In Europe the immigration crisis persists, right-wing politics is growing and well... Brexit! Trump doesn't use politically correct language and that lands him in the shit house.
Even by his own standards, President Donald Trump's reference to some African nations and Haiti as "shithole countries" was appalling. The SH reference was allegedly made several times during a meeting on immigration the president had with lawmakers last week. If true, it marks a new low, even for him.
That said, it is worth noting that the exaggerated and opportunistic reaction from all those who despise President Trump is also a low point. On both sides of the Atlantic, including Ireland, there was an outpouring of almost theatrical horror over the past week from those predisposed to regard Trump as the devil incarnate.
The basis for this tsunami of outrage and disgust was the immediate assumption that what the president had said was racist. This column is no fan of Trump -- and certainly not of his language - but it is hard to see that as justifiable.
Let's leave aside the fact that Trump denies using the SH word, although he admits he used strong language in what was clearly a difficult meeting about DACA and immigration. Let's also ignore the irony of the racist accusation being thrown at him by the press a day later while he was greeting African Americans at a Martin Luther King ceremony in the White House.
Context? What did Trump mean?
But let's assume for the moment, despite his denials, that Trump did use the SH word. The real question is what he meant by it, given the context in which it was used.
Trump, as all us sophisticated types know, is a jumped up developer with little understanding of the nuances of politics or the wider world. He's an inarticulate, wealthy boor who made it to the White House by being a shameless populist. If he was as educated and polished as us sophisticates he would know that a U.S. president does not use this kind of language.
Instead of saying that some nations were SH countries, he would have referred to them as failing states. He would have said gross corruption, economic mismanagement, violence, poverty, disease and despair were making life unbearable for the populations in these miserable states.
He would have referred to the rigged elections and compromised democracy that enables the leaders of some of these countries to stay in power for decades. He would have said that all of this explained why people were desperate to get out.
Trump, however, does not talk like an academic or a highbrow columnist. He speaks the direct language of the ordinary guy in the street.
And maybe because he tweets so much, he compresses what he wants to say into a few words. Or even one composite word like SH.
So at the meeting last week, rather than taking the time to recite the appalling conditions in some countries in Africa that drive so many people to leave, he made a shorthand reference to "SH countries."
We all know what he meant. He was referring to the misery of life in those countries run by corrupt elites who enrich themselves while the mass of their people struggle to survive.
The SH word he used was a reference to those failing countries as state entities rather than a reference to the ordinary people who live in these miserable places. They are awful places to live, which is why so many of their people become migrants to escape the violence and grinding poverty.
Saying that is not racist. It's a statement of fact.
Is Trump racist?
Trump does not have Obama's eloquence. He is so inarticulate at times it is embarrassing.
But this shortcoming does not make him a racist. His reference to "SH countries" in Africa does not make him a racist either, unless you are one of those angry illiberal liberals who despise him so much you will throw the racist charge at him whenever you get the chance, justified or not.
Trump's reference to Haiti as a SH was particularly insensitive given that it was within days of the anniversary of the horrific earthquake there in 2010. But gross corruption and brutality in the past have impoverished that unfortunate country over many decades far more than even the deadly earthquake and the hurricanes. Like in the corrupt and impoverished African countries Trump was referring to, the source of so much illegal migration into Europe, the ongoing corruption and the pitiful standard of living in Haiti results in many people there trying to leave and get into the U.S.
The United States immigrants
The question posed by Trump was why it was the responsibility of the U.S. to take so many of these migrants, most of them unskilled and uneducated, rather than immigrants who could make an immediate contribution to the U.S. He is reported to have wondered aloud at the meeting why the U.S. could not be taking in more immigrants from a country like Norway, for example.
This was seized on as proof he was being racist, since the population of Norway is mainly white. But there was a simpler explanation -- Norway was on his mind because he had met the Norwegian prime minister the day before.
In fact it is clear from the wider remarks he made at the meeting that what he was talking about was his preference for a merit-based system for immigration into the U.S. Australia, Canada and other countries have such merit-based systems, but there is no global outcry accusing them of racism.
The immediate jump to the racist accusation was also made by some European politicians last week who claimed to be horrified by Trump's use of the SH term to categorize some African countries. This is a bit rich coming from Belgium, France, Britain, Germany, etc.
It was their shameful colonial behavior in parts of Africa, full of exploitation and extreme brutality, that was copied by the regimes that followed them. The current state of the "SH countries" Trump referred to is partly their legacy.
The UN also got in on the demonize Trump act last week. A spokesman for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva said Trump's language was "shocking and shameful ... there is no other word one can use but racist."
No doubt this will please all those UN delegates from corrupt African countries who stay in expensive Manhattan hotels on lavish expense accounts while their people at home are trapped in misery.
Unsurprisingly, the 55-nation African Union organization reacted as well last week, saying Trump's remarks were “clearly racist.” They are entitled to their opinion. But it would carry more weight if the African Union was known for speaking out on the repression and corruption in some of their member countries and the brutal behavior of the kleptocratic regimes who run them.
The overall point Trump was trying to make in his clumsy comments was that all countries, including the U.S., have the right to regulate immigration in a way that suits themselves. Countries that have merit-based systems, like Australia and Canada, select immigrants on the basis of skills, qualifications, language ability and so on, in a way that reflects their own economic and social needs at any particular time. If you think that is racist, then there are many more racist leaders in the world than Trump.
European immigration crisis
Immigration is a difficult issue not only in the U.S. Several countries in eastern Europe now have built Trump-style walls to stem the flow of migrants there. A number of European countries now have governments which take a tougher line on immigration, insisting that the wishes of their own people and the needs of their own economies and societies must be put first.
In Germany, where Angela Merkel let in over a million migrants in a year without seeking the prior approval of her own people, there has been a sea change in attitude. The issue has so damaged Merkel that six months after the German election she is still struggling to form a coalition government with other parties. The price of doing so is likely to include very severe limits on the intake of migrants there in the future.
The fallout is evident across Europe, in France (Le Pen and the National Front), Britain (with Brexit), and other countries. The rise of more conservative and even extreme right wing parties across Europe is a consequence of the way immigration has been handled by liberal governments who have blithely ignored the views of their own people.
Popular opinion in Europe has hardened and the demand is for much tighter control of immigration. There is now a general awareness that the vast majority of migrants arriving in Europe are not asylum seekers fleeing terror but economic migrants fleeing miserable conditions in their home countries.
There is a growing view that the answer to this problem lies in improving those countries rather than allowing millions of their populations into Europe. It is not possible for Europe to absorb all those who might want to move from Africa, any more than it is possible for the U.S. to absorb all those who might want to come from Central or South America, the Caribbean or elsewhere in the world.
Improving conditions and the standard of living in these challenged countries is far from easy, however. That is clear from the way billions in aid has been stolen or squandered in recent years by autocratic leaders and the elites in Africa and elsewhere (and Haiti is an example).
If it is not possible for either Europe or the U.S. to absorb all those who want to arrive, then a system has to be in place to identify who can be let in. That should always include a humanitarian aspect. But a move towards a merit-based and far more restrictive immigration system both in Europe and the U.S. seems inevitable.
In Europe politicians have learned to use politically correct language when discussing this very difficult issue. But politically correct language is not something that Trump does. And that's how he ends up in the SH.