I was recently at the Lahore airport to see off my sister on her way to New York and it turned out to be a more than frustrating experience. The pandemonium at Departures was horrendous, the cacophony deafening. We looked on helplessly, so did the Civil Aviation staff as people jostled, groped and pushed their way around. It was classic management failure. Now there is no rocket science to forcing people to stand in queues and wait for their turns. You got to see Pakistanis at the Dubai Airport and how the Arabs force civility and order out of them. Heathrow and JFK are some of the busiest airports in the world but somehow manage to handle the nightmarish traffic with aplomb. Airports remind me of Spielberg’s, “The Terminal”, which is about an immigrant who is stranded at the JFK airport and forced to take up residence there on account of quirky circumstances. Tom Hanks plays the immigrant who is denied entry into the USA and can’t go back to his own country due to an unfolding coup. The comedy showcases the plight of the traveller stuck at the airport as passengers from all over the world whiz past him. The airport of the movie seems warm and friendly, an island of sorts and not to be confused with what Pakistanis experience at home or what the world is going through now at the American airports. JFK is in the news for the wrong reason. Donald John Trump.
Saturday saw a federal judge overturning the sweeping Trump order banning visitors from 7 Muslim majority countries and entry of refugees in the USA. Following the executive order, hundreds found themselves stuck at the USA airports including green card holders. To be fair, Donald Trump’s win took the whole world by surprise, literally sending down shivers down the American spine. As if nobody in the electorate had really expected him to make it to the hallowed office. But he did riding a wave of xenophobic blue collar, white America. Trump’s inauguration was followed by the one of the largest protest rallies in the history of America. A million marched against Trump trying to dissuade him from coming good on his campaign promises. The march was momentous for multiple reasons. That it was mainly led by women spoke volumes of the cleavage of opinion and a polarised America. That it happened only a day after inauguration indicated disbelief, apprehension and the fear how Trump might unravel the American dream, the pluralistic values it has stood and fought for. The latest news from America are heartening as lawyers turn up at the airport offering free services to the detained, as common people come out on the street in support of the immigrant communities and as America defies the despotic sensibilities of a business baron.
Interestingly, there was hardly any debate on the size of the protest rally or for that matter the crowd that had gathered on the day of residential inauguration. Comparisons were drawn between Obama and Trump inauguration and how Obama’s was way bigger. The size of the crowd is a hugely contentious issue in Pakistan, as claims and counter-claims completely mystify the issue. The rallies at home are beamed directly into our living rooms and some have been impressively big but dismissed by the opponents as puny. It is not difficult at all to estimate the crowd size with reasonable accuracy using simple mathematical extrapolation. But who cares. My younger sister is at New York University and had the good fortune to experience the American elections from the pre-election presidential debates to the post-election gloom sweeping America. She told me the entire university seemed to be in mourning as results poured in and Trump’s victory became imminent. People were seen in huddles, sobbing with long faces. Many including teachers took the next day off, the pangs of guilt on the morning after were too much to bear. The pride of America, the policy of multi-culturalism that embraced all without discrimination was under threat by one of its own, by someone America had chosen itself.
Trump’s appearance, his hair puff and orange tan, his highly sexist remarks, his racist tweets have inspired a slew of internet memes and jokes. Poking fun at appearance is hardly civil but Americans driven by repulsion are indulging in it with relish. The stark contrast with Obama in the realms of attire, oratory and how he conducted himself around his wife are now part of the folklore. The issue is Trump is not helping himself at all. His tweets and knee jerk comments allegedly inspired by the conspiratorial FOX News draw sniggers and giggles across the world and American don’t like that at all. Trump wants to build a wall to ward off Mexicans and the Mexican goods. Mexico finds it insulting and rightly so in a globalised world. Trump wants to charge Mexico for the wall and Mexico refuses. Mexico should pay to stop fleeing Americans from entering Mexico, as my friend wryly put it. For many in the Third World, the ascendance of someone like Trump is perversely pleasing. We in this part of the world are pretty used to autocrats and tyrants and bullies. Americans are not. Well, brace up America for a Third World ride.
What happens next? A country can’t be run like a profit hungry corporation. Executive orders seem to gratify Trump’s ego, massage his own sensibilities, perhaps a natural consequence of being a billionaire CEO raised on obeisance and submission. He seems to be on an ego trip bent on reversing Obama’s decrees for no rational reason, high on the presidential powers vested into him. In the process, he is riding roughshod over the cherished American principles of pluralism, tolerance and equality. “Buy American, hire American. American universities are flush with money but there is no knowledge. This American carnage stops now”, he thundered in his inaugural address. Perhaps for the first time ever, a president took a direct jibe at the outgoing incumbent. America today looks eerily Orwellian as Trump administration’s embrace of “alternative facts’ is compared with the “managed truth” of George Orwell’s, The Animal Farm. Orwell worked for the BBC during World War II and had observed how its “news” was falsified to control public opinion. Trump continues to call media a bunch of dishonest liars and both Orwell and Trump seem to ironically converge on this. The dystopian tale of The Animal Farm teeters dangerously close to coming to life again.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2017.