Scholar offers historical context for president's alleged derogatory remarks

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- The president is pushing back against accusations that he profanely insulted other countries. Several lawmakers say President Trump used a demeaning expletive to refer to Haiti and African nations during a meeting Thursday. The president insisted on Twitter Friday that he didn't use that language.

President Trump isn't the first leader to come under fire for allegedly using derogatory language. University of Texas public affairs and history Professor Jeremi Suri gives us some context:

Q. "If [President Trump] did in fact say what's being alleged, how would that stack up against... incendiary comments that other presidents have made?"

A. "We've had many presidents that have made off-color comments about individuals, particularly leaders of other societies and even other societies at certain moments. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon are most notorious in recent memory for doing this, and even President George W. Bush accidentally spoke of leading crusades during the War on Terror."

Q. "What sort of implication did those off-color comments have on previous presidents?"

A. "In the past many of those off-color comments were made in private; they were made by a president with his closest advisers, so Richard Nixon talking to Henry Kissinger. They were not made in front of members of Congress, they were not made in a setting that they would be reported and when they did come out, presidents apologized."

Q. "Did it affect public opinion when it came to those presidents?"

A. "Absolutely. So, for Lyndon Johnson, one of the real problems that [he] confronted after his big victory in 1964 is many Americans did not view him as presidential."

Q. "Do you think that this is far and away more egregious than what [other presidents] said?"

A. "I think this is the most egregious instance we have had since the early 20th century of a president intentionally saying something that not only puts down a group of people, that treats them as being less than [human], and treats them as people who are worthy of mistreatment by others."

Q. "What do you think needs to happen next?"

A. "I think what President Trump should do, what I would advise him to do based on historical experience, is come forward and apologize. Say, 'I did not mean this. What I think of these countries is actually very positive.'"

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