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'Shithole countries' do exist, but the president shouldn't say so

011218 Beltway Shithole pic
Africans were shocked on Friday to find President Trump had finally taken an interest in their continent. But it wasn't what people had hoped for. Using vulgar language, Trump on Thursday questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa rather than places like Norway in rejecting a bipartisan immigration deal. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Rich Lowry turned to Joan Walsh and encapsulated the entire immigration debate Thursday night. Arguing about President Trump’s alleged classification of “shithole countries," the National Review editor asked Walsh whether she’d rather live in Norway or Haiti. Walsh wouldn’t answer.

Especially telling, that silence has been the norm as politicos and pundits rush to condemn Trump and in the same breath suggest his comments have no grounding in fact.

To be fair, fact-checking the "shithole" statement isn’t easy. Reports keep shifting. According to the Washington Post, when the president asked senators “why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here,” he was referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries. But according to CNN, Trump was referring to African countries generally, only mentioning “Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Haitians” in passing. Complicating everything, Trump kind of denies the whole thing.

Assume for a moment though, that the president meant those last three Central American nations. Return — even modify — the Lowry question: Would you live abroad for a semester in Haiti, Honduras, or El Salvador?

El Salvador is the most developed of the three but that’s not saying much. The small Central American nation falls a few ranks behind Turkmenistan and a few above Iraq on the United Nations Human Development Index. Still recovering from civil war almost a quarter century later, crime rates remain high; wages, stagnant; and the economy, anemic. According to the World Bank, 41 percent of Salvadorans live in poverty. Another 10 percent live in extreme poverty. Want to live there?

Honduras is just next door but much worse than El Salvador. Battered by natural disasters and man-made political tragedies, they rank on the lower sider of U.N. Development Index. And though technically a middle-income country, the World Bank reports that 66 percent of Hondurans live in poverty. One in five of those poor subsists on less than $1.90 a day. Crime has followed poverty and the murder rate has skyrocketed to 59 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Want to live there?

Haiti makes the other two nations look like veritable pinnacles of development. Almost a decade after an earthquake demolished much of the nation, Haiti still relies heavily on foreign aid. The poorest country in the Americas, 61 percent of the population lives in poverty and a quarter of the nation lives on less than $1.23 per day. Want to live there?

How much and in what ways the country of origin should matter in immigration policy is a matter of debate. That some countries are shitholes is not.

More importantly, of course, Trump shouldn't use those words. Presidents should be more responsible with their language, for the sake of decorum and diplomacy. But it doesn't help the debate to deny that some countries are horrible places to live.