By Dean Close, Editor
Breaking news: President Trump has said something crude, offensive and racially and culturally insensitive — again.
Unless you have been in a manhole for the past 24 hours, you have heard that Mr. Trump allegedly (according to an unnamed aide working for the other party) used an 8-letter word that describes a hallowed-out spot in specific location where one may, in certain geographic areas lacking plumbing, deposit solid waste expelled from the digestive tracts of living creatures.
President Trump, according to this still-unnamed source, specifically mentioned Africa and Haiti as these kinds of geographic areas. The President, denied it, writing in a tweet: “This was not the language used.”
That 8-letter word caused much consternation in well, just about everywhere between Venus and Mars.
“Not helpful” is how one of the President’s most powerful allies put it. That was by far the nicest characterization.
“A new low,” declares Time Magazine. “The world is furious.”
“New rock bottom,” chimes in CNN.
I could go on an on, but you get it: Mr. Trump did what Mr. Trump is known for doing: Opening his mouth and making us forget about everything else.
I don’t recall ever defending any words of Mr. Trump, and that is certainly not the goal of this column.
Consider, however, this statement from the 2016 annual report of the World Toilet College: “2.4 billion people still do not have access to basic sanitation facilities. Less than half the population in 47 countries have access to a toilet or improved latrine, which results in 946 million people defecating in the open.”
Yes, there is such a thing as the World Toilet College, which started around 2005. The organization holds an annual World Toilet Summit, designed to create, as its web site once declared, “A paradigm shift at the bottom of the pyramid,” which will lead to more people having access to clean, safe toilet/sewage facilities.
There is also an annual World Toilet Day: Nov. 19.
Two of the areas mentioned in the World Toilet College’s 2017 World Toilet Day activities page were the very same countries Trump mentioned in his vulgar, unhelpful comment: Haiti and Africa.
In Haiti, an organization called Pure Water for the World held educational seminars which included “dialogue with children on the importance of toilets,” as well as a cardboard latrine design contest as well as a dance and skit for the children to teach the community about this topic.
In Ghana, the event was called (Yes, really!) a “Toilet Day Drink-Up.”
A 2010 report on Ghana declared: “In Ghana, the problem of lack of proper access to toilet and sanitation facilities is alarming and its potential to cause epidemics is very real everywhere. Especially at the time we are experiencing intermittent rains here and there, the people cannot feel safe because most of the drinking water sources are likely to be contaminated.”
In Nigeria, the Funso Esan, Commissioner for the Ministry of Environment for Ondo State spent part of World Toilet Day in radio interviews, discussing a new proposed law that would require toilets to be put in all buildings.
That World Toilet Day page lists several more events in several countries, if you wish to read more about how people observed this day around the globe.
By the way, I would not have known about the annual World Toilet Summit, or the World Toilet College which sponsors it, if it had not been for the 2006 Iowa gubernatorial campaign, and a particular ad for the Chet Culver/Patty Judge campaign. In this commercial, the future governor and Lt. Gov, donning jackets (and a complete rain coat and hat for Ms. Judge), criticized some of the funding votes Culver’s opponent, former Congressman Jim Nussle, had made in D.C. One of those was a vote for “millions more for a toilet summit in Ireland.”
I was astonished by the “Toilet Summit” comment, so I began researching it.
Yup. Congress did actually approve funding for the World Toilet College’s World Toilet Summit, and has done so for several years. And it’s an issue that should concern us.
Almost all Americans have grown up with toilet facilities, and carefully regulated government guidelines designed to make sure that what’s in our sewer systems does not end up in our water supply, or our streets. It’s news only if there is a huge mechanical problem or natural disaster that disrupts the safety of this service we all assume is normal.
But for nearly 1/3 of the world, that is not the case.
The President’s remarks — as awful and improper in any discussion about immigration as they are — should also serve as a reminder to us in the U.S. too much of the rest of the world still lives with the word the President so malevolently used yesterday as part of their daily lives.