Is this what we’ve become?

  1. What’s the difference between a dung hole and a dung house?
  2. A meaningless one, when the sitting president of the United States utters such a term to describe predominantly non-white countries, and follows the utterance by saying we need to attract more white people.

“Why do we want all these people from (dung) hole countries coming here?” Donald Trump is alleged to have said during a closed-door meeting in January. Trump — who had just ended protections for Salvadoran immigrants and who keeps trying to hold Congress hostage over an ill-conceived border wall — was referring to African countries and Haiti. He then said we should bring in more people from countries “like Norway.”

The response from his camp was predictable: Denial, blended with justifications. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue would later insist Trump hadn’t said “hole,” but “house.” The White House denied the comments, instead saying there was “tough language” on immigration. Others used blanket reasoning: Some parts and conditions in some of those countries are, indeed, very bad, so Trump was “just telling it like it is.” Others said, in effect, “No big deal” (because, you see, we all use crude language from time to time).

All of which misses the point. The problem isn’t whether Trump said hole or house, and it isn’t the vulgar word he said in front of the word hole or house, or how many people say that or worse (self included). It’s not whether the countries’ conditions are good, bad, or neutral.

It is that he said people from predominantly black countries are not worthy to come to the United States, but people from predominantly white countries should be courted. The problem is the racism and if Trump said those words, he could not have been more racist had he strolled down the Washington Mall in a white hood and sheet.

Yet this is our president. And this people defend, up to and including the body that is supposed to hold a president in check. Trump’s alleged statements are just the latest in a long line of troubling words, policies and plans.

The “travel ban” was aimed at Muslim- majority countries. And rhetoric about “terrorism” swirled, carrying the not-so-hard to sniff out undercurrent that holds all Muslims are terrorists; different; dangerous; “the other.”

Trump ended protections under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals that prevented people brought here illegally as children from being deported. The decision brought lawsuits and, from his own lips, conflicting information. Now he’s for DACA; now he’s against it.

While DACA is not specific to Mexican migrants, that is what people most often think when hearing “DACA.” Many react with vicious, bigoted statements about Hispanic people, failing to draw a distinction between kids who had no say in what their parents did and adults who choose illegal entry. (Given the failure to understand something so simple, it is not surprising riled-up Americans don’t spare two seconds of sympathy in considering why a parent would make such a drastic choice.)

Even on the campaign trail, Trump was a megaphone for that bigotry: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Those words speak for themselves. They are those of a con man blowing dog whistles, and if it doesn’t scare you that so many voters came running at the sound, well, it should.

Many times, upon reading history’s darker chapters, the question arises: How could people let this happen? The people who cheer Trump’s racist statements and policies have likely asked such questions themselves — of the past — but they are oblivious to what they are encouraging, even enabling, at present.

Trump and those who prop him up are working hard to define whole groups of people as “others” who threaten the country — either because of their religion; their race; their purported abuse of public benefit programs, or purported propensity to commit violent crime.

Although some migrants and religious minorities do (like individuals from any other group) commit crimes or abuse the system, Trump’s team seeks to cast blanket aspersions in order to stoke fears. This was on full display in a Jan. 21 ad, which opened with reference to Luis Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant who killed two officers and boasted about it.

“President Trump is right,” the narrator says. “Build the wall. Deport criminals. Stop illegal immigration now. Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.”

That’s right. In the 21st century, we’re talking about building walls between us and “the others.” People who illegally enter the country are being linked in the same breath with violent criminals. And so is the president’s opposition party.

Some of the ad’s You Tube comments show people’s willingness to scapegoat “the others.” One: “People are being imported purposefully for political gain.” Another: “Democrats are putting illegals before actual citizens. They need to be jailed for treason.” And: “Build that wall. Build it with sniper towers so it’s clear.”

Is this what we have become? Fearful of “the others” to the point that we beg for a wall of the sort that once divided Germany? So afraid of brown-skinned people (no one is shouting for a border wall by Canada) that we would hand more and more power to a would-be autocrat with no capacity for real governance? To a man so blatantly racist that he calls predominantly black countries — I’ll say it now — shitholes?

It does no good to describe this remark, as have some, as Trump’s “new rock bottom.” Trump has no bottom.

The rest of us? It’s past time to plumb our own depths to see how low we are willing to let this man and his enablers take our country. The question is not whether we understand “how people let these things happen,” but whether we have the self-awareness to stop them from happening this time around.

Katharhynn Heidelberg writes from Montrose, Colo.

From Katharhynn Heidelberg.