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Closson: Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ comments aren’t shocking

Troy Closson, Opinion Editor

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Calling someone racist always raises eyebrows. Yes, just because we disagree with someone or the policies they support doesn’t mean we can jump to labeling them racist. But when someone consistently singles out, advocates discrimination against and demonstrates beliefs of superiority over specific racial and ethnic groups, we shouldn’t be wary of calling them what they’ve shown they are.

Last week, President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and certain African nations as “shithole countries” when discussing immigrant protections in a meeting with lawmakers. When representatives on both sides of the aisle, like Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who sat in on the meeting confirmed Trump made offensive comments, news media largely called his words “shocking.” I watched journalists ask “Is it time to call President Trump racist?” to which pundits basically seemed to agree that this was what pushed him over some supposed line.

When I first started seeing headlines talking about the incident, I was honestly expecting something even more derogatory and insulting. Maybe he used the n-word or another racial slur, I thought. But upon reading what he actually said, I really couldn’t understand how so many people were surprised by his comments. It’s shocking that people still genuinely believe this man’s racist behavior is “shocking.” When someone says racist things, does racist things and advances racist things, we shouldn’t have a hard time calling them out.

And while some in the meeting with Trump dispute his use of the specific phrase “shithole countries,” does it really matter? This is not new and it’s not surprising.

He’s faced countless accusations and lawsuits for discrimination in housing and other business ventures. After the five black and Latino teenagers he took out full-page ads against in support of the death penalty were exonerated by DNA evidence, he continued to question their innocence. During his campaign, he called Mexicans “rapists” who bring drugs and crime to the United States. He placed blame on “both sides” for white nationalist violence in Charlottesville and tried to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) by calling her “Pocahontas.” This list is hardly exhaustive, so I’m not sure how anyone is still shocked by his bigotry.

Per usual, some Fox News hosts defended his most recent comments left and right; Jesse Watters said this is just “how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar.” Even The Washington Post published an article with the headline, “Trump’s vulgarity: Overt racism or a president who says what many think?” — somehow the fact that many racists think and say racists things makes it OK?

At the end of the day, while some will always minimize the impact of everything he says, this matters. And I want to be clear, I don’t think that anyone who says any offensive thing should automatically be labelled racist, nor am I just throwing the word around without any thought. But next time Trump’s bigotry shows, instead of claiming it was simply a racial faux pas, or arguing that Trump just isn’t politically correct or insisting that his behavior only has racial “implications,” please call it like it is — and don’t act shocked. The people and entire countries who he continuously disparages and shows he doesn’t care about deserve more than a defense that the president of the United States just didn’t fully understand the impact of his words and actions.

Troy Closson is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at troyclosson@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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