A woman’s haunting question in a car park

BY: Ajoa Yeboah- Afari

One wonders whether US President Donald Trump is happy that his name continues to dominate the headlines in a negative way in so many countries. Well, maybe he’s feeling some discomfort in view of his reported retraction of his latest alleged very offensive comment about some parts of the world.

For the record, the cause of the international uproar stems from what the US President reportedly said last week. At a meeting with lawmakers to discuss immigration, Mr Trump allegedly questioned why America should accept more immigrants from, sébe or taflatsé, “shithole countries” like Haiti and from Africa, rather than from countries like Norway.

If he initially thought he was putting down some people by his alleged insulting, crude language, maybe he now realises that his abuse has boomeranged. I believe that he only succeeded in exposing himself definitively to even some of those who were giving him the benefit of the doubt.

The dictionary definition of, again sébe, ‘shithole’ is “vulgar slang; an extremely dirty, shabby or otherwise unpleasant place.”

Noticeably, evidently unsettled by the President’s use of that word, BBC presenters initially hesitated in repeating it on air.

Following the global backlash, as indicated, the President has reportedly denied having used that term. Nevertheless, there have been many and continuing calls for him to apologise for his clearly racist remarks.    

However, Senator Dick Durbin of the opposition Democratic Party who was at the meeting confirmed that “shithole was the exact word used by the President, not just once but repeatedly.”

As reported by the Ghanaian media, in a tweet, President Nana Akufo-Addo stated that Ghana is certainly not a ‘shithole’ country “and we will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful.”

Other condemnation of Mr Trump’s language has come from all corners, notably from the African Union and the UN.

In a tweet last weekend, the US Embassy in Ghana said “we have great respect for the people of Africa. Our commitment to Ghana and all our African partners remains strong. It’s an honour for our staff to serve here alongside Ghanaians and we deeply value our relationship.”

When people denigrate others, such behaviour tends to highlight their own character deficiencies. It leads to questions about their background, even their parentage and issues as to whether they were brought up or ‘dragged up’.

Here in Ghana such behaviour usually elicits the reaction: “Clearly you have no elders in your home!” Or, equally biting, the question “don’t you have elders in your home (to advise or correct you)?”

Of course, there are people who turn out very differently from their parents or family, or chart their own course, no matter how hard their parents try to put them on the right path. However, usually such conduct is not excused as an individual trait; the family tends to be dragged in.

This brings to my mind a memorable observation made by a woman interviewed in June 2016 by the BBC, months before the US elections that brought Mr Trump into the White House.

The woman, a shopper interviewed in a Walmart store car park (in Washington, D.C., I believe) was asked how she viewed the then presidential candidate Trump.

She was asked: “When you hear the name Donald Trump, what comes to mind?” Her reply underscored that she was no fan of Candidate Trump. I found very haunting a question she posed in her caustic response, for which reason I made a note of it.

Among other remarks, she asked rhetorically: “Did he get any parenting? I don’t know!”

I still reflect on her simple but very profound question, “Did he get any parenting?”

Also instructive is the view of former First Lady Michelle Obama, in a social media posting I saw earlier this week, seemingly repeated from the 2016 election campaign period. In the video, the wife of former President Barack Obama had this message for her fellow Americans:

 “The presidency doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are. And the same thing is true of a presidential campaign.

“So, if a candidate is erratic and threatening, if a candidate traffics in prejudice, fears and lies on the trail, if a candidate has no clear plans to implement their goals, if they disrespect their fellow citizens, including folks who make extraordinary sacrifices for our country, let me tell you that is who they are.
“That is the kind of president they will be. Trust me.

“A candidate is not going to suddenly change once they get into office. Just the opposite in fact because the minute that individual takes that oath they are under the hottest, harshest light there is.
“And there is no way to hide who they really are. And at that point it’s too late. They’re the leader of the world’s largest economy; the Commander-in-chief of the most powerful military force on earth. With every word they utter they can start wars, crash markets, change the course of this planet.

“So when it comes to the qualifications we should demand in a president, to start with we need someone who’s going to take this job seriously,” Mrs Obama concluded to rapturous applause.
As stated earlier, President Trump has denied using the ‘s’ word. But if he didn’t say it, why did his denial of such a widely reported insult attributed to him take so long in coming, this President who has demonstrated that he spends a lot of time media-watching?

But perhaps a positive in this shameful episode is that he’s evidently been forced by the vehement criticisms worldwide to back-pedal.

Maybe the retraction is an indication that even he realises that he went too far, or rather much too low, for the position he occupies.

The “shithole” incident might be a turning point for President Trump. But whether it does or not, I guess that word is likely to feature prominently in how he will be remembered globally when he leaves office.

Surely, that can’t be something to be proud of, even for someone so dismissive of people from certain parts of the world.

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