Senator Richard Durbin alleged this week that President Trump used extremely coarse phrasing when talking about immigration from underdeveloped countries. President Trump denied the specifics of the allegations, and others in the meeting told varying versions of what he did or didn’t say. Democrats, the media, Never-Trumpers and others quickly rose to condemn the statements as both coarse and, in the view of some critics, racist.
Do we judge a President by his offensive speech, his ulterior motives, or his accomplishments?
Trump’s defenders have pointed out the many vulgarities uttered by other modern politicians, and accused anti-Trump critics of hypocrisy. They have been accused in turn of “whataboutism,” the practice of defending Trump’s behavior by pointing out similar behavior by other people. But there are some important lessons to be learned by some of these comparisons.
Trump, LBJ and Offensive Speech
The most vulgar communications by an American president come from Lyndon Johnson. Many of his more shocking and offensive comments are printed below. Readers will find them disturbing, because they represent a way of speaking that most people have never heard before.
The quotes and the commentary that accompanies them are taken by permission from a social media post in a long conversation about this issue. It is thought-provoking, and is relevant to how Americans see President Trump, his critics, and his defenders. After listing several quotes from LBJ, and statements by historians alleging that Johnson’s support for the Civil Rights Act was nothing but a political ploy, the writer added the following commentary.
“This is not ‘what-aboutism.’ My point [in bringing up the Johnson quotes] is that disagreeable people can also accomplish great things. Johnson may have championed the Civil Rights Act for the sake of political expediency, but he did it nonetheless. He rightly gets credit for ending segregation.”
“I think [LBJ] was a despicable, truly horrible man. AND I think he made us a better nation. I think it’s foolish to refuse to look at the whole person.”
“I think he was a despicable, truly horrible man. AND I think he made us a better nation. I think it’s foolish to refuse to look at the whole person.”
Media Vilification of Romney Encouraged Voters to Ignore Trump Coarseness
“Trump is coarse. Trump has also brought black unemployment down to historic lows, in only his first year. You seem to want to disregard the fact that he is raising the standard of living for blacks because he said something you would rather interpret as racist.”
“Trump may or may not have used a crass word to describe some terribly-functioning countries. My guess is that people who live there would agree with him. And if no one is calling corrupt governments what they are, where is the hope for their citizens?”
“When Americans oppose sending illegal immigrants back to underdeveloped and corrupt nations, their argument for amnesty is that those countries are a mess. If Trump says the same thing in a very unfortunate way, do you suddenly disagree that those countries are a mess? How does that help those who wish to come here? For that matter, how does it help those who wish to stay in their homelands?”
“Romney was the picture of civility, decorum, and dignity, but he was vilified by his political opponents.”
“Civility, decorum, dignity: I value all of those things. Do the media? Do Democrats in office? Do Democrats in general? Romney was the picture of dignity, but he was vilified by his political opponents (which included the mainstream media).”
“By the time Trump became ascendant, the media had vilified every well-spoken Republican. They had used up their fury on people who did not deserve it. If every decent Republican was a threat to humanity, how could they portray Trump as any worse?”
“Whereas dignified Republicans had their very civility used against them because they were too refined to punch back, Trump was the guy who finally would fight back. It’s a shame that scrappiness is necessary in our current political climate. I wish it weren’t so, but the Left has made it so. The Republican embrace of Trump was generated by dishonest Leftists — people calling us racists, bigots, misogynists, deplorables, irredeemable, science deniers, and more; just for believing in different solutions, even when we agree on the problems.”
Offensive LBJ Statements
Here are a few select LBJ quotes, along with the sources for them. Pleased be warned, again, that they are terribly offensive in ways it is difficult to imagine in advance.
“I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
As quoted in “What a Real President Was Like: To Lyndon Johnson, the Great Society Meant Hope and Dignity”, by Bill Moyers, The Washington Post (13 November 1988).
“As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name! So no matter what you are called, n******, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it! Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture!”
Said to his chauffeur, Robert Parker, when Parker said he’d prefer to be referred to by his name rather than “boy,” “n*****” or “chief.” As quoted in Parker, Robert; Rashke, Richard L. (1989). Capitol Hill in Black and White. United States: Penguin Group. p. v. ISBN 0515101893. Retrieved on 6 January 2015.
“I’m going to have to bring up the n****** bill again.”
Said to a southern U.S. Senator upon the occasion of the Republicans re-introducing the Civil Right Act of 1957, according to LBJ’s Special Counsel Harry McPherson. As quoted in McPherson, Harry. Interview with Michael L. Gillette. “Transcript, Harry McPherson Oral History Interview VI, 5/16/85, by Michael L. Gillette, LBJLibrary.” 16 May 1985.
“Let’s face it. Our ass is in a crack. We’re gonna have to let this n***** bill pass.”
Said to Senator John Stennis (D-MS) during debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. As quoted in Caro, Robert A. (2002). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Volume 3. New York: Knopf. p. 954. ISBN 0394528360. Retrieved on 6 January 2015.
“Sam, why don’t you all let this n***** bill pass?”
Said to Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (D-TX) regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1957. As quoted in Dallek, Robert (1991). Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 519. ISBN 0195054350. Retrieved on 5 July 2014.
“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.”
Said to Senator Richard Russell, Jr. (D-GA) regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1957. As quoted in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1977), by Doris Kearns Goodwin, New York: New American Library, p. 155.
“Son, when I appoint a n***** to the court, I want everyone to know he’s a n*****.”
Said to an aide in 1965 regarding the appointment of Thurgood Marshall as associate justice of the Supreme Court. As quoted in Dallek, Robert (1991). Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 519. ISBN 0195054350. Retrieved on 5 July 2014.
“I’ll have them n*****s voting Democratic for two hundred years.”
Allegedly said to two governors (whose names were not given) regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to then-Air Force One steward Robert MacMillan. As quoted in Inside the White House (1996), by Ronald Kessler, New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 33.
“Making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.”
-Private comment, as quoted in Name-Dropping (1999) by John Kenneth Galbraith p. 149.
“If the circumstances make it such that you can’t f*^* a man in the a**, then just peckerslap him. Better to let him know who’s in charge than to let him get the keys to the car.”
-Private comment, found in White House Tapes: Eavesdropping on the President (2003) edited by John Prados.
“Ford’s economics are the worst thing that’s happened to this country since pantyhose ruined finger-f*^*ing.”
-As quoted in “What a Real President Was Like: To Lyndon Johnson, the Great Society Meant Hope and Dignity,” by Bill Moyers, The Washington Post (13 November 1988).