Donald Trump does not understand that the value of human beings is not linked to their country of origin.
President Donald Trump’s reported reference to “shithole countries” in a White House meeting with congressional leaders shocked and angered many in the US and around the world. His appalling insult stunned most citizens of a nation that was largely settled by people who came from countries Trump describes as shitholes.
Clearly, there are many nations around the world wracked by violence and unrest, struggling with poverty, health and education issues or are simply not blessed with natural resources so plentiful in America. Others are led by brutal and corrupt dictators who, with their armies and security services, rule with iron-fisted control and severely constrain, under penalty of death or imprisonment, the freedom of their citizens. Trump has taken an odd liking to some of them, like Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte.
Given the abundance of resources of the United States, its free markets, enlightened leaders and constitutional system that gave rise to its success, most of them doubtlessly would find themselves in much better circumstance. Indeed, it was those very resources, markets, leaders and system that brought so many immigrants, like my four grandparents, from the poverty-wracked nations of their day to the US and helped transform this upstart, poor nation to the economic colossus it has become.
In referring to would-be immigrants from such countries, Trump tars them with the stigma of the circumstances from which they come. First, he fails to understand that good, decent and honorable people can come from any country — and bad people too, we should add.
As a diplomat, I was often asked by Americans how I could live and work in some of the countries where I had been assigned. Trump might have described them as shitholes too. Many faced at least some of the problems mentioned above, and some even all. But to me, my colleagues and our families they were diamonds in the rough, primed to be explored. Most important, they were populated with enterprising, generous, honest and enormously hospitable people delighted to meet and receive diplomats from the world’s most powerful nation.
In Nicaragua, there was the passionate labor leader who spent far more than he could afford to host me for lunch in his humble home. In Jordan, it was the scruffy farmhand who offered to pay my bus fare from one town to another and then rummaged through his pockets for enough for his own. In southern Russia, before the fall of the Soviet Union, I met a farmer who, after sharing his tragic tale of impoverishment under communism, invited me for tea and freshly baked bread. The world’s preeminent economists could not have explained the inherent failings of communism better than he did.
In Egypt, there was the driver of a dilapidated taxi who took my family to one of Cairo’s most popular restaurants among Cairenes for the country’s famous kushari and then offered to pay for it all while keeping us in stitches with Egyptians’ trademark humor. And in countries of the Arabian Peninsula, bedouin men and women would invite me into their lean-to tents or mud huts to share tea, dates and fruit just for the pleasure of meeting and speaking with a foreigner from so far away.
All of those individuals were modest, humble, generous, gracious and curious, just like Americans. That is no coincidence, because most Americans are descended from people like these.
And that is Trump’s second mistake: ignoring the value of such individuals to this nation. It is these very people who come from such hardship to the US because they value the opportunities and freedom afforded by America. Here, they take advantage to build successful lives for themselves and their families and to contribute to the continuing greatness and prosperity of our nation.
Those immigrants often do the jobs Americans won’t, create new businesses, instigate new trade with the countries of their origin, serve with honor in our armed forces or tackle some of the most challenging areas of study in our universities, such as engineering, the sciences and mathematics. Some take the knowledge, experiences and values acquired in America back to help lead their countries out of the problems they face.
The tragedy of the president’s comments is not his labeling of less fortunate countries. It is his inability to appreciate the value and potential of humanity.