Tracing the Racist Roots of Donald Trump’s Obscenities

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tags: racism, immigration, Trump



Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”

The great and unheralded triumph of the Trump Administration is that it has created parity between its politics and its language. Since at least the time of Robert McNamara, the prevailing style of American politics has been to cloak atrocity in euphemism. Clinical language, the belief holds, will balm the troubled citizen’s conscience. That is not our current predicament. Quoting this President in his own words has resulted in the term “pussy” emerging from the side streets of impolite language to mainstream publications and cable-news shows. (Such is Trump’s affection for the word that a glossary of his statements would require two entries for it: “Cruz, Ted is,” and “grab them by the.”) Trump shouted to all who would listen, including an audience at a community college in Iowa, that he would “bomb the shit” out of isis. He referred to N.F.L. players as “sons of bitches.” He has uttered profanities more publicly and more prolifically than any of his predecessors. Antonin Scalia derided our “coarsened” society, but rappers are not the ones who caused CNN to have to repeatedly air the vaginal slur on air. The current Commander-in-Chief did that.

So the vulgarity of the word that Trump spoke in a discussion in the Oval Office that referred to African and Central American nations as well as to Haiti—“shithole”—was not its most noteworthy element. In November, the Administration ended provisional residency in the United States for sixty thousand Haitians. It currently plans to expel two hundred thousand Salvadorans. As Sarah Stillman reports in this week’s issue of the magazine, deportation sometimes carries fatal risks for the people being returned, particularly those who are political-asylum seekers. These are not matters to be discussed in the detached, opaque language taught in public-policy graduate schools. The most noteworthy fact about Trump’s term is that its ugliness perfectly parallels the morality of his ideas about immigration. It offers more inadvertent honesty and transparency than he has ever been capable of mustering intentionally. Profanity, meet profane. Fittingly, Trump denied ever making the comment, which should be understood as a sort of id override that is compelled to counteract even honesty of the accidental kind.

Trump reportedly grouped Africans under the scatological banner while lamenting the dearth of Norwegians arriving in the United States. His exasperation with African immigration is particularly jarring, given the high educational achievements of many people coming from that continent. Trump is reported to have said last year that once Nigerians see the United States, they will never “go back to their huts.” Yet Nigerians in this country hold master’s degrees at more than double the rate of white Americans, and doctorates at four times the rate. The Administration has consistently denounced immigration that was not based on “merit,” but, two years ago, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported that one of the biggest problems that African immigrants faced in the United States was finding employment commensurate with their levels of educational achievement.

Among the more curious footnotes to Trump’s Presidency is the provenance of his nativism. He is, as David Klion wrote, a product of Queens, New York, the most ethnically diverse urban area in the United States. (Some experts estimate that as many as eight hundred languages are spoken there.) Trump grew up in Jamaica Estates; I grew up in South Jamaica. There is precisely the same relationship between those two communities that their names would suggest. Trump’s environs were, both literally and socioeconomically, elevated above the surrounding areas. The Queens in which he spent his youth served as a sort of interior suburb of New York City and was, not coincidentally, the second-whitest of the five boroughs, after Staten Island. Such were the racial politics of Queens in that era that, as the historian Martha Biondi points out in “To Stand and Fight,” a history of the civil-rights movement in New York, LaGuardia airport, in northern Queens, enacted a demure form of segregation of black travellers in the fifties. There were no “Colored Only” signs, just tacitly recognized black and white areas in the airport. ...

Read entire article at Politico

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