Shithole: Trump’s Racism is the Latest Version of U.S. Imperialism

Donald Trump's KKK racism problem

When he called Haiti, El Salvador and the entire continent of Africa “shithole countries,” Donald Trump didn’t just openly expose his racist beliefs, he contributed to the long history of American imperialism against countries with predominantly darker skinned populations. That tradition actually predates the nation’s founding as the Atlantic slave trade existed well before the United States, but that didn’t stop white America from continuing the hegemonic legacy of those that came before them.

A Brief History Lesson

In a pertinent Twitter thread, author and journalist Jonathan M. Katz explained why nations like Haiti have always struggled. Spoiler alert: it’s not because they’re lazy persons of color.

Here’s the thread:


Where Racism Enters

Racists like Donald Trump have always wanted (and needed) countries like Haiti to be poor. They’ve needed Africa to be a continent full of primitive people (remember Trump saying people in Nigeria live in “huts“?).

In being able to relegate countries with predominantly black and otherwise non-caucasian populations to poor and “lesser than” status, racists like Trump can exert power. They can boast about merit and Calvinist idealism.

A while back, Peacock Panache contributor Sheila Kennedy wrote about Christian conservatives who promote Calvinism in order to justify opposition to helping the poor and indigent. She wrote in 2016:

In 2007, I wrote a book called God and Country, in which I examined the religious roots of ostensibly secular policy preferences—things like climate change, foreign policy and economic systems. It was when researching that book that I came to appreciate the longstanding effect of Calvinism on American attitudes toward income inequality.

As I wrote in that book, the theological precept that arguably had the greatest effect on colonial economic activity was the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which held that God had decided the ultimate fate of each person at the moment of creation. Predestination included the belief that the faithful discharge of one’s calling—the diligence with which a person worked– was evidence of the depth and sincerity of that person’s faith. Predestination, especially when coupled with the doctrine of original sin, convinced believers that the suffering of the poor must be intended by God as a spur to their repentance.

In other words, the poor were poor for a reason, and helping them escape poverty might actually thwart God’s will.

The belief that people are poor because they are somehow morally defective wasn’t universal, but it was widespread–and   that suspicion of poverty, that belief that poor people are somehow lacking in moral fiber or responsible for their own condition, has profoundly influenced American culture. Understanding that attitude about poverty is central to any effort to understand today’s arguments about income inequality.

That same strain of “they deserve poverty” runs through the veins of conservatives like Donald Trump who would ignore all of history in order to eschew predominantly targeted populations from being able to migrate from their home countries.

As Katz said in a later tweet, “If Haiti is a shithole, then they can say that black freedom and sovereignty are bad. They can hold it up as proof that white countries—and what’s whiter than Norway—are better, because white people are better. They wanted that in 1804, and in 1915, and they want it now.”

That’s why, when conservatives defend Trump and proclaim people should pay more attention to his actions than his words, the simple fact that the two cannot be separated never occurs to them.

Trump’s Actions & Ideas

Whether he’s still calling for the execution of the Central Park 5 even after they’ve been exonerated of all wrongdoing or saying “some very fine people” exist among a mob of neo-Nazis and white supremacists that murdered Heather Heyer, Donald Trump’s words and beliefs cannot be mistaken as anything other than racist. His “shithole” comments are just the latest in a long line of racist dog whistles and sometimes overt expressions demonstrating his vitriol towards people of color.

But his actions aren’t above reproach, either.

The most obvious example of his actions speaking louder than words are his multiple attempts at instituting a Muslim ban – a ban that would target a religious belief system shared by predominantly non-caucasian people around the world.

He compounded that recently by retweeting Jayda Fransen, the leader of the ultra-nationalist far right “Britain First” group. We wrote at the time of the retweets that “The three tweets he popularized feature unsubstantiated videos of Muslims engaging in acts of violence and destruction (one of Britain First’s Islamophobic trademark stunts).”

Despite the tweets being almost immediately debunked as hoaxes, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters, “Look, I’m not talking about the nature of the video. I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing.” Sanders added, “The threat is real, and that’s what the president is talking about is the need for national security, the need for military spending, and those are very real things, there’s nothing fake about them.”

None of that compares with the repeated, lengthy racist actions that catapulted Donald Trump to the forefront of angry white conservative minds: birtherism.

Despite ample evidence (legal documents, newspaper announcements and more), Trump pursued the “he wasn’t born here” narrative for literally years. And all because Obama dared to be the first black president.

Yes, actions to speak louder than words – and Trump’s racist actions have spoken loudly for quite some time.

Imperialism

It’s not difficult to look at Trump’s use of racism in the larger context of America’s long history of imperialism. From our intervention in South American countries and Africa to our self-proclaimed ‘leader of the free world’ status we traditionally relegate to the presidency, the nation was built on looking down upon other countries to maintain our own sense of dominance and better-ness.

The very concept that everything is better in America – an idea that permeates the very fabric of the American dream itself – is a product of this mindset.

The opening scene of The Newsroom – one that poked holes in that imperialistic dream – shocked many in the conservative community as the series premiered in 2012. In the protagonist’s opening monologue – set during a panel discussion giving his response to a question about American exceptionalism – Republican-identified Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) said (in part):

It’s not the greatest country in the world professor, that’s my answer.

Sharon, the NEA is a loser, yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paycheck but he gets to hit you with it any time he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes, it costs air time, it costs column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so god damn always?

And with a straight face you’re going to tell students that America is so star spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world that have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, BELGIUM has freedom.

So, 207 sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.

And you, sorority girl, just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day there’s somethings you should know. One of them is there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, Number 4 in labor force and Number 4 in exports, we lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.

The remainder of the response is just as pertinent, and is worth a view in its entirety.

Toward the end, he says that in order to solve a problem, you have to first recognize the problem exists. The United States has a problem, and we need to admit it rather than tip-toeing around it with kids-glove language:

Donald Trump is a racist, and that racism affects policy. And that racism-affected policy harms real people.

As Slate aptly put it today in what every mainstream outlet should be saying:

“Donald Trump came onto the political scene with a racist conspiracy theory. He ran a racist campaign. As president, he continues to say racist things. As a simple point of fact, we should be able to say—without hesitation—that Donald Trump is a racist.”

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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