Outrage mounted yesterday over US President Donald Trump’s reported description of African nations, Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole” countries, with the United Nations slamming his comments as “racist” and the African Union condemning the remarks.
During a Thursday meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform, Trump demanded to know why the US should accept citizens from Haiti and what he called “shithole” countries in Africa, rather than places like Norway, according to comments first reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by people briefed on the extraordinary conversation in the Oval Office.
Trump’s contemptuous description of an entire continent and bluntly vulgar language startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived charges that the president is racist. The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Trump supports immigration policies that welcome “those who can contribute to our society.”
Responding to the furore yesterday, Trump said on Twitter that his language was “tough,” but “this was not the language used.” He did not specifically deny using the word “shithole.” Trump later went on to argue: “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”
Referring to a report in The Washington Post, that he said “take them out” in reference to Haitians, Trump said that never happened.
The New York Times later reported the same comment, citing unnamed people with direct knowledge of the meeting.
Trump’s comments Thursday came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — and also strengthen border protections, as Trump has insisted.
The lawmakers had hoped Trump would back their accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a months-long, bitter dispute over protecting the “dreamers.”
But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
Trump’s remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused of racism by his foes and who has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.
Trump has inaccurately claimed that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, wasn’t born in the United States.
He has said Mexican immigrants were “bringing crime” and were “rapists.” He said there were “very fine people on both sides” after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one counter-protester dead.
Trump has called himself the “least racist person that you’ve ever met.” On Friday he plans to sign a proclamation honouring Martin Luther King Day.
A wave of criticism emerged in response to the claims.
Yesterday, the Haitian government said it was “deeply shocked and outraged” by Trump’s reported vulgar remark, calling it “racist.” The government said “these insulting and reprehensible statements in no way reflect the virtues of wisdom, restraint and discernment that must be cultivated by any high political authority.” They also spurred a harsh reaction from the UN, with rights office spokesman Rupert Colville describing them as “shocking and shameful.” “Sorry, but there is no other word one can use but ‘racist’,” he told reporters in Geneva.
“You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’ whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”
Africans reacted angrily, with many lashing the US president for racism and ignorance. The 55-nation African Union condemned the remarks while the southern African state of Botswana hauled in the US ambassador to complain.
The comment “truly flies in the face of accepted behaviour and practice,” said Ebba Kalondo, spokeswoman for AU chief Moussa Faki.
“This is even more hurtful given the historical reality of just how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, and also terribly surprising as the United States remains a massively positive example as just how migration can give birth to a nation,” Kalondo said.
In South Africa, the ruling ANC party declared “ours is not a shithole country” and described Trump as “extremely offensive.” War-torn South Sudan weighed in too, with President Salva Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny slamming the comments as “outrageous.”
In the US, Democrats seized on Trump’s slur to suggest he is anti-immigrant or worse. “We always knew that President Trump doesn’t like people from certain countries or people (of) certain colours,” congressman Luis Gutierrez said, adding that “we can now say with 100 percent confidence that the president is a racist.”
Some Republicans were also unhappy. Mia Love, a congresswoman from Utah who is of Haitian descent, called Trump’s reported comments “unkind” and “divisive”, and demanded an apology.