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The latest point of criticism of Donald Trump has been regarding his use of the word “shitholes” to describe countries in Africa and the Middle East. The media is broadcasting the message that the US president has terrible conduct, and he simply should not be referring to countries in such a way. It cannot be doubted that his conduct is questionable. This is simply not how a president is expected to behaviour. However, I feel like the mainstream media has a case of ‘tunnel vision’ on this issue. There are a few things that we can observe from this situation alone. As a matter of fact, this use of the word shitholes to describe a country is quite frankly the least important aspect.
We have witnessed over the last 20 years the rise of a certain type of politician. The politician that is not a politician, or at least that is how they advertise themselves. These politicians have seen a huge amount of success. To give a name – Nigel Farage. He was the figurehead of the Brexit campaign, and his support supposedly came from those who are not in the elite. The “regular” people simply did not see him as a politician, and so he was proclaimed to be trust worthy. In the case of Donald Trump, he is essentially a businessman who originated as a “regular” person. He portrayed himself during the election as the human embodiment of the American dream. In terms of his conduct, speech and composure, he is very vulgar, bashful and very transparent. Which in truth, is very unlike a politician.
So, in the case of the shitholes debacle, the conversation behind closed doors was no different to him speaking on a pulpit. The more important question is, since when do we show favour to politicians who behave in such a way? The language of Donald Trump is not much different to that of a “regular” person. The word shithole, is one that is more commonly used than people care to admit, especially those who are “regular”. By “regular” I am referring to those who do not have a huge public voter (or fan) base to answer to, those of us who aren’t constantly in the public eye. It is likely that a large amount of you reading this have referred to your own campus rooms as shitholes. This draws us to the conclusion that maybe the conduct of the “traditional” politician is fading.
Today, successful politicians do not behave, or portray themselves, as they were expected to in the past. Despite how politically correct Jeremy Corbyn usually is, he is also a politician who does not present himself as a politician. This is especially true when we reflect upon the celebrity support he has endorsed and received. Various grime MCs such as: Lowkey, Big Zuu and JME, have publicly endorsed Corbyn and even had meetings with him.
Focusing on this particular instance of unconventional politics, the context is extremely important. It seems that some news headlines are designed to make you ignore context altogether. One country Trump described as a shithole was Haiti. If you type the word shithole into Google, the definition is almost as you would expect: “an extremely dirty, shabby, or otherwise unpleasant place”. This implies that you would not necessarily want to live there, and at least acknowledge that said place is not in a good state.
You can very easily access statistics across the Internet (which admittedly may not be the most reliable) which suggest that the countries Trump’s comments were directed at are perhaps not in the best way. By this I mean that the countries in question are arguably not desirable places, due to their poor economic or political circumstances, health risks, etc. With a 61% literacy rate, and incidences of tuberculosis (TB) in Haiti being more than ten times as high as in the rest of Latin America; not to mention being consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, it is perhaps unlikely that you would want to leave your comfy flat to relocate to Haiti anytime soon.
The more concerning point here, is that a country can be in such a dire state, that the word “shithole” could be even remotely appropriate as a description. When exposing this context, it is hard to argue that Trump’s remarks were purely racist. The same context could even apply to various cities in western countries with problems of gang violence and poverty. Whilst reading this article, you can probably think of at least two cities or towns that would fit the description of a shithole perfectly, quite frankly you might have already used the word when referring to them.
The point to be made here, is that we should be more interested in how the conduct of politicians across the western world has changed, and what this says about our society, rather than focusing on this particular use of language. As a last disclaimer, I am definitely not excusing Trump’s behaviour or conduct, I am simply saying that there is a lot more to observe than the obvious. There are more to “shitholes” than the word itself.