Can there be a charitable reading of ‘s---hole?’
While recently perusing unread books gathering dust on my shelves, one tome caught my eye and, upon being loosed from the grip of neglect, fell open to a random page from which leapt the following sentence: “The ancestors of a critical and growing mass of present-day Americans existed in dung heaps of humanity amidst rotting vegetables.”
Naturally, the line seemed providential -- if you happen to be a columnist.
Did he say dung heap?
Of course, the difference between “dung heap of humanity” and “s---hole,” as Donald Trump recently described countries of origin for unacceptable immigrants, is about the width of a sheet of bathroom tissue. Trump’s comment has been analyzed to within an inch of its life, with most commentators concluding that this was simply another example of the president’s racist attitudes.
The book in question, “The Idiocy of Assent,” was written by F. Reid Buckley, youngest brother of William F. Buckley. As a friend for 30 years before his death in 2014, I never heard or witnessed any suggestion of racism, though he did observe cultural differences among nations and peoples as any seeing-eye human, or anthropologist, would. On the subject of cultural equivalence, he’d bat away the notion with a flick of his wrist and utter, “The Aztec pyramids were dripping with the blood of human sacrifice.”
It is only because of Buckley’s “dung heap” and Trump’s “s---hole” that I noticed the similarities in their immigration views. Buckley would surely never use Trump’s word, partly because he thought insults should be more artful.
For those who slept: At a recent immigration meeting, Trump reportedly said that he didn’t know why we were accepting people from “s---hole countries” such as Haiti, El Salvador and all the ones in Africa, where people coincidentally tend to have darker skin than Trump. He cited mostly white Norway as a better place from which to cull new citizens.
The inference, of course, is that Trump is pigmentation-averse.
Or, racist, if you prefer. This conclusion is a low hurdle to leap given Trump’s history spearheading the birther movement against Barack Obama, as well as his having tossed racial chum to his base throughout the campaign.
When Trump’s ratings go low, his race baiting goes high.
Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, it isn’t necessarily racist to concern oneself at all with the qualities and characteristics of people one invites to join the American experiment. Or, is it? Shouldn’t we care about job skills, education, economic mobility or, if you’re Buckley, a deep understanding of what it means to be a free people?
Perhaps, we are becoming culturalists rather than racists.
Buckley’s proposition, which I’m not endorsing, is that when a critical mass of people, if not yet a majority, comes to the U.S. from countries that don’t have a “heritage of doctrines of personal freedom... along with the desire to stand tall on our [sic] own two feet,” we might easily revert to the status of “serf dependent on the lord” or, in contemporary America’s case, on Big Daddy.
Loose translation for the Trump crowd: Bring in people looking for a handout and Democrats will ruin the country.
Buckley, who spent the last third of his life running the Buckley School of Public Speaking, a modest think tank (still operating) where conferees are taught to think and therefore to speak more clearly, enjoyed debating the proposition that Americans unconsciously hanker for a king, a strongman or a ruling elite.
He wrote: “It seems to elude us that a nation is great not because of its government but because of its people, and that there is an inverse relationship in that maxim: The greater the government, the weaker the people.”
Do you suppose this is what President Trump meant to say with his blurt?
But I jest. Such a presumption would be a charitable stretch. It may be charitable as well to presume Buckley’s better angels were at work. For within his own arguments -- and in Trump’s febrile mind -- is an implicit lack of faith in another American idea articulated by George W. Bush.
Freedom isn’t a gift from us, he said, but rather God’s gift to humanity, which can be understood to mean that the yearning for liberty, independent of all other concerns, is entwined in the hearts and souls of all people, regardless of which “s---hole” they were born in or from which dung heap amidst rotting vegetables America’s earliest immigrants escaped.