The current occupant of the Oval Office certainly is having an effect on the discourse, isn’t he? Seriously, who ever thought the Word of the Day in the USA would be “shithole”, courtesy of the President of the United States?
I for one take no position on whether the countries he referred to are, in fact, cloacas and latrines. But no matter how false and artificial it so often seems, diplomatic language has never been seen as optional for POTUS before now. That’s because there are consequences when the leader of a society makes such characterizations — consequences that aren’t good for anybody.
Here’s an anecdote: Smith meets Jones on the street. Says Smith to Jones: “Why, Jones! How are you, you worthless prick? And that filthy whore you married, how is she doing? The squalling brats, are they well? My goodness, it has been some while since I last visited the miserable hovel you piss and shit in. What are the odds of us meeting on a day like this?”
Now here are a few questions: Will Jones punch Smith in the face? Will Smith deserve it? Maybe Smith intended his remarks as badinage, or at any rate, maybe he claims to do so. Does that matter? What if Smith has a history of violence and hostile behaviour? Does it even make a difference whether what Smith says about Jones and his family is true or not?
Multiply these complexities, ambiguities and power relations by: the value of advantageous trade relations; the need for cooperation from your neighbours on things like border security; and the existence in this world of such things as nuclear weapons. You can see why Donald Trump maybe should think before he uses the hole in his face.