There have been sustained criticisms of Donald Trump’s descriptor of countries in the African continent, El Salvador and Haiti as “shithole countries“. This adds to a long list of racist and racialised actions that Donald Trump has engaged in since becoming president in the US just twelve months ago (see travel ban #1; travel ban #2, embracing fascist and racist groups). The widespread condemnation of Trump’s remarks is welcome (see here, here, here and here) .
The reaction to Trump’s remarks are not surprising. Trump is an unpopular US President abroad, so this is yet another remark that has seen condemnatory statements from across the Globe. Trump’s remarks call upon those of us in other States to interrogate, not simply our language, but also how we in effect label many places as “shithole countries”. Drawing on Judith Butler’s concepts of performative agency , the utterance of ‘shithole’ while coarse, helps to understand the creation of various migration policies towards citizens of certain countries.
Coming away from the US, and across the Atlantic to the European Union, we generally do not see the language of ‘shithole’ being used by political leaders. Why subject yourself to such scrutiny, when you can declare countries to be de facto shitholes through visa and migration regimes as operating in all EU Member States (see El-Enany and Keenan on Australian migration policy here). For example, look at the countries that EU Member States require travel visas from. El Salvadorian nationals are the only ones not required to have a visa prior to travelling into the EU Schengen Area or Ireland. Nationals of all African countries and Haiti, are all required to have entry visas and/or transit visas prior to their entry into Ireland. Yet it would be difficult to imagine leaders of most European countries (Poland, Hungary and Austria exempted), using language similar to Trump. Indeed, there is no need to. Through migration policy the State can communicate its suspicion of all citizens from these non favoured nations.
In Ireland, elected politicians have often spoken of how surprised they are by certain types of migrations. For example, John O’Donoghue , the then Minister for Justice in 1998, commenting on the increase of asylum seekers, mainly from Nigeria stated:
It is a source of puzzlement to many people that at a time when there are no conflicts taking place near our borders … when we have no colonial links with countries in which political turmoil is taking place and when the number of claims for refugee status is declining in other European states, the Irish state shows a major increase.
Or when Michael McDowell introduced the citizenship referendum in order to prevent breaches of the Irish border via the birth canal, when in 2004 the recently born and ‘unborn’ posed a significant threat to the very foundation of the Irish State should they be recognised as Irish citizens.
Not forgetting the “Yes Equality” moment that was the McMahon Report, which copper fastened the system of direct provision in Ireland. The Irish solution of the holding pen for those people from ‘shithole countries’ who dare claim their legal right to have their asylum claim assessed.
So let’s get angry not only at unacceptable language, but unacceptable policies, in particular, but not exclusively within the migration sphere that causes as much harm as the musings of a crass racist thug.