Donald Trump’s “s—hole” remark is Exhibit A in what’s wrong with politics in the U.S. and also what drives Trump supporters like me to primal screams while climbing up the wall.
In case you have been on Mars the last few days, DACA (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals) and the potential for a government “shutdown” if a budget deal is not reached have been front and center. Don’t get me started on the budget process, which has become less about the proper role and priorities of government and more about what political advantage can be gained from the brinkmanship of a possible shutdown. What typically emerges are dressed-up forms of kicking the can down the road and new creative ways to blame the other guy for disasters that never happen when non-essential government workers are told to stay home. Since the GOP is tone-deaf about how to message this, the Democrats almost always benefit, and so the leverage is in their camp. But this time, DACA was injected, so let’s focus on that.
To rewind the tape, there are about 800,000 folks who as kids were brought into the country by their relatives who entered illegally over the years. The government basically looked the other way, so those kids grew up in limbo status, even though technically in violation of the law. While these so-called “Dreamers” are not all the angels they are portrayed to be and are no longer “children” with an average age of 24, they have enough sympathetic appeal (“It’s not their fault,” “They were brought here not of their own accord,” “How can we be so cruel as to kick them out now?” etc.) to have become the Democrat poster children for amnesty and advancing the goal of padding the voter rolls. Because the government could theoretically deport the DACA folks at any time, they have lived under a cloud. So Barack Obama decided to clear the air by issuing an executive order (EO) “deferring” any deportation.
Even though Obama himself had repeatedly noted that this type of EO was unconstitutional, it was a politically astute move. It endeared the Democrats to the immigrant community and got passive acceptance from the GOP, which was unwilling to take the political heat of challenging the EO. Then along comes Trump. Recognizing that the EO was not constitutional, Trump rescinded it but noted that any such decision rested with Congress, not the executive. He tossed it back to Congress to address and gave DACA another six months. Furthermore, Trump indicated his preference to solve the issue in a way that allowed the Dreamers to stay and essentially begged Congress to send him such a bill to sign.
Along the way, he even outlined the negotiating trade-off that would get the job done — legal status for Dreamers in exchange for “wall” funding and an end to the lottery and chain migration aspects of immigration. Seems pretty reasonable. In spite of the fact that DACA doesn’t end for another two months, while the government supposedly runs out of money in a week without a budget deal, Democrats initially tried to play their traditional brinkmanship game that has worked so often and tie a budget agreement to a “clean” DACA fix. Trump then checkmated them by taking the extraordinary step of inviting reporters and cameras into the White House to record the actual negotiations. By all reports, Trump conducted the meeting in masterful ways, nudging everyone toward a deal — hardly the stuff of the deranged, mentally incompetent Trump theme that had dominated the media the prior week. Both sides apparently signaled a willingness to compromise and a deal seemed imminent.
But the extremes on both sides would have none of it. Trump folks were concerned that he was going to punt on his campaign promises, but he assured them and clarified that the wall, border security and the elimination of lottery and chain immigration were all still part of the bargain, although he did admit that he would be open to a more comprehensive immigration solution once DACA was resolved. Again, seems pretty reasonable. The far Left, however, still convinced it had the upper negotiating hand with the budget deadline looming, went ballistic and demanded that its guys reject anything but a clean DACA deal or shut down the government. Trump then invited a subset of the group back into the White House to see if they could make progress.
Now before we get into the specifics of that, let’s remember that Trump is hardly a traditional politician. He comes at government from a business perspective, unlike most pols for whom jobs one through 10 are to get elected, not solve problems. Furthermore, anyone with a passing knowledge of Trump, or who has studied his life for more than six nano seconds, knows full well that Trump is about as far from being a racist as you can get. Even his most strident accusers cite only the same lame rationales as “proof” — in the late 1970s, his father denied apartments to some blacks and was cited by the Justice Department (the denials were based on income, not race, and in any event Trump was at that time not the CEO of the business); Trump was a “birther” (regardless of what anyone thinks about this issue, the dispute was over place of birth, not race); and Trump supposedly sympathized with the Nazi white supremacist groups in Charlottesville when he said some were good people (even though he was referring to the peaceful protestors who didn’t want statues moved, not the supremacists).
