Words that Spark a Fire

Language and its meaning.

President Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Hate is like a forest fire–it starts out as the tiniest spark of a phrase, but, unstopped, it ravages hundreds of lives in a matter of days.

Two weeks ago, during an meeting with lawmakers, President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and certain African countries as “s***hole countries,” and two people–one of them a Republican–had the guts to let the country know.

“S***hole countries” are two words that should never leave a president’s mouth. This is divisive, vile, and racist language. But most of all, these words set the United States on a trajectory far away from the words inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The United States is supposed to be a beacon of hope for those facing oppression, not just for Scandinavians that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen confirmed Trump said he wants to admit to the U.S. because of their “strong work ethic.”

Now, instead of serving as a beacon of hope to those who are struggling to escape oppression, the United States is a country of ignorance, led by a man who couldn’t care less about the world outside of his office.

The most frustrating thing about this comment, besides the content, is the fact that many Republicans at the meeting are remaining silent or saying that they do not recall President Trump using such language. But what is more believable: many of the participants in the meeting experiencing temporary amnesia (when they remember what Trump said a minute earlier) or failing to hear the president, or the testimonies of Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)?

Senators Durbin and Graham testified to the President speaking those words and we need to stand with them in their call to hold our leaders accountable for their words.

The stories of the Republicans who were there don’t seem to agree with each other and lack specificity required in such a situation. GOP Senators David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issued a joint statement: “We do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” It isn’t enough to dismiss what Trump said or accept Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen’s explanation: that she simply “did not hear” Trump say “that exact phrase.”

What both of these statements are referring to is the use of other language–possibly of similar meaning or vulgarity–which is equally intolerable. To their lack of clarity and other members of the meeting’s failure to speak up, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said, “your silence and your amnesia is complicity.”

According to Durbin’s account of the meeting, Graham countered the president at the time: “He [Graham] said, ‘My family was from one of those shithole countries… they came here with limited training, limited experience. They made a life, they started a business, and they gave me a choice. That’s what America is all about.”

Families like Graham’s are the foundation of this democracy. The fact that Donald Trump sees so many people as useless simply because of the color of their skin and where they’re from is disgusting. The way he verbalized that disgust is plainly unacceptable.

Donald Trump is igniting a fire of hatred with his words. He has used language to deepen the divide between the U.S. and the rest of the world. And his diction has also led to the rise of the Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacist movements in the U.S. His language is contributing to a forest fire threatening to wage war on not only the U.S., but the world, and if we stand by silently, we’ll have contributed to the flame.

Elisabeth Snyder
Elisabeth Snyder

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Words that Spark a Fire
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