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Trump divides us: The president is right or the president is racist | Opinion

President Trump, in a bipartisan meeting on immigration Thursday, complained about allowing people into America from "shithole countries." The furor that followed once again reset the norm for how we talk about each other and the world.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Friday. He ducked questions about his vulgar comment.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Friday. He ducked questions about his vulgar comment.Read moreOlivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

President Trump, on his 356th day in office, once again reset the norms of vulgarity for how we talk to and think about each other and the world.

A rash and reckless leader of the free world whined during a bipartisan meeting on immigration about America accepting immigrants from "shithole countries" like Haiti and some African nations. Then he waited 15 hours, while his White House staff released a statement that did not deny the remark, as "shithole" churned through an enveloping evening cable television news cycle. Fox News seized on and endorsed his complaint while other channels shook their collective talking heads and editors asked the question: "Can we use 'shithole' in a headline?"

It is far too easy these days to imagine the president in bed with his cheeseburger Thursday evening, doing the math on whether titillating his base with thinly-coded racism was worth upending a bipartisan deal on immigration, derailing a "win" for a man so desperate to tout victories.

Finally, on Friday morning Trump did what so many critics have previously advised — he thought first and then tweeted. This time, it was a weak denial of "the language" attributed to him.

That was quickly batted down by Sen. Dick Durbin who heard him speak in the meeting.

It turns out, a delayed Trump tweet is not an improvement.  From The Washington Post's initial scoop on "shithole," the story went in many directions Thursday and Friday but two main paths appeared.

The president is right or the president is racist.

The White House responded Thursday with a 120-word statement that did not address the one word everyone was suddenly talking about. In Washington, that's as good as confirmation that the president uttered the word.

The Miami Herald's editorial board took the direct route, wondering what the president thinks about South Florida, where he spends many weekends at his "Winter White House," Mar-a-Lago.

The San Francisco Chronical's Josh Gohlke (an Inquirer alum) recalled when America was leery of accepting German immigrants (like Trump's grandfather).

And Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune saw Trump's comments as a mirror for us to ask ourselves a question: What do we have to say about this president?

And then the evening news shows were off the races, sprinting in predictably partisan fashion. Cable news complimented or castigated the president. Over at Fox News, calling some countries "shitholes" was simple logic.

Philadelphia's own Jesse Watters said on Fox that Trump's comment was "a little offensive … and if he offends some people, fine."

Over on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was wondering if Democrats could leverage Trump's comments for some good.

It wasn't just news networks that reacted strongly to Trump's comments. Botswana, an African nation that denounced Trump and actually asked if it "is regarded as a 'shithole' country."

While we wait for the mess to continue unfolding through the weekend — on Friday, Trump, at the White House, honored the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., while ducking questions about his own comments — the Los Angeles Times posits something truly startling: that the president scares them the most when he says what he is really thinking.