By: David O. Monda

Presidents Trump’s racist comments on Africa obfuscate a deeper political struggle in America. Africa finds itself at the center of a tricky political play by an American president desperate to consolidate his base via blatantly racist comments. President Trump criticized immigration from Africa by calling African nations “shithole countries” at a meeting with US Congress members.  He suggested the United States focus its immigration policy on entry of immigrants from countries like Norway. Africa is not a collection of “shithole countries”. However, the American President’s comments illustrate a complex play at consolidating his political base through racist rhetoric.

A background of historical context is necessary in contextualizing Mr. Trump’s comments. The legacy of the transatlantic slave trade remains a problem in dealing with race relations in America. This is because people of African ancestry were repeatedly considered as less human in the United States than people of European ancestry. In addition to this, the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade devastated African economies and went a long way in creating the modern state of marginalization of the continent in global trade and commerce.

Mr. Trump’s comments suggest that because the economies of people from African countries are smaller than those of the United States and Europe, somehow this makes immigrants from these countries as less human, less worthy because they are less white. Africans are therefore less entitled to enter the United States. His preference is for immigrants he considers more human, more worthy and more white from countries like Norway. This perspective of the world goes contrary to American values and its place as a land of opportunity for all people irrespective of racial ancestry.

According to the Office of the US Trade Representative (part of the president’s Executive Office), African nations account for over $20 billion in imports from the United States. These nations Trump considers “shithole countries” are vital to sustaining thousands of American jobs. In addition to this, these “shithole countries” provide America critical strategic minerals and partnerships vital to maintaining American interests around the world.

The irony of Trump’s comments, is that they come on the backdrop of the celebration of Martin Luther King Day on February 15th. Dr. King would be forgiven for thinking President Trump was a rabid segregationist from America’s South. Dr. King did a lot to advance racial justice for all races in America. The president’s comments undermine this work and further divide the country along racial lines. It reinforces the notion of two Americas – one premised on maintaining advantages for white Americans to the disadvantage of Americans of Color with African ancestry.

Mr. Trump’s comments cannot be analyzed outside the context of American politics. The midterm elections are due this year and Trump is desperate to increase the number of seats the Republicans gain in the Senate and the House of Representatives. His comments appear designed to consolidate his base in the Republican Party and motivate his most dedicated supporters in key districts to come out to vote for Republican candidates for Senate and House of Representative races in key swing districts. Democrats will be looking to take back control of the House of Representatives while Republicans will be looking to increase their majority in the Senate. With slim Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Trump looks to consolidate a wellspring of support from his core constituencies from the 2016 election in 2018. His latest racist comments on “Shithole Countries” are a political gambit. Time will tell if this strategy will be successful.

David O. Monda is professor of Political Science at City University of New York – Guttman College

Image: Caricature of Donald Trump by DonkeyHotey, photomanipulation adapted from Creative Commons licensed images from Michael Vadon’s flickr photostream. (CC BY-SA 2.0)