Trump’s Shithole Logic

Drawing of an outhouse

Trump thinks that we don’t need immigrants from shithole countries like Haiti, El Salvador, or the entire continent of Africa. Instead he thinks we should let more Norwegians in. Since a racist is a person who consistently makes racist remarks, Trump is a racist. Naturally, Fox News insists that pointing out Trump’s racism is the real racism. Just for the record: calling out racism is not racist. Being a racist is racist. Trump is a racist. The logic behind his statement is racist logic. Here’s why.

In my book, Science for Segregation (which you should own!) one of the figures I discussed was Robert Kuttner, a biochemist who testified in to the inequality of races in a court case meant to preserve segregation early 1960s. Kuttner was a racist. Now, before Fox News trots out the “How dare you call someone a racist, you racist!” argument on me, let me point out that Kuttner was that rarest of creatures: the racist who calls himself a racist. He wrote for publications like The American Racist:

Headline of The American Racist and Kutter's article,

Kuttner’s real intellectual home was The Truth Seeker the journal for “Reasoners and Racists,” which I wrote about before. He spoke at their sponsored “Racist Forum:”

Flyer advertising the Racist Forum and Kuttner's paper,

Now that we’ve established that Kuttner’s bona fides as a racist, let me point out that he offered the exact same argument as Trump regarding “shithole” countries. If we simply substitute one Scandinavian country, (Iceland) for another (Sweden), Kuttner gives us the exact same argument as Trump:

In a series of articles that Kuttner originally delivered at the Ingersoll Forum, Kuttner compared Iceland, the pure Nordic country, with Haiti, the black-controlled Caribbean island. Since Toussaint L’Overture’s revolution against the French at the end of the eighteenth century, Haiti had been a favorite target of white racial ideologues when they pointed to the dangers of black control of society; Lothrop Stoddard, for example, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the topic. Despite living in harsh Arctic conditions, Kuttner argued, the Nordics of Iceland had produced Nobel prize–winning scientists and had the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. By contrast, Haitians lived in on a lush, rich island full of natural resources and had produced nothing except political turmoil. “If it is not race,” Kuttner asked rhetorically, “what is it that makes the Ivory of Iceland a credit to human achievement and the Ebony of Haiti the shame of the Caribbean?” (p. 60-1)

The logic behind Trump’s statement is the same as Kuttners: the reason certain countries are shitholes and others are wonderful is because the people living there are fundamentally different. This is racist thinking. It is racist because it it reversed thinking: it assumes differences in societies are caused by different types of people who live in them. Antracist thinking believes that people are all basically the same, and the cause of social differences lie in the histories of those societies.  Anthropologist Alexander Goldenweiser put it nicely in 1922:

Enough has been said to show that the view still generally held of the relation between race and civilization may well be reversed. According to the prevailing view, man is many and civilization one, meaning by this that the races differ significantly in potential ability and that only one, the white race, could have and actually has achieved civilization. The reverse view, forced upon the ethnologist and the historian by a more critical and open-minded survey of the facts, reads thus: man is one, civilizations are many, meaning by this that the races do not differ significantly in psychological endowment, that the variety of possible civilizations is great and of actual ones, considerable, and that many civilizations other than ours have achieved things of genuine and unique worth. (p. 14-5)

If we were to ask Trump “Why is Haiti a shithole and Norway so wonderful?” his answer has to be: “Because the people of the two places are fundamentally different.” The antiracist would seek an answer, not in the differences between people, but, as Goldenweiser advised, in the histories of the two places. It was not race itself, but racism that explains a lot of Haitian poverty. Trump is only the latest example of American right wing racism that is the cause of Haitian poverty.  Why is Norway so wonderful? It is not because Norwegians are fundamentally different than Haitians, it is because they have a history of leftist/socialist programs that make it so. The very kind of programs opposed by the American right wing I will add.

I’d be all for letting more Norwegians in the country if it meant that our social support networks would look more like Norway’s. I’m all for letting more Haitians and Africans into the country too, since they will make us more like us, or, at least, the idealized picture we have of our selves: brave, hardworking, and generally making the country a better place. Because I, unlike Trump and his supporters, am not a racist. I really believe this bit of poetry written by socialist Emma Lazarus:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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