A long-time friend of this column in Tanzania, where ‘Meditation’ appeared for 15 years until the Arusha Times went under in 2016, emailed me a heart-wrenching question.
Emmanuel was born in a village outside of Arusha, and is, like many Tanzanians, a kind and good-hearted person. He’s also a well-educated professional in the environmental field, and keeps informed about world events.
“Martin, Thursday January 11, 2018 President Trump described Haiti, El Salvador and parts of Africa as “shithole countries” in a meeting with lawmakers in the White House. From your view Martin, “Why has Trump decided to describe those countries as “shithole countries”? (Italics his)
I doubt I can convey to someone in Canada, much less a young man in Tanzania, why President Trump called African and other countries “shitholes.” Before I make the attempt however, I want to apologize on behalf of all Americans for this vile and deeply hurtful remark by our venal and vicious president.
Most Americans will tell you that Trump’s views do not represent the majority of Americans, much less the “values America stands for.” That is a truth at one level that Americans use to deny the truth at the core level.
The Republican Party did not produce this cretinous president; the American people as a whole did. Though Trump’s base is only a third of the electorate, a moribund body politic is what allowed Trump to manifest. Until that’s acknowledged and adequately addressed, Trump’s shit will continue.
America is now ruled by a president who says white people are welcome, while black and brown people, who often come from poorer countries, are not.
When a nation loses its soul, especially a nation that prides itself on being a paragon of human rights and “leader of the free world,” evil steps into the vacuum.
As obvious as that is, American political, media and academic elites are still in denial, saying things like, “this threatens the soul of the nation.” They refuse to face the fact that it was the loss of the nation’s soul in the first place that allowed this malignancy to ascend to the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth.
This is about real human beings, not just America’s image abroad. Even under George Bush, the United States accepted 200,000 El Salvadorans on “temporary protected status” after two devastating earthquakes. Trump is now deporting the El Salvadorans.
(As you know, Bush and Cheney illegally and immorally invaded Iraq after 9.11—an event foretold by the American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania—thereby giving the world an endless “global war on terror.”)
The earthquakes were a natural disaster, but as one prominent writer put it, “a man-made disaster did befall this unfortunate country of El Salvador not so long ago, in the form of United States support for a murderous right-wing dictatorship that the administration of President Ronald Reagan regarded as a bulwark against Communism.”
The truth, my friend, is that America has become a spiritual shithole, which is a far more serious state than the material and physical conditions of poverty to which President Trump bigoted remarks supposedly refer.
The chance to improve one’s material conditions has always been a driving force behind the desire of immigrants from all over the world to come here. But prosperity is not what gave rise to the phrase, “American exceptionalism.”
I can remember a time when the United States, as imperfect a union as it was, was still a beacon of hope that held promise for people from other lands, and for the future of humanity.
America once stood for something larger, for vision and values, for accepting and imperfectly assimilating the widest diversity of immigrants. Even other prosperous countries of the world, such as the overwhelmingly white Scandinavian nations that Trump prefers, sought to imitate us.
Of course slavery was the great stain on the founding of America, since even Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” could not bring himself to free his slaves during his life, or even upon his death.
Martin Luther King, who is now celebrated in America (Trump went through the motions in the White House on MLK day), understood and gave voice to the contradictions at the core of America better than anyone.
White Americans who have any feeling for the true equality that King valiantly and non-violently fought and gave his life for, feel deeply ashamed of this president and all he represents.
As our correspondence attests, we live in a global society now, where the sovereignty of nations is no more relevant than the sovereignty of kings. Nationalism must become a thing of humankind’s past.
Even so, I’m sorry to tell you that America, the idea and the actuality, is dead. I feel we can recover our soul, but only when enough Americans admit that we have lost it.
Your friend, Martin