View from the hole

By David Rogers

In a disgraceful move of political tattling, Dick Durbin recently accused President Trump of using a crude reference of certain countries as holes. We are all familiar with the reference and anyone who has ever sat in a Union meeting has heard far worse references on a panoply of subjects. The attack dog media immediately jumped on the news as more proof positive that flummoxed Americans have placed a blatant racist in the White House. Despite his alleged reference would President Trump have a point?

I can answer unequivocally yes. And that answer comes from personal experience. To be clear, a hole of a country is a place where the government is corrupt and the culture and/or economy is dysfunctional. And citizens suffer as a consequence. The reference is not to people specifically, but is a reference to the difficult circumstances resulting from corrupt and/or inept governance is said countries. The view from such places of America is often a land of paradise. I have lived in a hole.  Firsthand experience teaches many lessons.

As a freshly minted Latter-Day Saint at age 23, I decided to serve a mission at a seeming grandfatherly age. When I received a call to Taiwan I can still recall the consternation on my (non-Mormon) parents’ faces. My mother, in particular, was not happy that her son was being shipped off to the third world for two years.

Taiwan was indeed a bit of a change. A shock really. In 1984 it was an emerging third world hole that was just beginning to receive American investment. I found the people of Taiwan delightful and dove headfirst into learning the language and culture. But there were many aspects of the country that were concerning, even dangerous.

There was little infrastructure. At least we had toilets that flushed and electricity that worked frequently. But heating or air conditioning was unheard of and sweltering summers and frigid winters offered no source of relief. Open sewers offered little sanitation. The average worker was exceedingly poor (a good wage was $500 per month equivalent in American dollars).

In my first apartment, they had hockey sticks. At night the hockey sticks came out as the rats started crawling around the apartment getting into every nook, dresser, and cranny. The other Elders hopped out of bed (from underneath mosquito netting) and started chasing rats around slap-shooting them off the walls in a game of life or death. We hung dead rats in small plastic bags off a washing line behind the apartment until they could be disposed of. Garbage collection was spotty.

Disease was rampant. Many missionaries were sent home due to illness. Mandatory gamma globulin shots were given each quarter. We dealt with corrupt police officials looking for bribes. We would see triad gang members eyeballing the local merchants for their “protection” money”. We were hounded constantly by desperate fathers wanting to get their children to America. Prostitution was legal and cat houses were found on every city street, where the loveliest young women were often sold into servitude by their parents. The pollution was so bad I developed smoker’s cough after only two months.

But the people of Taiwan were wonderful. They worked hard, were devoted to educating a new generation and held long-standing traditional family values. They worked to build a better future. And, fortunately for them, their leaders foresaw bringing Taiwan into a modernized economy. Combined with decades of American investment, Taiwan today looks far different than the country I knew 35 years ago.

But many places are not like Taiwan. Haiti’s leadership struggles to achieve basic amenities for their people. Somalia is run by rampant gangs. North Korea is a giant prison camp where many people starve. In the age of the internet, they still have no electricity to 95% of the inhabitants. Inexcusable. These are the traits of a hole. And these places have qualified for the nomenclature through their ineptness.

I believe President Trump was referring to the circumstances of the countries, not their people specifically. And the fact is America cannot accommodate all of the downtrodden of the world. They outnumber us 25 to 1. We can barely care for our own poor. It is a tough situation. While the heart reaches out, the resources simply do not exist for everyone.

Until America can help transform the dysfunctionality in third world locations, allowing their peoples to bloom where they are planted, immigration only goes so far. That is the main issue. It is much like the boy walking on the beach covered with dying starfish and throwing a few of them back into the ocean. We can save the few we can throw, but we cannot save them all.

Until the floundering leaders of this world pull their act together and start governing in a way that benefits their citizens instead of a corrupt, greedy and oppressive elite, we will continue to have third world difficulties. Trump is correct in wanting to be selective with merit-based immigration. The next step is to export talent back to lift native countries out of their poverty. America’s free market system is the most powerful in history. If we lead from the front, we can eventually turn the current negatives into positives. Trump is at least sound on policy, crudely worded bluster aside.

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