Words Have Consequences
Over the course of the last week or so, the internet has been abuzz over the alleged remarks the president said in regard to certain African nations and others, at question in particular whether or not he referred to them as “shithole countries.” There has been a particular branch of the GOP which has simultaneously denied and defended the language, which is an interesting angle to take. No, he didn’t say it, and also, if he did, he was right to do so. A difficult tightrope to walk, but props.
Now, a few individuals who have a clear investment in hardline immigration policy, like Tom Cotton, are denying the president used the exact phrase “shithole.” But a few outlets have reported that, in fact, they heard a quite similar construction which basically conveys the same point. Chalk this up as one more reason people don’t like politicians, as the whole denial hinges on whether the president said “holes” or “houses,” as if that makes any difference in the sentiment. That’s called a lie by omission in common parlance.
Those invested in the president and his policies have defended the whole debacle, with conservative luminaries such as Tomi Lahren and Tucker Carlson asking, “But aren’t they shitholes?” That train of thought may be valuable domestically, insofar as you are trying to defend the president politically, but its real impact is felt abroad.
While President Trump seems to be more invested in newscycles and fawning coverage at home, the State Department and American status abroad has deteriorated. In sum, when people don’t take the president seriously, they don’t take America seriously, and that can have serious implications for the way we conduct diplomacy abroad.
Take his comments on Africa: even if he didn’t say it, he has demonstrated a propensity for similar statements. He alone has created an atmosphere where people believe outlandish claims against him, because he is outlandish. While supporters might laugh and cheer at his cavalier attitude toward, well, everything (he tells it like it is!), being brutally honest can have unintended consequences. While the president seems to dislike people from Africa, for whatever reason, it likely matters to the Africans. If they feel alienated by the United States, where will they turn?
If the role of the United States is deteriorating internationally, some other entity will seek to fill that void. Maybe over the last century we would have looked at the Soviet Union as that adversary, but today it has to be China. All things the same, the Chinese must look more attractive for business and alliances if they are not actively insulting you. But not only are the Chinese not lambasting the Africans, they’re investing in them. The United States is tearing down Africans verbally while the Chinese are quite literally building them up.
Some offhand remarks by the president may excite his base and occupy the news for a few days, but if the leader of the free world shuns those nations in which we want to encourage prosperity and modernization, they very well may look elsewhere for guidance and friendship. Ceding opportunity and leadership to rival nations is not putting "America First."