However, when Trump supposedly (he denies that he used the words) referred to Haiti and some African nations as “s—holes” and challenged the Democrats as to why they want more immigrants from those failed states as opposed to folks from, say, Norway who are less likely to end up costing rather than contributing to the U.S., the Left screamed “racist.” You can debate all day whether the language was appropriate for a president to use, but the substance of the comment is perfectly correct, business oriented, and should form the basis for a comprehensive immigration discussion.
Now back to the first paragraph. Given an excuse to get off the hook from the wrath of their base that enforces immigration amnesty purity, some Democrats (primarily Sen. Dick Durbin) ran to the microphones to leak the potty-mouth contents of the meeting and claimed to be shocked that anyone could speak that way. How could they ever do a deal with someone that racist? Meanwhile, a few Republicans backed Trump in stating that they never heard the comments the way the Democrats were portraying them. Some GOP leaders even cut and ran, showing the pure power of even the casual use of the “R” word. And talk about piling on, the media went 24/7 on “Trump the racist” (forget about the substance of the issues) with the convenient abandonment of all prior standards to use the full “s—hole” word in all its glory too many times to count.
It’s likely that Trump either used the word in the context noted or something close to it. It’s how real estate developers on Long Island talk when trying to make a blunt negotiating point. But so what? Was anything about the comment not true? The idea pushed by the Democrats that Trump was being racist against the entire populations of the nations rather than making a comment on the nations themselves is absurd. Inelegant maybe, but not untrue, and certainly not racist. Yet it may give Democrats what they believe is more ammunition in the shutdown wars and will make it far more difficult to reach a compromise on DACA. While not good, it’s representative of how politics is conducted today.
As to the primal screams of the Trump supporters, for all of his negotiation skills, Trump too often ignores a cardinal rule of negotiation, which is to understand the goals and motivations of your counterparty. In business, that’s much easier than politics. Most negotiations involve who comes out better economically, and Trump has been trying to apply those criteria to the immigration debate. Unfortunately, the motives of the career politician are not the same and primarily involve elections and power. They are not Trump’s friends and will jump on any issue to gain the slightest political advantage. While the language allegedly used is perhaps inappropriate, it is hardly the shocker Democrats are portraying it to be, and it’s not that different from language used by Democrat icons like LBJ, JFK and WJC. But it is potentially useful as a political weapon, so good faith negotiation and implied confidentiality are kissed goodbye.
Sadly, Trump should know better and should never have handed the Democrats this card, particularly when the makings of a deal on immigration that is sorely needed by the country and could be hugely beneficial to the economy were on the table. If you go on TV to proclaim that you are not a racist, you have lost this round. It is truly amazing how much Trump has accomplished in his first year in spite of the Democrat forces arrayed against him. Just think how much more could be done if Trump stopped handing the opposition ammo. Trump needs to pause for just a second and consider the impact these comments could have on his approval ratings, knowing full well how they are going to be presented to the country.
Coattails matter, and we were seeing Trump’s approval ratings creep up into the low/mid 40s, even before the impact of the tax cuts are felt. Trump needs for the Senate, but especially Congress, to remain in GOP control, and ratings in that range really do influence congressional voting. It can’t help having the media calling you a racist 24/7. Independents won’t like it, and minorities will be energized in opposition. The loss of a GOP congressional majority will virtually guarantee that the last two years of Trump’s first term will be spent dealing with impeachment and less so on making America great again. Democrats will take all the political advantage they can get. It’s what they do. Trump needs to remember who he is negotiating with when choosing his language and tweets. Ignoring that is bad (even fatal) for his agenda and drives his supporters nuts.