Would you rather live in Norway or Haiti? That’s how the right tried—and failed—to defend Donald Trump’s indefensible comments. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” the president asked a bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday, while lamenting that the United States doesn’t have more immigrants from Norway.
National Review’s Rich Lowry posed that choice to me on CNN, as he tried to pretty up Trump’s insults with commentary on “merit-based immigration.” Lowry thought his point was self-evident, and it was, but not the way he’d hoped. When you pit Norway, the whitest of white countries, vs. Haiti: We see you. We see your racism. It’s that simple.
Trump was being Trump: a racist. But Lowry’s reaction was perhaps more revealing, as yet another example of the transformation of the GOP into a white-nationalist party. Lowry’s magazine won kudos for coming out “Against Trump” two years ago; it turns out the publication’s stance was “Against Trump Until We Need Him.” When you can’t aggressively rebuke your president for declaring Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries “shitholes”; when you instead resort to looking for the proverbial pony at the bottom of the pile of shit (to cross a legendary Ronald Reagan joke with Trump’s crude language)—well, the end result is obvious. You come out covered in manure, even if you try to define the manure as a high-minded debate over “merit-based immigration.” Nobody’s buying it.
The White House essentially confirmed Trump’s comments in a statement Thursday night. “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” spokesman Raj Shah said. On Friday, Trump denied that he used those particular words, or that he suggested that he wants Haitians out of the country. But nobody’s buying that either.
Senator Dick Durbin, who attended the Oval Office meeting, immediately called Trump a liar. “It’s not true. He said those hateful things, and he said them repeatedly.” Durbin then played a wonderful trick, praising his colleague Senator Lindsey Graham for standing up to the “hate-filled, vile and racist” remarks while in the room with the president. Now it’s time for Graham to confirm Durbin’s account and rebuke Trump publicly. So far, we have silence from the South Carolina senator.
The real political story here is that the president, trying to prove he’s competent to hold the office he should not have, invited reporters to witness a bipartisan meeting on immigration reform—specifically, a solution to the problem of the so-called Dreamers, whose deportation protection, granted by Obama, was rescinded by Trump last year. Trump got some of what he wanted; some reporters were impressed that he didn’t drool, drift off, or swear. The mainstream media’s soft bigotry of low expectations for this charlatan never seems to fail.
In fact, Trump was a basket case in the meeting, prattling on about finding a bipartisan “bill of love” and agreeing with Senator Dianne Feinstein about the need for a “clean” DACA bill—that is, one without other punitive measures like a border wall or new limits on legal immigration—until GOP leaders stopped him. The nativist media chorus wailed—Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin all slammed Trump—and the nativists in the White House got Trump back in line.
When Durbin and Graham showed up for what they thought was a meeting with the president, according to multiple media reports, they found staffers had invited hardliners like Senator Tom Cotton and Representative Bob Goodlatte, and that Trump had turned from a man promising a “bill of love” to a bigot railing against “shithole countries.” He was playing to his racist base, and it worked. White House staffers anonymously told reporters that Trump voters loved it. “This is how the forgotten men and women of America talk at the bar,” Fox goofball Jesse Watters declared.
Also on Fox, Tucker Carlson praised Lowry’s approach, and sent a Twitter troll army to mock me about not answering whether I’d move to Haiti or Norway. Mock on, boys—waste your weekend. I have plans. Still: I thought I was beyond shock at the right, but it astounds me that these men believe the Haiti/Norway question absolves them, and Trump, of charges of racism, rather than confirms it.
Let’s look at what really distinguishes Norway from Haiti. Norway is a social-democratic country with a high tax base, one that invests in its people, providing health care, college education, and childcare. It has also made a remarkable commitment to gender equity. The reason we don’t have a lot of Norwegians clamoring to live here is that it would, for most of them, likely represent downward mobility. Haiti, meanwhile, is a failed experiment in colonialism, capitalist brutality and, yes, racism. The tiny island country has never recovered from the global punishment imposed by slave-holding, colonial powers after a slave revolt made it a free if impoverished nation more than 200 years ago. The mentality that chooses to compare the essential worth of the residents of the two nations, rather than the conditions that prevail in them, is just a high-falutin’ variation of racism.
I can imagine a debate about US immigration policy that considers the kind of skills the country needs, as well as other factors. (Lowry tried to pretend that it wouldn’t matter to him whether a college graduate came from Haiti or from Norway; we would welcome both, he suggested.) But when you tether your “merit-based immigration” argument to a man who has demonstrated his racism over 40 years, and who rode to power on an angry white nationalism, please don’t be surprised when your project shatters on the shores of American decency. As it did Thursday night.
Meanwhile, it must be said: Trump is working hard to turn the United States into a shithole country—one that is run by a corrupt kleptocracy, that funnels money to a comparative handful of ruling families and impoverishes the rest of us. One that imposes work requirements on Medicaid recipients. One that imposes tax cuts for the wealthy and refuses to provide medical care to children. If Trumpism succeeds, Norway might have to make room for refugees from another shithole country. What a global embarrassment this is.