Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Forget Trump's Vulgarity, Focus on Protecting Immigrants

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Forget Trump's Vulgarity, Focus on Protecting Immigrants

Article excerpt

According to several reports, after news broke that President Donald Trump had referred to African countries and Haiti as "shitholes," he called allies and friends in what one aide described as "a victory lap." This is the measure of the man, both his moral evil and his political genius.

Far be it from anyone who, like myself, scratches out a livelihood by writing, to suggest that words are not important The president's continued disparagement of immigrants serves to divide Americans not only one from another, but to alienate us from our own history.

In a sense, most political issues divide Americans, and the task of a statesman is to try and point to a reconciliation between conflicting viewpoints or, in extreme situations such as the abolition of slavery, to win decisively and then seek a reconciliation. It is worthwhile noting that while it took a great civil war, and not mere words or even votes, to abolish slavery our nation was blessed to have one of its greatest wordsmiths in the White House at the time, framing the battle and the peace in words that raised up the human spirit and bound the nation's wounds.

One of Trump's particular evils is that he uses words to demean those whom our nation has resolved in some way to assist. In his inaugural address, the president spoke about the "forgotten men and women" of America. He meant by that those average Joes and Janes who have not been the beneficiary of special programs or cultural focus. His purpose in mentioning them was not benign; it was not to remind the rest of us that, for example, as much as we are right to worry about the rising costs of college, we should remember those kids who are not going to college, too. No, his purpose was to stoke resentment and it worked.

He mocked a disabled reporter, even through our country, through the bipartisan Americans with Disabilities Act, had decided we were wealthy enough and morally astute enough to make the effort to level the playing field for those with disabilities. Our sidewalks now terminate in ramps, our offices all have elevators, our schools provide special education services, all in an effort to be a more inclusive and just society.

He mocked John McCain for being a prisoner of war, even though McCain has always been seen as a hero, not just because he was a POW but because he refused early release to exercise solidarity with his colleagues. That is a kind of heroism that is rare and worthy of respect. But the draft-dodging president demeaned McCain as a kind of loser.

Trump routinely characterizes immigrants as criminals. He repeatedly picks a fight with black Americans--a congresswoman who was in the car with a widow he called, the father of a UCLA basketball player, and his predecessor.

Trump uses words to divide, that is clear and it is reprehensible. But he also uses words to distract, and that is why he had a "victory lap." While outraged members of Congress and the media wondered if the president is a racist, or called upon him to retract his comments, or explained, as if any explanation were required, that the remarks were beneath the dignity of the office, Trump had changed the topic.

The president needed to change the topic for two reasons. First, after he allowed cameras to stay in the room for 55 minutes of a meeting with congressional leaders, during which he contradicted himself at least four times on policy specifics related to immigration, some of his ever-angry base took umbrage at his seeming willingness to cut a deal. …

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