Friday, January 12, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He decided he didn't call Haiti or African nations "shitholes" after all.

Yesterday afternoon, the Washington Post reported that, during an immigration meeting with legislators on Thursday, Trump had called 55 predominantly black nations "shitholes." He also lamented that more Norwegians weren't emigrating to the US, and asked, "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out." The White House released only a single guarded statement in response that did not deny the Post's account of Trump's statements.

This morning, in a pair of tweets, Trump reversed course: he denied using "derogatory" language and said it was all "made up by Dems." The only elected Democrat in the room was Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who explicitly confirmed both the use of the particular word "shithole" and the "hate-filled, vile, and racist" sense in which he had used it. 

The six Republican congressmen present have gone out of their way to avoid endorsing Trump's version of what took place. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) would only say that they had "no recollection" of the specific word, but did not dispute the nature of Trump's remarks. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) apparently told his junior colleague Sen. Tim Scott that the report was accurate, but his public statement was only that he had "said his piece" to Trump in the room. Still others simply refused to comment

Assuming six Republican senators and any number of White House and Senate staffers are not simply lying to protect Dick Durbin, there are two possible explanations for the discrepancy. One is simply that Trump made the comments and then lied about them, perhaps feeling that his core supporters wouldn't really hold racist statements against him

The other possibility is that Trump made the comments yesterday before noon, left work at some point after the last item on his schedule (a 2:45 meeting), and had either forgotten making them or convinced himself he hadn't by this morning. 

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if a president is accused of making horrifyingly racist comments and even his supporters don't seem particularly surprised.
  • A president who can't control himself from blurting out racist comments, even when they're against his own interests, is unfit for office.
  • Presidents don't get to decide after the fact what did or didn't happen.