World is lis­ten­ing to Trump’s racist rants — and you should, too

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SUNDAY MORNING - LISA FALKENBERG

There are two kinds of shit­holes. One is phys­i­cal. One is a state of mind.

We all know which one Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was in when he re­port­edly asked in a meet­ing with Con­gres­sional mem­bers why the United States should ad­mit peo­ple from “shit­hole coun­tries” such as Haiti and some African na­tions that are pre­dom­i­nately black, rather than places like Nor­way, which is pre­dom­i­nately white. Given the choice be­tween liv­ing with that kind of men­tal­ity and liv­ing in an ac­tual shit­hole, I would gladly choose the lat­ter. At least there’s a way out. Trump, mean­while, is trapped in his big­oted, xeno­pho­bic views. But we can’t al­low our­selves to get trapped along with him — trapped in out­rage, in res­ig­na­tion or in ap­a­thy.

Our chil­dren are lis­ten­ing when the pres­i­dent speaks. Peo­ple who voted for him are lis­ten­ing. The world is lis­ten­ing.

If we start rolling our eyes or wav­ing off the pres­i­dent’s rants as the symp­toms of a men­tally un­sta­ble buf­foon, it sig­nals tol­er­ance of the toxic rhetoric that is tar­nish­ing the shin­ing Amer­i­can ex­am­ple. So what’s to be done? Well, for starters, keep track. The rate at which Trump shocks and of­fends is such that we’ll be talk­ing about another re­mark next week. Don’t let quan­tity lessen the cu­mu­la­tive blow. Keep a list, a file — hell, a spread­sheet — and ti­tle it thusly: Rea­son to vote.

Then, fight back, not with anger but with facts and logic. On so­cial me­dia. Over cof­fee with Trump-minded friends and fam­ily. In let­ters to Congress mem­bers.

Yes, it is still out­ra­geous, even af­ter a year of such be­hav­ior, for the U.S. pres­i­dent, in the course of con­duct­ing of­fi­cial busi­ness, to use such a word. Let alone in ref­er­ence to for­eign na­tions we con­sider al­lies. Let alone in ref­er­ence to the home­lands

of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple who live and work in Amer­ica.

It wasn’t just Trump’s con­dem­na­tion of the coun­tries them­selves. It was his in­sin­u­a­tion that the peo­ple born there are not wor­thy of Amer­ica’s prom­ise. As Amer­i­cans, how many of our an­ces­tors did not come from a place that some­one re­garded as a hell­hole at the time? How many of them ar­rived wealthy, ed­u­cated and com­fort­able? Not my fam­ily. By some stan­dards, Alexander Hamil­ton, one of our great­est found­ing fa­thers, came from such a place in the Bri­tish West Indies.

By some stan­dards, there are parts of this coun­try, in West Vir­ginia, in East Texas or in the Pan­han­dle, that qual­ify for Trump’s of­fen­sive dis­tinc­tion. They’re dirt poor, lack­ing in ed­u­ca­tion, op­por­tu­nity and hope. Would the pres­i­dent call those places shit­holes? Likely not. Some are over­whelm­ingly white. Some are his vot­ers. Lacks com­pas­sion

Trump’s com­ments be­tray not only his racist views and his lack of com­pas­sion but also his ig­no­rance.

His re­cent in­sult comes on the heels of pre­vi­ously re­ported com­ments in which the pres­i­dent said Nige­ri­ans should go back to their “huts.”

Nige­ri­ans, it so hap­pens, are the most ed­u­cated group in Amer­ica. About 61 per­cent of adults 25 and older have a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or higher — more than twice the U.S. rate of 28.5 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. Cen­sus Bureau re­port.

Haitians, mean­while, fac­ing steep poverty and other ob­sta­cles, hold their own. More than 70 per­cent of Haitian im­mi­grants age 16 and older par­tic­i­pate in the civil­ian la­bor force, com­pared with 66 per­cent of the over­all for­eign-born pop­u­la­tion and 62 per­cent of the U.S.-born pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute. Mean­while, 78 per­cent of those 25 and older have a high school de­gree or higher, com­pared with 71 per­cent of the for­eign-born pop­u­la­tion and 88 per­cent of U.S.-born.

Still, there are some try­ing to find wis­dom in Trump’s foul state­ment. One guy trolling my Face­book page Fri­day in­sisted that while the pres­i­dent’s com­ment may be crude, it was truth­ful. He ar­gued that Haiti and Hon­duras really are such coun­tries.

“Why do you think peo­ple are leav­ing them?” he asked.

There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween con­demn­ing failed lead­ers and failed pol­icy and de­nounc­ing an en­tire coun­try — en­com­pass­ing ev­ery­thing from its peo­ple to its cul­ture to its ar­chi­tec­ture. High and mighty

To get another per­spec­tive, I called up Rosendo Ti­cas, who fled to the United States as a boy af­ter he woke up one night with an M-16 in his back dur­ing a bru­tal civil war in his na­tive El Sal­vador. I wrote about him re­cently as an ex­am­ple of how Texas’ in-state tu­ition law for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants helped him go to col­lege and achieve his dream of re­pair­ing air­planes.

Did he view his na­tive coun­try, where his grand­fa­ther later died at the hands of gangs, as a bad place?

No, he said. A poor coun­try. A Third World coun­try. But he would never con­demn the whole place.

“It’s a good coun­try,” Ti­cas said, while acknowledging the vi­o­lence, lack of op­por­tu­nity and politi­cians too scared to make change. “There are good peo­ple there, like there are good peo­ple here.”

Per­haps Trump feels high and mighty enough to put down other na­tions be­cause he is the leader of a coun­try of high ideals and mighty in­flu­ence.

But ev­ery time he in­sults our al­lies, be­lit­tles the peo­ple who live and work here, and com­ports him­self with the dig­nity of a drunken ba­boon, he is di­min­ish­ing the power of his plat­form, and of Amer­ica’s voice.

No coun­try, no mat­ter how rich, how pow­er­ful and how free, can flour­ish without a cer­tain level of de­cency, com­pas­sion and civil dis­course from its lead­ers.

No city on a hill can sur­vive with a gut­ter state of mind.

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