Martin Luther King Jr. Day for 2018 was hijacked by the immigration debate after President Donald Trump used disparaging language to warn against accepting immigrants from undesirable countries on the proceeding Thursday. Because Mr. Trump used Haiti, which is primarily populated by the descendants of black Africans, as an example of a undesirable country and Norway as an example of a preferred country, his remarks were quickly framed as racist. As Dr. King’s work primarily focused on racial and economic inequality, the immigration focus may seem like somewhat of a distraction from the original intent of the holiday, yet the incident is relevant for a different reason.
For immigration advocates, particularly those who defend Hispanic immigrants, anti-immigration stances are inherently viewed as exclusionary and, thus, discriminatory. In the eyes of these advocates, MLK Day events are, therefore, the perfect venues to raise awareness about immigration issues, such as Trump’s attempts to end DACA. In the eyes of anti-immigration and immigration control advocates, the framing of immigration issues as Civil Rights issues is a mischaracterization of the issues that uses emotion to undermine the need for serious public policy debate and to vilify those who adopt their stances.
For Trump supporters, critics of his alleged “shithole countries” remark are those who see all issues in terms of racial conflict. In the eyes of Trump supporters, their prejudice compels them to view any unsavory remarks as racist, thus making their criticism invalidate. Trump supporters also view backlash against Trump’s alleged remarks as part of the media’s ongoing campaign to libel his name. In turn, they see what Trump may have said as an undeniable truth that most Americans embrace, yet feel compelled to deny in the name of political correctness. In other words, Trump is a victim of the PC movement.
Right or wrong, accusations of racism and outrage over the Trump Administration’s immigration policies are currently driving the backlash against the President. To be fair, “shithole” is hardly the most offensive term the Trump could use. In turn, immigrant populations, including immigrants who legally and illegally immigrated to the US, have an obvious reason to protest the President's expressed views on immigration while minorities will feel offended by the President’s often disparaging language. Consequently, criticism from groups and individuals representing these populations has little impact on the thinking of Trump and his supporters.
There is, however, a serious problem with Trump’s continual use of disparaging and degrading language, that supporters should not overlook. What Trump says and does is unpresidential and unprofessional. It is, of course, not just Trump’s language and behavior that is alarming. The discourse of public officials has increasingly grown uncivilized over the years. Instead of leading Americans on civil discourse, which Martin Luther King Jr. did, public officials are indulging the impulse to degrade and disparage those who they disagree with. In some respects, Trump is an anti-MLK figure whose use of divisive and counterproductive behavior undermines civil engagement.
It is one thing to be bluntly honest, but it is quite another to be ignorant and rude toward others. MLK was both a highly professional and civil activist, thus MLK Day is as much about racial and economic equality as it is about civility. It is not inherently racist or discriminatory to support immigration controls nor is it offensive to discuss serious issues that have plagued other countries for years. Alongside its prosperity, the US has long enjoyed a professionalized government culture, which prized civility. Where government has contributed to America’s prosperity, the professionalism and civility of its leadership has made prosperity possible. Many of the reasons so-called “shithole countries” have so many problems is that they often have unprofessional, uncivil leadership, thus men like Donald Trump will make America a “shithole country” by acting uncivil and unprofessional.
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