Blogs Steve Hochstadt Dangerous Words in the White HouseJan 16, 2018
Dangerous Words in the White House
It doesn’t bother me that Trump said the word “shithole”. I don’t know if my newspaper will print that word or sanitize it. Many media corporations are shifting their normal rules about what they say or print, because the President’s vulgar words are newsworthy.
“Dirty words”, like the ones George Carlin spelled out in 1972, have one by one been moving inexorably into the popular culture. I’m still always surprised to hear the word “sucks” on TV.
I was even more surprised to see one of the contestants on a prime-time quiz show on German TV, a man named H. P. Baxter, wearing a white T-shirt with big black letters spelling out “Who the FUCK is H.P. Baxxter?” playing on the name of a German musician. Nobody on air seemed to care.
I’ve never liked self-appointed language police. I believe we should all be able to choose our own words to fully express our meanings.
The meaning is what matters. Outraged focus on word choice can obscure the greater significance of meaning. That is happening with Trump’s “salty language”.
What bothers me is Trump’s meaning, when he said he wanted more immigrants from Norway and fewer from Africa. Any white is better than any black immigrant. It is difficult to find a clearer expression of white supremacy than Trump’s words to a gathering of Senators in the Oval Office.
I know some immigrants from Nigeria, Ghana and other black African nations, students I taught at Illinois College and their families. The students were sophisticated, multilingual, well educated and high achievers. They were a delight to have in the classroom. Some have stayed in the US in jobs or graduate school. None of them had lived in “huts”, as Trump characterized Nigerians in a June meeting.
Certainly Trump is not the first racist in the White House. White supremacy was an American principle at the founding and throughout the 19th century. Even Lincoln, the only President that Trump will grant to have been more presidential than himself, did not believe in the full equality of the races. He said in his debates with Stephen Douglas, “I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”
During the 20th century, presidential thinking and action have pushed away from racist policy and language, sometimes leading, sometimes following American society’s increasing rejection of white supremacy. The election of Barack Obama could have been a sign that our national government would never again express white supremacist ideology in practice or speech.
But Donald Trump never accepted Obama’s election as legitimate. He led the most public fight to declare Obama an African and unworthy to be President. Racism in the guise of birtherism was Trump’s main political focus as he prepared his presidential campaign. He has never given up this idea.
Maybe Trump’s word choice is too crude for public and official presidential business. There might be two sides to that question. There shouldn’t be any question about advocating white supremacy in the White House.
Every elected representative of the American people, sworn to uphold the Constitution, should reject both Trump’s words and meanings. Of course, Trump denied using the words everybody heard him use. The most conservative Republicans at the Oval Office meeting pretended not to have heard them. Senators Tom Cotton (AR) and David Perdue (GA) said, “We do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” No other Republicans who were there admitted publicly that Trump said those words, although Sen. Lindsay Graham told a fellow Senator about them.
Pretending that there is nothing to talk about appeases white supremacy at the highest level of government. Supporting such racist talk is a step in the direction of promoting racist policy.
Let’s not move backwards on racial equality, equal justice for all, support for diversity, and welcoming new Americans from all over the world. And let’s get that racist out of the White House.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 16, 2018
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