It’s bad enough—so bad it’s embarrassing, albeit in the watered-down way that has become standard when almost everything is embarrassing—that our president used the word “shithole” at a meeting on immigration to describe countries he didn’t like, as first reported by the Washington Post:
President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.
Now, on one hand it’s absolutely insane that an American president would make a comment like this, even in a closed-door meeting. It’s crass, it’s undiplomatic, it’s divisive, and when you consider that he went on to wish for more immigration from Asian and European countries, it’s also probably racist. On the other hand, this is Donald Trump, and anyone with a brain knew he felt this way even before he actually verbalized it. It’s not like we’ve lacked for clues. So, as with all the other humiliations we’ve suffered in the year since he took office, this one seemed destined to fade away. I mean, it only took a day before it the Wall Street Journal reported that he paid $130,000 in hush money to a porn star he’d had sexual relations with after he married Melania.
Alas, the “shithole” saga seems to have a bizarre staying power, much of which stems from Trump’s obsession with pursuing the absurd claim that he didn’t actually say it. As you saw in the Post story, “several people” recounted the incident to their reporters. But by Sunday, Trump was telling anyone who would listen that he is “not a racist,” and that he hadn’t actually made the ‘shithole’ remark.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D—Ill.), the only Democrat in the room, had confirmed that Trump did in fact say ‘shithole’ on Friday, and went on to avow that Trump “said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist…I use those words advisedly. I understand how powerful they are.” Trump, as he is wont to do, responded with name-calling:
Then something extremely funny happened—Republican senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton, who originally said they couldn't remember, issued a joint statement saying that they “do not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” Which is weird, and led Mike Lupica, of all people, to basically call them cowards. Then Cotton and Perdue did the Sunday-morning TV circuit, and seemed to outright deny the claims. Per NBC:
Two Republican senators who attended a meeting on immigration with President Donald Trump claimed Sunday that he did not use the phrase “s—thole countries” in reference to Haiti and African nations, and one accused Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, of misrepresenting the president's comments.
Sen. David Perdue, of Georgia, said in an appearance on ABC's “This Week” that Durbin's account of Thursday's meeting at the White House was a “total misrepresentation” of what happened…
“I didn't hear that word either,” Cotton said, adding, “I certainly didn't hear what Senator Durbin has said repeatedly.”
This, from Durbin's spokesman, sums up the evolution of Perdue and Cotton's statements:
Speaking of evolution, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham apparently confronted Trump in the meeting after the 'shithole' remark, and that comes from his own account. His account of that moment seems like confirmation that the word was said, but without saying the words in black-and-white. Judge for yourself:
When Trump made the incendiary remark, Graham spoke up, telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”
“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say 'I'm an American,' what does that mean?” Graham said. “It doesn't mean that they're black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one's religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.
“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added. “It's not where you come from that matters, it's what you're willing to do once you get here.”
The only conclusion to draw from that is that Trump definitely said the word “shithole,” right? There's also the fact that Sen. Tim Scott, another Republican, said that Graham confirmed the account to him, and yet another Republican Senator, Jeff Flake, said that he heard about the word even before the media caught on. That's what we call “overwhelming evidence,” even when you ignore the ridiculous notion that somebody would think to make up the shithole quote in the first place.
Then Graham took a seeming shot at his colleagues Perdue and Cotton: “My memory hasn't evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, another Republican, was another attendee with no comment, but would say that he took issue with Trump's language:
“This is a president that said things differently than clearly I would say them,” he said Monday.
In short, the whole thing was already ridiculous. Then this happened:
Aaron Blake at WaPo went a little deeper on the rhetorical gymnastics now being attempted by the White House:
Just when you thought the lawmakers involved in that “shithole countries” meeting at the White House on Thursday hadn’t covered themselves in enough shame, here comes a new development.
The Washington Post reported Monday night the source of the dispute is less about the thrust of President Trump’s “shithole” comment and more about the second syllable of that vulgar word. It turns out the statement Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) issued that sounded like it was written by a dozen lawyers sounded that way for a very good reason: Cotton and Perdue, according to three White House sources, believe Trump said “shithouse” rather than “shithole.”
So the new spin is that it was “shithouse,” and had to do with, um, shitty houses.
My first thought is that this whole incident continues to be mind-numbingly stupid. My second thought is that I already hate 2018 for bringing this “scandal” to our doorstep. My third thought is that I kinda hate myself for writing about it. And my final thought? American politics is a shithole.