President Donald Trump’s reported statement about the need to block immigrants from “s-hole nations” such as Haiti, El Salvador and those in Africa is a painful reminder that America has a loutish, unrestrained and ignorant leader who is tearing down America’s image around the world. Coming days before the national holiday celebrating slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Trump’s remarks, which he halfheartedly denied, set a new low.
In the short term, Trump’s vulgar comments are likely to make it even more difficult for Congress and the White House to cut a deal to maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while also increasing the federal debt ceiling. But in the big picture, Americans should be profoundly troubled by the number of Trump supporters who mocked the criticism coming his way and said his remarks weren’t racist, just politically incorrect.
This exposes a huge cultural gap between views of what is and what isn’t acceptable in today’s society. Trump realized this gap existed in 2015 — and exploited it — when he launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” who bring crime and drugs to America, and by saying all Muslim immigrants should be banned from the U.S. The president’s casual racism isn’t a bug in his public persona. It’s a feature. And the Americans who welcome it will still be there after Trump leaves office.
Are these Americans “deplorables,” to use Hilary Clinton’s term — men and women who should be shunned and marginalized whenever possible? Or is former President Barack Obama’s more charitable assessment accurate? In 2008, while campaigning in Pennsylvania, he said in remarks at a private fundraiser that after 25 years of economic stagnation or worse in the Midwest, “it’s not surprising” that disaffected whites “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
At the time, Obama drew sharp criticism for words that belittled Americans, gun owners and religion. But in retrospect, there is a quality of detached empathy in his remarks that is worth contemplating in the Trump era.
Liberal commentators like The New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman and Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias ridicule what they shorthand as the “economic anxiety” argument as being far too charitable to racists who disgrace America. But American politics would be healthier and more prone toward some gradual reconciliation if pundits and politicians can avoid what Ross Douthat, another columnist from The New York Times, called racial reductionism: “the idea that in analyzing American politics we have to choose between claiming that all Trump voters are entirely innocent of racism and damning them all as white nationalists.”
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is appropriate to remember his deeply thoughtful views: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board appreciates that quite a few Americans will be unable to forgive Donald Trump. His habit of hateful, dismissive, cruel attacks on minorities and Muslims in particular have already made him one of the most reviled and divisive figures in modern U.S. history.
He won’t be president forever, but the tens of millions of Americans who for whatever reason rallied to his side will still be among us. In reaching out to them, we hope other Americans start with this thought: What would Martin Luther King Jr. do?
This editorial was written by the editorial staff of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Their opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.Reach