“Shithole Countries” and Being Present in Trump’s Chaotic World

Haiti Jan 2012 167Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue can’t recall if the President called Haiti, El Salvador and Africa “shithole countries.” I’m not kidding. But I do hope the President knows Africa is not a country.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, also at that Oval Office meeting, basically confirmed the comments were made in a private conversation he had with his South Carolina colleague. Graham insists he spoke his mind to the President, in private, while going underground and for some reason refusing to speak publicly to the racist comments by the Republican President.

Did I mention that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the only Democrat present at this meeting, ostensibly on immigration, confirmed  that the President used the term “shithole countries,” actually multiple times?

It gets worse. The White House, in chronic damage control with this President, trotted out spokesperson Raj Shah, who did not deny that  the President made the “shithole” remark. Then, the next day, the President actually denied that he had called Haiti, El Salvador and African countries “shithole countries.” Because that’s Trump’s pattern. Deny you made the racist comments you made, and somehow they disappear. Again, that’s what racists do. They lie. But this is the President of the United States.

When do we finally care more about human dignity than party politics? When do we demand it of our elected officials? How about now? It feels from the outside looking in that the bar cannot get any lower for this President, who you will remember started his road to the White House with his racist birther allegations against then President Obama. This behavior isn’t new folks. In fact, it’s getting old, fast.

There was no small irony in the President pivoting from his racist comments to  “honoring” Dr. Martin Luther King  at a ceremony, saying all the right words that someone else wrote for him, about how we’re all equal and the color of our skin doesn’t matter. Except,  it does to Trump. (If we could just only keep those colored Haitians out and get more white Norwegians to come here). At the King event reporters were shouting at the President, trying to get him to confirm he made the “shithole countries” comment. One reporter yelled out “[a]re you a racist?” Not surprisingly, the President ignored the questions. Ironic. Pitiful. Disgusting. All of the above.

I’m thinking Republican Senators Cotton and Perdue should be unelected, or perhaps impeached,  because they clearly have memory issues preventing them from fulfillling their sworn duties as Senators to uphold the Constitution. Their silence speaks volumes. They have intentionally aligned themselves with this racist President. Democrats, Republicans, and all Americans need to hang this silence around their necks and make them own it come reelection time. If we do not, the future is on us.

What would Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday and legacy we are celebrating this next week, say about all this? Dr. King got it right when he said “[o]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Will we be silent and allow this to continue? Our Republican elected officials choose to be silent when the President made racist comments right in front of them. They should have called him out. Not only that, they then lied about whether the President actually said such racist and vulgar statements in their presence. Cowards.

Are there any lines of morality at all for Republican congressional leaders who support a racist President, again and again? What does that say about an electorate that continues to elect such representatives without a moral compass, other than claiming to be Christian? Do they think about how Jesus would respond? Where is loving thy neighbor or welcoming of the stranger in all this? I don’t remember that being limited to those from non shithole countries. . .specifically, Norway. At this point, you really do laugh or you cry.

At this point I cry. My heart aches as I listen to the music my wife is playing tonight. Haitian artists, today, marking the eight year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that changed that country forever. For over 20 years my wife has led medical teams to Pignon, Haiti, bringing medical supplies and spending a week performing operations and teaching. In fact, she was in Haiti in 2010 when the earthquake hit.  What my wife is most clear about is not what the medical team brought to the people of Haiti, but just how much the medical team learned from their Haitian friends – about being in relationship, about resilience, perseverance, faith, love, and the importance of showing up.

Recently, I read Pema Chodron’s book, “When Things Fall Apart.” Chodron talks of things being in constant transition. She writes that “[c]haos is part of our home ground. Instead of looking for something higher or purer, work with it just as it is.” She urges us to first “[s]low down enough to just be present, let go of the multitude of judgments and schemes, and stop struggling.” We need to live in these moments of discomfort, owning them, without rushing to make the discomfort go away.

What exactly does living in the chaos of a Trump presidency look like? We’re getting an up close look at chaos as part of our home ground. Working with it as it is and owning what this country has created is essential to the process of eventually being able to move beyond it. In the meantime, many of us find being present and trying to let go of judgments and schemes frustrating and exhausting. Letting go of my own judgments of myself, and my need to change things and fix what to me is so horribly broken in an America with Trump as president, is a way to be present and curb my own frustration and exhaustion.

Making hopeful and wishful comments about a new day and a brighter future is where my heart wants me to go. But living in the present chaos and discomfort is where I find myself, today, when  I stop struggling. And that’s okay.


Published by


Tom Fiebiger is a recovering civil rights lawyer and politician, having spent 25 years representing workers that were discriminated against and a term in the North Dakota State Senate. The God he understands is more about grace than judgment, has a sense of humor and a big tent. Fiebiger's best gift is his family.

Leave a Reply