I have been delightfully ill the last few days. Runny nose, coughing and an aching body, but no fever, diarrhea or upset stomach. Some misery, to be sure, but nothing too intense.
We had a long holiday weekend at Rocky Mountain College, and classes are not yet underway at Montana State University Billings, so I had nothing in particular I had to do. My wife, an excellent nurse, has been feeding me and filling me with drugs.
With a flu epidemic going on, I had the perfect excuse all weekend to go nowhere and do nothing. Laziness took on a kind of virtue. I was keeping myself safe from the world and the world safe from me.
It was the perfect weekend to take the universal medical advice: get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.
Rest and drink? Sounds like summer vacation.
The combination of illness and idleness gave me time to witness the expanded vocabulary of TV news. Never have I heard the word “shithole” used so casually and so often, or with so many variations: “s___hole,” “s*hole,” “blank hole,” even just plain “hole.”
I first heard about this addition to the news dictionary on National Public Radio, which said only that President Trump used a word that could not be repeated on the radio. Cable TV was less restrained. Howard Kurtz said MSNBC and CNN used the un-asterisked version of the word 36 times in just one evening. Even the Billings Gazette used the full word, both online and in print, in all its unexpurgated glory.
Evangelicals who worry about the coarsening of American culture got a heavy dose of what they voted for. Trump, who injected the word into the common culture by apparently using it at a White House meeting, acknowledged in a tweet that he had used strong language but not the word that was attributed to him. Other Republicans at the meeting said they didn’t hear that word, but they were a bit cagy about exactly what they did hear.
The mind reels at the thought of what Trump might actually have said: Shithouse? Shit storm? Shitorium?
Or maybe Trump’s rhetoric took a more elegant turn. When I was in the Army, a platoon sergeant once demanded to know why a certain private hadn’t turned out for roll call. Somebody in the ranks shouted, “He’s defecating.” Perhaps Trump actually said “defecation receptacles.”
The most amusing part of the entire covfefe was hearing Trump’s backers defend his use of the word without actually defending the word itself. Fox News’ Jesse Watters said that’s the way “forgotten” Americans talk at the bar. Note to self: Never go drinking with Jesse Watters, unless you have a cold to share.
Another Fox gasbag said it was OK to characterize Haiti as a “shithole” compared to Norway because the average income is so much higher in Norway. That might make sense if our goal was to bring in immigrants with average incomes.
But even if that was the goal, the slur was a stupid thing to say. If I say to you, “Your mama’s ugly,” I am not inviting you to reflect on your mother’s personal appearance. I am looking for a fight.
Most of Trump’s defenders argued that he was trying to make a point about allowing immigration based on individual merit, not on national status. The fact that Trump instead made the exact opposite point did not faze them.
Other defenders pointed out that Barack Obama once said – brace yourself – “bullshit,” and that Joe Biden said even worse. Most tried to separate the crudeness of the word from the racist sentiment that critics found behind it.
I agree this is no time to discuss whether Trump is a racist. That question was settled long ago. If his blatantly false claim that Obama was born in Kenya didn’t persuade you, then this should have: During the election campaign, Trump said he couldn’t get a fair trial in a civil case because the judge had a Mexican heritage.
Imagine these words in Obama’s mouth: “I can’t get a fair trial because the judge is white.” Then imagine how long it would take before Fox News defended that claim.
But my favorite defense of Trump compared his word choice to Shakespeare’s often bawdy language. That gives me an excuse to quote Montana poet Greg Keeler’s new book of sonnets “The Bluebird Run,” which I have been reading to accompany my recovery.
In “Sonnet 116 Revisited,” Keeler jokingly rewrites one of the Bard’s best-known closing couplets. Shakespeare wrote, “If this be error, and upon me prov’d / I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” Keeler recasts the couplet this way: “If this is wrong, that limey should have quit, / pigs have wings, and I can’t write for shit.”
Mr. Trump, you may have found your next speech writer.