Shithole, shithouse, Nelson eyes, and red herrings

Today’s Washington Post follows up on the controverst arising from President Trump’s use last week of the phrase “shithole countries” to describe Haiti and African nations in the discussion of immigration reform. Senator Richard Durbin affirmed the president had said those words, even repeatedly; Senators Cotton and Price claimed not to have heard it. Now, it turns out, that there is a little more to the claim than what Cotton and Price originally reported. As the Post reports:

It turns out that the statement Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) issued that sounded as though it was crafted by a dozen lawyers was written that way for a reason: Cotton and Perdue, according to three White House sources, believe Trump said “shithouse” rather than “shithole.”

This is a wonderful example of lying by telling the truth: “We did not hear him say ‘shithole'” is stated as if to mean “He did not say ‘shithole'” when in fact it means “We heard him say ‘shithouse’ rather than ‘shithole.'”

The political reasons for the senators to speak in this calculated way are outlined in the rest of the article and need not detain us here: it’s just the ordinary grubby business of shading the truth for gain.

What interests me is the manner in which they deny the truth by affirming another truth, a process that I believe is called “turning a blind or a Nelson eye” to something. According to Wikipedia:

The phrase to turn a blind eye is attributed to an incident in the life of Admiral Horatio Nelson. Nelson was blinded in one eye early in his Royal Navy career. During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 the cautious Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, in overall command of the British forces, sent a signal to Nelson’s forces ordering them to discontinue the action. Naval orders were transmitted via a system of signal flags at that time. When this order was brought to the more aggressive Nelson’s attention, he lifted his telescope up to his blind eye, saying, “I really do not see the signal,” and most of his forces continued to press home the attack

Lord Nelson did not lie when he said he didn’t see the signal, but this did not mean that the signal was not given, nor that he had failed to be informed of it. Rather, he affirmed as true a fact that was close enough to the situation he was asked about to appear to be pertinent to it; in fact, it was not pertinent to the situation and rather a red herring.



About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in England, Pontius Pilate, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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