Friday, November 25, 2016

The ugly American

Now make sure this never happens again.

(Published on November 12, 2016 in Business Standard)

I knew that the US election was going disastrously when I headed out to lunch. I only ate a reckless, hang-it-all tenderloin burger with extra cheddar and a fried egg on top, fries on the side, as I watched the US go from leading the free world to freeing itself of leadership. But when the ticker tape on the restaurant TV flashed that Clinton had called Trump to congratulate him, I burst into tears—and it’s not even my election.

One image on social media said it all: Lady Liberty with her face in her hands. Three days into Trump’s America, the Ku Klux Klan is planning a victory parade; African-Americans are finding hateful messages scrawled on their cars; schoolchildren are telling their non-white classmates to leave the country; Muslim women are urging each other not to leave their hijabs at home; Latinos are being told to go to the other side of The Wall; gay people are being threatened with rape and murder; men are spitting obscenities at women on the streets.

That’s the ugly America that Trump dry-humped in his campaign for the White House. That is the ugly America that he will not be able to control. Perhaps he won’t want to. India knows how this goes. In possibly the most frightening sign of the times, America’s legendary, brilliant comedians were struggling for jokes. But they will come into their own, because what is too horrible for jokes is ripe for devastating satire.

Liberals in India, and in other countries governed by right-wing majoritarians, are old hands at this horror, like combat veterans—torn clothes, open sores, dirty bandana, one eye hanging out, used to the shelling, snacking on live rats, always trying to score good boots. Democrats in the US are like the new lot of squeaky clean, fresh-faced, shell-shocked recruits that have just been shoved out of the plane into the trenches. It behoves us to remember that feeling, and to be gentle with them as they go through the five stages of grief and acclimatise to the rough new terrain.

And then to tell them: You’ll survive. Not all of you, sadly, and it won’t be pretty, and your sense of decency and humanity will be constantly assaulted and offended. You will discover that it is possible to look up at rock bottom. You will feel as if you’ve lost your country—and in a few ways you have—but moving to Canada is the best way to never get it back. Stick around and don’t be cowed. The faster you get over yourself, the faster you can get down to fixing this mess. And who knows, life under Trump might sensitise you to the plight of citizens in other hate-peddling majoritarian states.

We know from experience that, as apocalyptic as things feel, life goes on. Indians took comfort from the fact that the BJP won only a third of the vote share. In the US, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Grieving US liberals have a lot of allies, and not just in the US—people the world over will be throwing up a little in their mouths every time they have to say ‘President Trump’.

The orange abomination heading to the White House may not represent US liberals, but he is their president. If Democrats are to resist Trumpism, and stay true to their ideals, they’ll have to do it peacefully. Don’t you wish the joint wasn’t bristling with privately-owned guns? Try not to have a civil war. It would be a damn shame to know that the shining city on the hill is shining because it’s on fire.