It’s pretty embarrassing to be an American traveling abroad these days. Trump’s “shithole countries” comment is just the latest blow. People we meet in Mexico—from Europe and Canada as well as the locals—offer their condolences when they learn where we are from. Our President is making us look ridiculous to the rest of the world.
Now more than ever, it’s important for Americans to get outside the land of “USA! USA!”
We brought our kids to live here for a year in part to escape the ugliness personified by our Ugly American-in-chief, and in part to get a larger view of the world. Americans are famous for our ignorance of other cultures. Three-quarters of us can’t speak another language, and more than half have never been outside the United States, and yet we’ve made it an unspoken requirement that candidates for public office, Democrats and Republicans alike, describe America as “the greatest nation on earth.” How would we know? We’ve never been anywhere else.
My favorite response to the “shithole countries” flap was Botswana’s official letter declaring that it was requesting clarification, through its ambassador, as to whether Botswana falls into the “shithole” category. The irony is, Trump sounds like a tinpot dictator in one of the “shithole countries” he derides. See Trevor Noah’s side-by-side of Trump and various African dictators, including Ugandan despot Idi Amin.
Clearly, Trump’s insulting remark about Haiti and African countries is racist.
But as much ink as Trump has generated with his flagrant appeals to his racist base, it’s our President’s ignorant provincialism that jeopardizes our relationships in the rest of the world. We are becoming a nation of shut-ins—of angry old white men griping about immigration and slamming the door on the rest of the world. The idea that we are going to be stuck in the house with this guy, while the rest of the world moves on, with or without us, should worry us.
Living in Mexico, we have been impressed by how friendly and forgiving of U.S. citizens Mexicans are, considering that our President has denounced Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. People here don’t blame us for Trump as much as we blame ourselves. But then people in countries that have endured corrupt and antidemocratic regimes—many imposed with the support of the United States—understand that the citizens of a country do not necessarily share the views of their leaders.The night after Trump made his vulgar comments about immigrants from other countries, a national news program in Mexico aired a long segment on Russia, noting that, with his recent political moves to end the war in Syria and take the lead in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Putin intends to fill the gaps left by the United States, as our country withdraws into xenophobic isolation.
The good news is, people who have lived under abusive, authoritarian governments understand how powerless Americans feel. The bad news is what that says about the kind of country we have become.