Not a day passes without the President casually throwing away all the love and respect that the United States has achieved as the global leader and the world’s most vibrant democracy and, above all, as the ultimate land of opportunity.
America has long beckoned dreamers from around the world, attracting the best, brightest and the boldest. It has always been viewed with hope by all those who have been oppressed, rejected and persecuted in their own lands. The final land of refuge.
For what is America if not a nation of refugees and immigrants? From the Christians and Jews facing persecution in Europe in the 16th century and 20th century to the Irish refugees fleeing famine in the land of their birth, America has offered its welcoming shores to everyone.
The ancestors of Trump himself, like so many other white Christian communities, now ruling the land of the free not long ago came from Europe, from Germany to be precise. His wife Melania Trump was born and grew up in Slovenia, moving to America only in 1996.
Yet the President sees no irony in telling the multicultural melting pot of a nation that he governs, in a succession of tweets, that four Democrat Congresswomen of colour in the House of Representatives – Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar should “go back to their home countries and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”
In another tweet later, he added: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (where they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”
Trump accused the women lawmakers of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!”
What is most bizarre and breath-taking thing about this whole business is that with the exception of Somali American Ilham Omar, known for her combative spirit and speaking for the voicelesss and oppressed in and outside the US and who came to America as a refugee at the age of 9, all three targeted by Trump were born and brought up in America.
So either the President is ignorant, as he often chooses to be, or he is deliberately fudging facts and obfuscating to misguide the famously informed Americans, as he again often chooses to do. With the 2020 re-election battle fast approaching, Trump is clearly queering the pitch in trying to once again woo his support base of white working-class Americans.
Whatever be the case, his deliberate attempts to promote discord and division among various sections of society, on the one hand, and hate and bigotry against the people of colour and Muslim Americans are unconscionable.
What is even more absurd is that within hours after the US House of Representatives in an unprecedented vote condemned the President – the first such resolution to be passed in more than a century was passed with 240 votes against 187 — for his “racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of New Americans and people of colour,” Trump was back to the same shenanigans.
After tweeting “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” the President addressed his supporters at a campaign rally in North Carolina on Wednesday, again attacking the women lawmakers calling them “hate-filled extremists.”
He singled out the outspoken Ilham Omar as his supporters erupted into chants of ‘Send her back!’ It reminded many eerily of those white supremacist rallies. The Democrats were quick to condemn the spectacle of hate accusing the President of endangering millions of American lives. Apparently, this will once be the pattern ahead as the 2020 polls loom.
Clearly, Trump thinks he can win once again only by using the self-same, tried and tested tactics of ‘divide and rule.’ Hate clearly wins. And we saw it most recently in yet another great democracy. Indeed, across the world, including in Europe, tyranny is on the march using hate and bigotry and demonising religious and ethnic minorities to capture power.
In America, at least, the opposition Democrats and the vibrant civil society including the media are resisting and fighting back in every way possible.
The ordinary Americans are being told that their leader’s attacks on religious and ethnic minorities are not just petty and puerile, they are profoundly un-American. They do a great disservice to the lofty ideals and principles that inspired the founding fathers of America and helped build an amazing country that continues to inspire people around the world.
Ordinary Americans are fighting back to save America from the tyranny of hate and bigotry. For America is beautiful and it is worth saving. It is a dream that must be protected.
As Palestinian American author Fawz Turki says in a powerful piece, “America is unique. There is not now and there has never been a country like it in human history. Unlike other countries around the world today, including those in Europe, in which since the second half of the 20th century, countless asylum seekers have found refuge but found no genuine opportunities for integration. This land is known as a ‘nation of nations’, namely, a nation made up of people who come from every cranny around the world.”
Turki goes on to argue: “Unlike other nations, it has shown itself superbly adept at assimilating immigrants. Hey, that’s how America makes a living. We are all Americans, ordinary, level-headed Americans will tell you.”
This is what the American dream and America is all about. It’s celebrated by the iconic Statue of Liberty that has welcomed generations of new arrivals on America’s shores.
The inscription on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Lady Liberty says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
The soul-stirring lines are from the famous sonnet by Emma Lazarus, herself the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Portugal. Indeed, the whole poem is worth reading and re-reading and sharing today, and not just by Americans, when many of us are turning on the weak and vulnerable amidst us.
Watching the Americans fight back to protect their ideals, I often wonder if we Indians would ever muster the same courage of conviction to protect our own.
Can we ever imagine such a vote in Indian Parliament confronting the supreme leader and his followers on their brand of politics and casual demonization of minorities?
Indeed, there are many parallels in what has been happening in America and India today. Religious minorities are increasingly being shown their place in what is being pushed as the ‘new India’. For far too long, Indian Muslims have been told to go to “their own country,” – that is, Pakistan.
Now they are being hunted and killed like animals for their beliefs or what they look like and eat.
If Trump’s America has been targeting helpless, desperate refugees along the US-Mexican border, in Indian states like Assam, millions of Muslim citizens are being declared ‘illegal’ despite having lived for generations in the country. When will the Indian society start fighting back against the forces of darkness?
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a former editor. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @AijazZaka