Is America just a glorified third world country?
I slept the night Donald Trump was elected president of the United States (US). Not out of a sense of peace, but a resigned knowledge that nothing I did now would stop the waves and currents of history. I didn’t know the outcome, and I almost didn’t care; because whatever happened, ordinary Americans would have to deal with it. I was one of them, whether I liked it or not.
My friends had stayed up after midnight, watching the election coverage on their laptops.
“Look at how many states are red!” my friend Amina exclaimed, horrified. “The Republicans are leading the House (of Representatives).”
She was worried and she was rightfully so. A majority republican house and senate were far more disastrous than even a republican president, because it meant larger policy implications for minorities like ourselves, for women, for the poor and for anybody who was anyone in the US, simply because national policy affected us whether we liked it or not. Whether we voted or not.
I slept the night Donald Trump was elected. Not out of indifference, but a hard headed sense of reality, and an implicit acceptance of what would happen. I didn’t know if Donald Trump would win. But I expected it.
I remember when I woke up that morning, tired from staying up the night before, tired from all the schoolwork I inevitably had to do regardless of who won, I felt a shift in the air. It was instinctive, almost primordial, but I felt as if something was drastically different. I felt not as if the world had changed overnight, because the world had been changing in my lifetime, it had been changing before my very eyes, far before November 8, 2016. But I felt as if there was no going back now.
I palmed my cell phone. I had a headache that comes from lack of sleep. I opened Google and typed in ‘US Election 2016’. And I saw that Donald Trump had won, and Hillary Clinton had lost.
Google had colour-coded it. The red far exceeded the blue.
There was no denial, no panic and no pain. I laughed. I laughed as if to say,
“He really won, didn’t he?”
When I left my house, the sky was overcast, grey; the weather stuffy and cold. The clouds teemed with rain. I regretted leaving my hair down because it would now frizz. Nobody said anything, but I saw it on their faces; a scowl, a worried misery, an almost subtle underlying frustration with what had happened.
Seeing passive and unfriendly faces in Philadelphia was nothing new. It was going to rain, it was the middle of the week, and I was in one of the poorest cities in the US. But today was different. Nobody said anything, but we all knew what had happened.
When I reached the protest against Trump, I was late. People had congregated since noon to express their feelings about what had happened. I saw a girl, whose mascara dripped muddy tracks down her face, holding a sign against Trump. I saw individuals preach and gesture and weep. I saw people say how shocked they were, and how they wish this had not happened.
Their emotional display was foreign to me. I empathised with them, and I understood, but I could not reconcile myself to their shock and surprise. Did they not realise they were in America? The nation built on the enslavement of millions of Africans and the genocide of Native Americans? Had they forgotten the wars George W Bush flagrantly started in the Middle East on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction?
I knew how it was to be a person of colour in the US, a category which does not even exist in Pakistan, because we lack white people against which to differentiate ourselves. I knew how it was to be hated, disdained, and humiliated on an almost daily basis. I knew how to smile at white people and nod as if everything was normal, because that was what they expected of us. If you didn’t, you could lose everything you had worked so hard for. You could lose the hard-won sacrifices your parents made to live in this country, the fruits of the American Dream, which people now wondered even existed anymore, or if it ever existed in the first place.
Trump brought everything to the fore. What Americans thought but were too polite to say out loud, he shamelessly stated. What Americans acted on but denied drove their actions, he openly did. What Americans wanted but justified with liberal rhetoric, he acknowledged was racist.
The people in America now weeping over the Trump victory — a democratic victory, despite his tyrant complex, which is more than can be said for the dictators of Pakistan past— don’t realise that the US was heading towards this crash course. In the past few years, we have seen the deterioration of post-racial Obama America. We had a black president and yet black people were still shot dead in the streets. We had national health care and yet 45 million Americans lived below the poverty line. We had graduates with PhDs who could not find jobs, much less pay off their student loans.
The US resembles a third world country in many respects. Water isn’t drinkable in Flint, Michigan, and residents on Pine Ridge Reservation use generators to get a few hours of electricity a day, the healthy American middle class has been replaced with the enraged white working class, laid off industry jobs and paid minimum wage. I see children selling candy on the streets of Philadelphia, no different from child vendors knocking on car windows on the streets of Karachi.
The only difference is Americans have not fully accepted the precariousness of living in what is supposed to be the wealthiest and most democratic country on earth.
The Trump victory drove this reality home for us. If many of us were in denial, now we have a president-elect to confirm what America had already become.
But young people know this best, because we saw it first. We were promised everything, but got nothing in return. And we will continue to fight for our sanity and survival in this country because we have no choice.
We deal with history, not because we desire it, but because we have no choice but to face it. We won’t stop living, hoping, and fighting. There is time after the end of the world. That time is now, and nobody can take it away from us.
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