Dear Landlord

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Bob Dylan wrote:

Dear landlord
Please don’t dismiss my case
I’m not about to argue
I’m not about to move to no other place
Now, each of us has his own special gift
And you know this was meant to be true
And if you don’t underestimate me
I won’t underestimate you.

Reading all the messages of outrage at President Trump’s characterizations of Africa and Haiti as “shitholes” and his wonderment at why we cannot attract more immigrants from countries like Norway, I’ve been trying to get inside his head and come to some understanding of what he means by that and why he would say it that way. It’s not the first time I’ve heard people living in Africa and Haiti and other underdeveloped countries referred to in exactly the same way. All I have to do is go to the country club grill or a meeting of upstanding citizens worried about “those people” taking over our country. I live in the South and we have racism down to an art. It is not just a part of our history. You cannot tell the story of the South without racism. It’s the very fiber of who we are. We know racism when we see it.

I don’t think President Trump is a racist in the classic tradition of the South. I don’t think he ultimately looks at people based on their race. I’ve looked through photos of his parties at Mar-a-Lago and there are people of all color attending. It’s not about race but about wealth and celebrity status. It’s not about their country of origin but about whether or not they are his kind of people. They are the kind of people with whom he wants to associate and have his picture taken. I don’t think color or nationality make any difference. Instead, are they the type of people who will build the Trump brand?  Do they glitter when they walk as the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson described Richard Cory.

First and foremost, Donald Trump is the developer of luxury properties and as such is constantly asking the question, “How do I signal that my properties are only for people who can afford them? How can I surround myself with people who are special, rich, and achievers?” Donald Trump at his core is a landlord and the owner of luxurious dreams. He is not as concerned about race as what affects his property values, his niche in the upscale market, and his self-image. If famous and wealthy Africans and Haitians who will boost his image want to live in his properties, I think he would have no problem with that. Again, I don’t believe this is fundamentally racial prejudice. His issue is not with countries or continents. It is with the likelihood that those countries cannot help his brand for himself, his corporate interests and, ultimately, the United States. As many have said, Donald Trump is not the Pastor in Chief. He is not the Moralist in Chief. He is the Landlord in Chief and America is one of his properties. To make America great again is to attract only the best tenants.

Sadly, the Christian development organizations share some of the blame as we have for decades and many reasons presented a picture of Africa and Haiti being destitute, backward, dangerous, corrupt, and economic failures. Whether it be working to inspire compassion, to shock into action, or to raise money for programs, we have too often helped promote the very language we are so incensed to hear President Trump use. We are being forced to eat our own cooking.

Am I morally offended? Yes. Do I think it is a moral issue with Donald Trump? Not at all. In his bones he is a landlord and luxury property developer and as far as he knows most of the people from those countries he mentioned and others would not make good tenants. They would not make America or Trump Properties great again.



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    John V Thomas

    Hi Fred
    Thanks for this – as an African, born, bred and serving in Africa (our children are 6th generation in full-time ministry in Africa), this comment has been challenging to navigate. There has been an outpouring of ‘anger’ against wonderful Americans who are relegated to being just like their President. Stereotypes are hard to crack, but I have been caught in between in vehemently defending Americans and feeling a sense of personal outrage as being labelled as coming from South S***hole. Thanks for this insight into’ The Landlord”

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      John – This is painful to read. I remember hearing during the Bush Administration that countries did not like Bush but still loved America. I hope that is still true. I hope the idea of America is larger than our current President. I’ve been looking through my pictures of our visit to SA and thinking I need to return!

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