When it comes to bigotry, Donald Trump often likes to go vintage and invoke the presumed prejudices of yore. In the case of the case of Haitian refugees who deserve our assistance as they seek refuge from political unrest tied to the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse along with another devastating earthquake striking the country in August, that’s Trump maligning them as disease-carrying minions who don’t deserve any form of human compassion.
No, it’s not the 1980s or early 1990s, but it certainly felt like it as I listened to the former American president and enduring national embarrassment speak about both migrants on that propaganda vehicle still pretending to be a news outlet. In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity last week, Trump lashed out at Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the US, claiming Haitians “probably have AIDS” and branded their arrival a “death wish for our country.”
Such comments recall a New York Times story in 2017 where Trump reportedly said in a briefing with his advisors that the 15,000 thousand Haitians sent by the Haitian government to the United States “all had AIDS.” The White House denied the reports at the time, but here we are some years later and Trump is repeating the same talking points verbatim. Anyone with lingering doubts about the validity of the separate report from the Washington Post of Trump referring to Haiti and other African countries as “s**thole countries,” these latest words from the horse’s mouth can do.
Trump was questioned on Covid-19 testing protocols for refugees when he decided to lean into his trademark brand of racism and xenophobia while also adding a little conspiracy into the mix by insinuating that ultimately, all of these migrants - wherever they come from - are all tied to some plot against the US.
“So hundreds of thousands of people are coming into our country and if you look at the stats and you look at the numbers, if you look at just – take a look at what’s happening in Haiti, a tremendous problem with AIDS,” Trump claimed. He also alleged that dozens of countries are purposely sending newly-released prisoners to America.
“I hear it’s 50 countries! They are emptying out their prisons into the United States,” Trump said. “Their jails, some of the toughest people on earth are being dumped into the United States because they don’t want them. They don’t want to take care of them for the next 40 years.”
None of this is true. Although Haiti does share a greater burden of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the Caribbean, the US continues to have its own HIV/AIDS crisis to tend to. As president, Trump spoke of ending HIV/AIDS during his time in office only to cut AIDS treatment programs, likely at the cost of many lives. Oh, and he bragged about a HIV/AIDS vaccine that doesn’t exist.
Strangely enough, when the AIDS epidemic was at its nadir in America decades ago, Trump donated to HIV/AIDS charities and supported legislation that would end discrimination against sexual orientation. He is not the sharpest man in the world, but he is old enough to remember how people were stigmatized with HIV/AIDS. See his political mentor, Roy Cohn.
But as he so often reminds us, Trump only really cares about himself. As for anyone else not named Ivanka, much less not rich, white, and useful to him, he will profess “love” for a given community one second and forget them the next. Besides, much of Trump’s source of political power lies in continuing to feed a bigoted base more bigotry.
It doesn’t matter that Trump is being a vile hypocrite and making villains out of human beings who deserve our compassion versus our condemnation. In the end, all that matters to him is that the target has the right color and immigration status. But as politically useful as that habit has been for Trump through the years, the problem with giving him the platform to spew hateful rhetoric remains the same: it hurts people in real time.
The Biden administration isn’t exactly treating Haitian refugees with dignity either, but Trump’s remarks are placing a target on the backs of people who’ve already been through enough.
So if there’s anyone diseased in this situation, it’s the sad, pathetic racist living in political exile in Mar-a-Lago – not the Haitian refugees bravely searching for a better life.
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