Q: One of your letter writers recently alleged that, while in office, former President Obama used the same vulgar word to describe Libya that President Trump recently used to bash Haiti, El Salvador and Africa, yet Obama got a free pass while it seems Trump will never hear the end of it. I don’t recall the Obama incident, so I have to ask whether this is fake news from the right.
P.D., of Fairview Heights
A: Fake? No, but, as so often happens, how you interpret it may depend on your political leanings. Let me try to tiptoe through the minefield so you can decide for yourself:
During an in-depth interview for the April 2016 issue of The Atlantic, Obama complained that the deteriorating situation in the post-Gaddafi Libya resulted from a lack of allied help. He didn’t mince words, either — at least, not in private.
“So we actually executed this plan as well as I could have expected,” he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “We got a U.N. mandate, we built a coalition, it cost us $1 billion — which, when it comes to military operations, is very cheap. We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess.”
But, as Goldberg immediately pointed out, “mess” was the description that Obama the diplomat used in public.
“Privately,” Goldberg wrote, “he calls Libya a ‘shit show.’ in part because it’s subsequently become an ISIS haven — one that he has already targeted with air strikes. It became a shit show, Obama believes, for reasons that had less to do with American incompetence than with the passivity of America’s allies and with the obdurate power of of tribalism.”
So, yes, Obama did use the same crude word, so it’s no surprise that as soon as the media began piling on Trump earlier this month for referring to some of the poorer Western Hemisphere and African nations as “shitholes,” conservatives argued that people hardly batted an eye when Obama said it. “Flashback: Obama Called Libya a ‘Sh*t Show’ and Media Was Silent,” Truth Feed News griped. “MSM (mainstream media) should look into BO’s vocabulary,” InfoWars urged.
Is the comparison and criticism justified? As I said, it depends on whom you talk to. Some would argue that Obama was using the word to describe the civil war and ISIS infiltration into the country following Gaddafi’s death in 2011, not the country overall historically. He also said it in private, although — surprise, surprise — it obviously was leaked. (And the reference was widely reported if you check media from March and April 2016.)
Trump, they would argue, used the term to disparage the countries and their peoples as a whole.
“Haiti? Why do we want people from Haiti here?” he was quoted as saying in an Oval Office meeting by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin. “Why do we want these people from all these shithole countries here? We should have more people from places like Norway.” Coupled with Trump’s immigration policies and his disparaging people of color, there’s no comparison, the argument goes. Trump supporters, however, say the comparison is valid and that Obama’s usage was no less egregious.
In a way, it’s sort of like another question I’ve been asked by a couple of readers: Is California really allowing undocumented immigrants the right to vote as alleged by Rush Limbaugh and others?
Well, it is true — as far as it goes. In 2016, for example, San Francisco residents voted to allow noncitizen residents to vote in board of education races starting this fall. Way back in 1992, Takoma Park, Md., voted to allow noncitizens to vote for mayor and city council. Federal law allows states, counties and cities the right to grant aliens the right to vote in local elections.
However, The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 still states “It shall be unlawful for any alien to vote in any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing a candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, (or) Member of the House of Representatives ...”
Of course, those worried about voter fraud likely would give you the camel’s-nose-under-the-tent argument. I’ll let you decide if they have a point.
The drama “Horn in the West,” staged outdoors for more than a half-century, celebrate the life of what Revolutionary War hero and frontiersman?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember when your AM radio had funny-looking triangles at two points on the dial. Those were the spots Americans would turn to in the event of an enemy attack on the United States. They were part of the CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) system established by President Harry Truman in 1951. During a national emergency, designated long-range AM stations across the county would take turns broadcasting instructions to the general public at either 640 or 1240 kilohertz. This “round-robin” broadcasting format was devised so that enemy aircraft could not hone in on any one radio signal to find a target. From 1953 to 1963, radio manufacturers were required to add the two triangles — the symbol of the Office of Civil Defense — to their products. When missiles replaced bombers as the primary threat, CONELRAD gave way to the Emergency Broadcast System on Aug. 5, 1963, which, in turn, was replaced by the Emergency Alert System on Jan. 1, 1997. All were administered by the Federal Communications Commission, although CONELRAD was not designed for use during state and local emergencies, such as floods and tornadoes.