at all.
I earnestly hope that President Trump rejects the import of the words ascribed to him. For they perpetrate an outrage — not just against some foreign lands and peoples, but against the whole people of the United States. As a people, we must stand ever in remembrance of those who came before us—conveyed by ships, or wagon trains, or planes, or by the blood of patriots, streaming into the soil of battlefields that freed them from the stinkholes of injustice, into a land lit by the hearth-fire of humanity’s common sense of worth, justice and right doing. In this sense, our nation is called to represent the transcendent destiny of people wherever they may be, who are willing to embrace the better destiny to which God calls human beings everywhere, whom he invites, to join the chorus of praise destined, in the end, to come from all nations, glorifying His benevolent will toward all people willing receive and respect it.
Alan Keyes is a political activist, a prolific writer and a former diplomat.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.