In Vital Speeches International, we're publishing a New Year's speech by President Muhammadu Buhari, of Nigeria. It's a kind of state of the union address. President Buhari begins by expressing sorrow for blackmail and price-gouging that led to a severe national fuel shortage:
"For many this Christmas and New Year holidays have been anything but merry and happy. Instead of showing love, companionship and charity, some of our compatriots chose this period to inflict severe hardship on us all by creating unnecessary fuel scarcity across the country."
He goes on to promise that his administration will work to reduce "a huge infrastructure deficit," which includes a major national highway "in a state of disrepair." He'll continue to slow "a steady and steep decline" in the economy. He laments the fact that many Nigerians "do not have regular and reliable power supply," and promises to take measures to reduce "rampant cases of kidnappings."
Now in light of those facts, if you were in a bar in Appleton, Wis., a coffee shop in San Diego or a barbershop on the South Side of Chicago—and someone, on the way to making a point, referred to Nigeria a "shithole country," would you interrupt the proceedings to lecture the speaker on the history of colonialism and the continuing geopolitical and socioeconomic factors and that created the current conditions in Nigeria? And would you go on to cite statistics about how many well-educated citizens Nigeria boasts, despite its problems?
You might now, but a week ago, you wouldn't have. That's because a week ago, people in taverns and cafes and barbershops were permitted to use crass shorthand because they could rely on the President of the United States (and hundreds of other diplomatic government officials of every political stripe) to consistently present the country's official attitudes in the most polite and respectful terms. "Emerging nations, developing countries," and the like. Because that's the only proper way for the leader of a nation of millions of people to speak about another nation of millions of people.
But now that the president is calling poor countries shitholes just like the guy at the end of the bar, I'm afraid the onus is on the rest of us to be more thoughtful, less crass, less vulgar. And to call one another out, with those new fighting words: "You sound like the President of the United States."