Even the most detached observers of American public life sometimes find themselves at a loss. Incapable of going through with the routine exercise of analyzing events, placing them in their proper context, explaining, analogizing, filtering out the bad faith and self-installed blinders of (ostensibly) less sagacious commentators, they give up.
I reached that point yesterday when I read President Trump's remarks about the people of Haiti, El Salvador, and various African nations.
"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" the 45th president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America asked a roomful of legislators. "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out." Trump then proceeded to suggest that it would better serve the interests of this country if we instead allowed more immigrants from Norway, whose prime minister is, typically, one of the last people he had spoken with in a quasi-official capacity before unburdening himself of the public policy equivalent of several large hematic turds.
Let me be as clear as I am able. Trump's Twitter account does not interfere my sleep. His never-ending pronouncements on television have rarely if ever troubled me, and I have occasionally even found them amusing. His failures have seemed to me unsurprising. The complete lack of interest he has shown in public policy has left me utterly unfazed. I have heaped scorn repeatedly on those who insist that he is agent of the Kremlin and derided Republican members of Congress for their opportunistic condemnations of a president whose agenda they endorse. I have also encouraged readers to reconsider popular assessments of Trump's predecessor, whom I do not think progressives or conservatives should laud. If I have opposed Trump it has been more or less dispassionately.
Moreover, I am not an advocate of open borders.
But I can think of nothing to say about the monstrous, dehumanizing language Trump has reserved for millions of human beings — and his implicit suggestion that they are morally or otherwise inferior to Americans or Norwegians or citizens of various countries in Asia — except that it is vile.
What does it even mean to have contempt for people in the countries Trump was talking about? To refer to El Salvador and Haiti as "shitholes" involves a degree of punching down that does not verge upon but actually evinces sociopathy. Would he have more respect for these nations and their peoples if their GDPs were higher?
Consider the fact that there has not been lasting civil peace in the lifetime of virtually any Salvadoran for nearly as long as the United States has been an independent country, that the unimaginable poverty in which most of her citizens live has been enlivened by nothing but earthquakes, hurricanes, and free trade since the early 1970s. Imagine being a mother in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010, squatting amid the wreckage of your home, watching your baby starve to death, knowing that the only way to improve her situation even marginally would be to sell yourself into sexual slavery for the enjoyment of men in a country with among the world's highest incidence of HIV.
What would it take for Trump to understand why we allow Salvadoran and Haitian emigrants to enter this country, to think for five seconds and maybe ask a profound question or two before casually suggesting that they are sub-human? My only answer is grace.
Even now it is as likely as not that Trump's vicious instincts will be held in check by Congress or his children or the judicial system or his own fecklessness and incompetence. This will make a great deal of difference for those marginalized persons whom he seems to despise, but in his heart he will still be guilty of consigning them to whatever miserable fate might have befallen them otherwise.
It would be tiresome to rehearse in this space the possible reasons many thought it worth their while to vote for this man. To my mind there was only ever one, namely that unlike his opponent he could be counted upon to appoint at least one anti-infanticide member to our country's nine-person kritarchy. (Incidentally, abortion is illegal in both El Salvador and Haiti.)
Trump's revelatory comments yesterday were the lowest point in a presidency that distinguished itself five months with an equivocal response to white supremacist terrorism. How much further is it possible to sink?