Is there a bottom to this slippery slope?
Here we are, just short of one year into the Trump presidency, and news organizations, quoting the President, are using his term for African and South American countries, “shithole countries,” without intervening asterisks.
Is the GOP at the bottom of the slippery slope yet? Or is it just about to complete the circle back to the very beginnings of its Southern Strategy?
The Southern Strategy was born during the civil rights movement, when the national Democratic Party began supporting voting rights legislation and the black civil rights movement more broadly. In 1948, Strom Thurmond of Mississippi led a walkout from the Democratic Convention over the seating of black delegates and ran a third-party campaign for president as the nominee of the newly-formed Dixiecrat Party. That action made it became obvious that Southern whites, who had voted for Democrats ever since the Civil War, might be willing to switch parties. To move the process along, Republican candidates began appealing explicitly to racist Southern whites, using language that, until Trump, one might have believed had been banished from the political lexicon.
Even when the crude words eventually became forbidden in normal political conversation, however, the GOP still relied on transmuted racist appeals, as political operative Lee Atwater, who advised both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, admitted in a recorded 1981 interview with political scientist Alexander Lamis:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…. ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”
Now, here we are with Donald Trump, referring to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as being from “shithole countries” and expressing his preference Norwegian immigrants instead. You don’t have to look farther than skin color to understand how he makes the distinction.
With Trump, we’ve been treated to a never-ending coarsening of political discourse: crude comments about women (see “blood from her …whatever”; “grab ‘em by the pussy”; “fat pig”, et al.), positive comments about racists and Nazi sympathizers (“good people”), slanders of racial minorities (“rapists,” a judge of Mexican descent can’t be fair), and of course, Trump’s birther campaign against President Obama. Now, we are treated to Trump’s calling Haiti, El Salvador, and all African nations, “shithole countries.”
Will the GOP ever reach the bottom of this slippery slope? Or should we take bets on how long it will be before Trump skips the “politically correct” terms entirely and just returns to “nigger, nigger, nigger?”