“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”
My Junior Printer Set is running out of hyphens. So, to save space and cut to the real meaning of the current media explosion, let’s report that the word the president of the United States used to describe some Caribbean, South American and African nations as, merely, “holes”.
Setting aside the shock of the vulgarism allows us to go beyond the argument over what sort of language can be used in print, online and on TV. And it allows us to get to what would be truly shocking if we weren’t already fully aware of it.
The man in the Oval Office is a fool and a bigot. He dislikes, and makes horrible assumptions about, people who don’t look like him. He doesn’t want people from poor or wartorn nations coming to his country, even though that’s how the lion’s share of our families first decided to come here.
What little he knows about Haiti, El Salvador, Niger, etc., etc., is that many of the people there are very poor and their public infrastructure — from schools to highways to banks — is awful or nonexistent. So he, like far too many other people, assumes that people from a badly governed nation are bad people.
And, of course, many of them are.
What the president doesn’t grasp — and, worse, won’t try to explain to his followers — is that nations that are sinking into squalor and kleptocracy create for other nations, especially ours, a stream of those who know that where they live is deeply messed up and have the drive and gumption to move to place like the United States, where they can work and grow and reach their potential.
And why are the nations they flee so bad?
Nations are bad because they are run in just the way that our president would run this nation if 229 years of constitutional and cultural standards weren’t blocking his way.
Nations that people want to run away from are riven by ethnic conflict, where those who seek power see the quickest way to the top is not to unite all families and factions but to take advantage of hatreds and mistrust. Divide and conquer.
Nations that we look down on have no institutions such as a free and robust press, an independent judiciary or law enforcement agencies that, often enough, are devoted to their duty rather than to an individual or an ethnic group.
Nations that get called vulgar names have had public confidence in their democratic processes, most crucially elections, destroyed by people who claim voter fraud and question the results of any ballot when it doesn’t go their way.
Nations that can’t keep the lights on, attract foreign investment or build their own financial institutions are under the thrall of cults of personality, places where a boss is all but worshiped and anything he says — smart or dumb or vulgar — is defended as true and genuine.
The president’s distaste for people from other places is all the more amazing when you see that he comes from New York City, a remarkably vibrant polyglot of ethnicities from all over the planet and, according to one of my favorite movies, from other planets as well. The fact that he only eats McDonald’s — and never seems to take advantage of the delightful assortment of foods available now even in San Antonio strip malls — helps to explain this failing.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist who slums as a columnist for The New York Times, was properly nonplussed with a message he received:
Clearly, this president doesn’t watch basketball or baseball. He doesn’t know Star Trek. He knows absolutely nothing about the history of his own nation or its interactions with other lands — especially the parts where our country messed up other countries in order to steal their resources, subvert their elections or see to it that nations led by blacks or Muslims are led by our blacks or Muslims.
In his normal blundering way, the president may actually have done us a favor. By directing our attention to the deep woes of other nations that aren’t like us, he may have at least reminded us of what it is that makes this one so good.
And it ain’t him.
George Pyle, the Tribune’s editorial page editor, is not much of a world traveler. But he is very happy he isn’t limited to American food. Or movies. Or baseball players. firstname.lastname@example.org