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The Darker Truth of “Shithole-Gate”?

Dick Flacks
January 25, 2018
SOME PEOPLE are defining “Shithole-Gate” as a minor scandal involving a president’s use of an exceedingly vulgar epithet. That would, however, hardly count as a scandal; we assume that all his predecessors used profanity. Even the seemingly prudish Richard Nixon — we know from his tapes — was freely profane, particularly when it came to Jews.

More scandalous than his use of the particular barnyard epithet, say other commentators, was his obviously racist characterizations of people coming from predominantly black and predominantly white countries. Dick Nixon’s antisemitism is easily documented, but he recited his observations in the company of intimates — and his best Kissingers were Jewish, after all. Trump’s racism is closer to that of Woodrow Wilson — i.e. not only voiced hostility to people of color, but a readiness to use racist inclinations as the basis for large policy. Wilson actively sought to racially segregate federal workplaces, for example; Trump wants to make immigration policy according to eugenicist logic.

“Shithole,” it’s being assumed, is a term Trump acquired in the rough-and-tumble streets of Queens and so comes spontaneously to his lips when his mind searches for an appropriate rude epithet for characterizing places like Haiti or Nigeria. That’s what I thought, too, until yesterday.

Yesterday I googled the name of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik — Trump having called Norway to our attention as the home of particularly qualified potential immigrants. Breivik, you will remember, was the murderer of over 90 people in a killing spree in July 2011; he set off a bomb in Oslo and then drove to the island camp of the Workers’ Youth League and mowed down dozens of young people with automatic weapons. He was proud of these actions, viewing them as a culmination of his dedicated campaign against the poisoning of Europe by what he called “cultural Marxism.”


BREIVIK might point out to Trump that Norway is already contaminated (even though it seems to continue to be ‘predominantly white’). For Breivik declared that Oslo had become a “multicultural shithole.” He wrote that almost a decade ago — and may well be original source for this way of using the s---hole word.

I was struck by the fact that Breivik had used “shithole” so specifically — and in much the same context that Trump did. So I googled “multicultural shithole” — and found quite quickly that this phrase has popped up in the discourse of other highly visible contemporary Nazis. Most dramatically, it appears in the speeches of the national organizer of the British National Party (BNP), Adam Walker, who regards Britain as such a place. A little more google scrolling leads you to a considerable number of other writings — articles, blogs, and comments — on the webpages of British nationalists, where “multicultural shithole” or “shithole” coupled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rants appear.

Donald Trump was denounced by British Prime Minister May just a few weeks ago for retweeting racist videos from the BNP. So, when he used the word “shithole,” he wasn’t just being rude and foul-mouthed. When he coupled that to a preference for Norwegian vs Haitian immigrants, he wasn’t just being racist. He was, in fact, deploying the language of contemporary European Nazis — either because he’s fairly immersed in their online ravings or because he intentionally is signaling his affinity with them. Or both. Or maybe he really said “shit-house”? 

Dick Flacks, a Jewish Currents contributing writer, is emeritus professor of sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara. His many writings on U.S. social movements include Making History: The American Left and the American Mind. He hosts a weekly radio show, “Culture of Protest,” aired on Thursdays, 6-7 P.M. EST, at KCSB, and is coauthor with Rob Rosenthal of Playing for Change: Music and Musicians in the Service of Social Movements (Routledge, 2010).