President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values. It is reassuring that Florida Republicans such as Gov. Rick Scott, former Gov. Jeb Bush, members of Congress and state legislators directly denounced and rejected the president’s language. This is not a moment for anyone to remain silent.
Trump lashed out Thursday about a potential deal on immigration that includes protections for Haitians and for people from some African nations. During the discussion with members of Congress in the Cabinet Room, the Washington Post first reported, Trump asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’’ Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, who was in the meeting, reconfirmed Friday that Trump repeatedly "said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist.’’ News reports said Trump declared he would rather accept people from places like Norway than Africa. He also said Haiti should be left out of any immigration deal. "Why do we need more Haitians?’’ Trump asked, according to the Post. "Take them out.’’
It is instructive that the White House did not deny the initial news reports. Predictably, Trump turned to Twitter Friday to try to change the narrative. He acknowledged using some "tough’’ language but denied saying "anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.’’ That is not the interpretation from those who were in the room or by the nation, and it smacks of revisionism.
The denunciations of the Republican president’s language by Florida Republicans are important, because they reinforce that respect for people of color is not a partisan issue. They reaffirm that hateful language is unacceptable from any president, regardless of political party. There can be sharp differences on immigration policy in Washington and in Tallahassee — the Florida House on Friday voted for foolish legislation that would punish so-called "sanctuary cities" and that Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has called "flat-out unlawful.’’ But there can be no disagreement among Republicans or Democrats that Trump’s language and the message it sends to the world cannot stand.
This is only the latest example of Trump’s bigoted comments and approaches to issues involving race or religion. As a candidate, he labeled immigrants from Mexico as criminals and rapists, and he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the country. As president, he criticized "both sides" after violence broke out following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. After nearly a year in office, Trump remains unreconstructed and unfit for the job.
There is no reasonable rationalization for the president’s latest outburst. Haiti and the other countries involved in this discussion are generally poor, underdeveloped and plagued with challenges that make life difficult. But the suggestion Trump directed his wrath at these nations or their governments rather than their residents who are desperate to escape to a better life here is at odds with his record and with the message received by those in the room. He wasn’t comparing the economic output of African countries to Norway’s.
The president’s conflicting positions on immigration and his repulsive remarks place a heavier burden on members of Congress to negotiate their own deal and to stand against the president’s language. This remains a nation of immigrants whose strength is its diversity. The best disinfectant for racism is a bright spotlight and a united stand against it by all Americans.