16th January, 2018
By Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò
When I first read reports of Donald Trump referring to El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries as “shithole countries” and asking why the United States continues to allow immigration from them, I was neither surprised nor felt that he may have misspoken. We are at that point in our public knowledge of this president and his preferences that his being a racial bigot should no longer elicit shock or be explained away as some momentary lapse that has nothing to do with who he is as a person.
What I dreaded instead was what I was sure would follow and has followed: widespread outrage from the usual quarters and the direct victims of his racist outbursts and the predictable demand for apologies, possibly retraction. As an original national of one of the countries named in this and another recent barb, Nigeria, and as an American citizen, I would like to say to Donald Trump: no apology needed.
No one, except his fellow travellers of the Right, emboldened in their public display of racism since the emergence the Tea Party movement, doubts Trump’s vile, vulgar racism exemplified by his remarks. If we, indeed, grant that he is a racist and what he said is what he believes, which I am convinced is the case, what then would we be asking him to apologize for: publicly sharing his private beliefs or holding those beliefs at all? If the former, it can only be because he is not an ordinary public figure, but the president, that our demand would be appropriate.
The problem, though, is that we somehow knew who he was when we made him our president. From the day he announced his candidacy for president with a no less vile racist attack on Mexicans through his ban on Muslims entering the country immediately after his inauguration to embracing white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the current eruption, Trump has not been coy about what kinds of people he thinks should be allowed to immigrate to the United States.
If, as is now clear, our president is an unapologetic racist, asking him to apologize tantamounts to asking him to either lie to himself or lie to us. When he was forced to lie to himself a day after his initial response to the violence in Charlottesville perpetrated by neo-Nazis and the alt-right marchers that led to the death of Heather Heyer, it took only two days for him to let us know that his original response that found moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and those who opposed them in the name of what is best about this country and humanity was his true stance.
This is why I think that Trump should spare us any apology on this occasion. If he were to apologize, given his record, there is no way he can mean it. In any case, none is needed. Trump, I submit, is not the problem.
The country that elected him knowing who he is, and the party that not only sponsored him but continues to line up behind him, even now, are the problem. When we, country and party, decide that our country is better than this, we will not have another day of putting up with this offence on basic decency that is President Donald J. Trump. The world will need no apologies then.
Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A. He was recently a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.