It’s important in national and international affairs that the terms of statecraft be precisely defined. When making policy and alliances, the parties must at all times be rigorously clear about what is meant by such labels as “nuclear power,” “developing country,” and the like. Now, a new term of art just introduced by the President of the United States, “shithole country,” begs a proper definition. Let us fix that for ya. Here is how you tell whether a country qualifies for the new designation.
Exhibit One — Airports. If you have an airport, named for one of your most popular presidents, located just outside your largest city, in which earlier this month:
- Hundreds of people were stranded on airplanes unable to get to a gate for up to 20 hours;
- Baggage-handling machinery froze and failed, so that those lucky enough to get off their planes couldn’t get their bags;
- It was so cold in the terminal that hundreds of the people stranded there built ramshackle shelters out of discarded cardboard boxes (you know, like homeless people do), where some spent three days ;
- Two airliners collided on the tarmac;
- A water main break flooded one of the airport’s four terminals with three inches of water and required that all electricity to the terminal be shut off;
Then you might be living in one of those countries the President was talking about.
This “cascading series of issues” (the words of the authority that runs the airport) occurred, of course, at John F Kennedy Airport, described as New York City’s “primary airport” and “the busiest international air passenger gateway to North America.”
Exhibit Two — Train Stations. Penn Station is to railroad travel what JFK is to air travel. It is the main intercity railroad station in New York City, and the busiest passenger transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere, handling 600,000 passengers a day. It is located underneath Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan, where railroads can reach it only through tunnels. In the same week that JFK was experiencing its “cascading issues,” Penn Station was described by Bloomberg BusinessWeek as “The Most Awful Transit Center in America,” which “Could Get Unimaginably Worse.”
Penn Station has been overcrowded, overused and deteriorating for decades. The first major program proposed to renovate it was offered in the 1990s, failed to get government support. Since then, traffic has doubled and every proposal to tackle the problem has died of neglect. The latest was torpedoed by none other than Donald Trump.
The two tunnels that cross under the Hudson River — that connect Penn Station with everything and everyone in the eastern US south of New York — were built while the Wright Brothers were building their first airplane factory, over 100 years ago. When the tunnels were flooded by Hurricane Sandy, the salt and chemicals deposited began eating even faster into the ancient cement and masonry that, should it fail, would shut down a major chunk of the US economy and introduce the Hudson River into midtown Manhattan. Not only is nothing being down about it, there are no plans to do anything about it.
Last spring a sewage pipe broke in Penn Station, flooding one of the crowded concourses with raw sewage. Making it, of course, a literal shithole.
Devin Leonard, who wrote the Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, concluded:
Penn Station is a debacle reaching across time. Its past is a slow-motion disaster of inaction and canceled reforms, its present an ongoing disgrace. And its future could be truly catastrophic, in the form of a tunnel failure that pinches shut one of the most vital economic arteries in America.
I’ll have to get back to you on Exhibits Three through 320 — bridges, highways, the electric grid, water pollution, soil depletion, ocean dead zones, garbage, declining life expectancy — but you get the idea. When the Donald created this new category by which nations are to be assessed, only the Stable Genius knew that America would turn out, once again, to be Number One.