Donald Trump denied on Friday that he used the phrase “shithole countries” to describe Central American and African nations during talks with US lawmakers the day before. But one of the senators present contradicted Trump and called the remarks he had heard “hate-filled, vile and racist”.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was in the meeting, contradicted him to local Chicago press on Friday morning. He said Trump “in the course of his comments said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist”.
Durbin said: “He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”
A few hours later, at an event to honor Martin Luther King Jr, Trump ignored questions from reporters, including one who asked: “Mr President, are you a racist?”
On Thursday, Trump reportedly grew angry during a meeting about protections for immigrants from several countries, and asked: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
“Why do we need more Haitians?” he reportedly added. “Take them out.” He also reportedly suggested the US bring in more people from Norway.
Early on Friday, he denied using the derogatory language. “The language used by me at the Daca meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” he tweeted, using an acronym for a program to protect young undocumented immigrants. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for Daca!”
Trump later added: “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”
But Durbin said: “I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and the Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday. I’ve seen the comments in the press and I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”
Leaders around the world spoke out in anger on Friday. Haiti summoned the American envoy to the country, El Salvador’s president lodged a diplomatic protest, and the UN’s spokesman on human rights told reporters “there is no other word one can use but racist.”
The Republican senator Jeff Flake also contradicted the president, tweeting: “The words used by the President, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not ‘tough,’ they were abhorrent and repulsive.”
Two of the president’s closest allies in the Senate, Republicans Tom Cotton and David Perdue, said in a statement: “we do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.”
The Thursday remarks was first reported by the Washington Post, citing aides briefed on the meeting, and White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny that the president had used profanity to describe the nations.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Shah said Thursday. He added that the president wanted “merit-based immigration” of people who can “grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation”.
The president harped on those themes Friday morning, saying that the proposals he saw Thursday were inadequate and even “a big step backwards”. He claimed without specifics or evidence that the deal would force the US “to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly”.
“I want a merit-based system of immigration and people who will help take our country to the next level. I want safety and security for our people. I want to stop the massive inflow of drugs,” he said.
That tweet and reported remarks echo Trump’s long history of inflammatory comments about race, including years of spreading a false conspiracy about Barack Obama’s birth, a campaign announcement calling Mexicans “rapists”, and a refusal to condemn white supremacists last summer.
At the midday event to honor King, Trump decried racism. “No matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal,” he said.
The president left the event without answering reporters’ questions, mostly about his views of people from Central America and Africa.
For all the reactions that observers have had to Donald Trump’s “shithole” remarks about countries in Africa as well as Haiti, surprise cannot plausibly be one of them. From his early career business interests, through his “birtherist” foray into national politics, to his divisive campaign rhetoric and now his utterances and policy as president; racism has been a steady undercurrent in the life and times of Trump.
Trump Management Corporation
In 1973, Richard Nixon’s Department of Justice sued the Trump family business for refusing to rent or negotiate rentals “because of race and color”.
It also charged that the company had required prohibitively stringent rental terms and conditions to black applicants and had lied about unit availability to keep black residents out. A then 26-year-old Donald Trump was the president of the company at the time.
Three Trump doormen also told the DoJ they had been instructed to deflect African Americans who came to Trump buildings to apply for apartments. The suit was later settled “without an admission of guilt” as Trump is keen on reminding.
Trump branched out from residential real estate into the casino business in the 1980s. Employees of his company revealed a pattern of racism. In a tell-all book, former president of the Trump Plaza Casino John O’Donnell said Trump once told him: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”
Another former Trump employee told the New Yorker that black staff were hidden from Trump when he visited the casino with his wife. “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,” said Kip Brown.
The Central Park Five
In 1989 Trump paid a reported $85,000 to take out advertising space in four of the city’s newspapers with the headline: “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!”
The inspiration was the arrest of five teens in the brutal rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park. The teens were exonerated for the crime after the real attacker confessed in 2002.
“I think he knew what he was doing by taking a side, and I think he knew he was aligning himself with law and order, especially white law and order,” said Michael D’Antonio, the author of Never Enough, a 2016 Trump biography.
The birth certificate
Donald Trump spent much of 2011 as the most public face and voice of the “birtherism” conspiracy theory by constantly claiming without any evidence that Barack Obama might have born in Kenya, rather than Hawaii. Trump said he was “very proud” of himself after Obama eventually released his long form birth certificate to quell the controversy.
By some accounts, Trump still maintains this belief about Obama despite having also, at various other times, accepted the document as authentic and definitive.
Muslim ban and Mexican ‘rapists’
It wasn’t until his 2016 presidential campaign that the offhand casual racism of Donald Trump became a subject of intense national scrutiny. During his campaign he infamously called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, for the expulsion of all undocumented migrants and branded Mexicans immigrants as “rapists”, with each subsequent racist remark infuriating large groups of Americans while deeply gratifying the Trump base. Trump also made a habit of sharing racist and often blatantly false content on Twitter, for example in November 2015, an image of false crime statistics created by a white supremacist page.
Huts and Aids
Trump has routinely seized on terror incidents involving Muslims in defense of his proposed and then partially enacted ban, while remaining silent about similar acts committed by white supremacists. He has declared that there were some “very fine people on both side”, of a clash between white supremacist demonstrators and counter-demonstrators.
Even his most recent reported “shithole” remarks are consistent with other reports that Trump is recently said to have made about non-white immigrant groups.
Last month Trump is said to have remarked that Haitians “have Aids” and that Nigerian immigrants wouldn’t “go back to their huts” after being allowed into the US.