Melting pot to molten pot: In Trump, US has got just the president it deserves

America's treatment of its original inhabitants (indigenous Indians) and the wars it has waged in Asia, Middle East and South America deserve a volume of its own.

 |  6-minute read |   17-02-2017
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Former United States ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith famously called New York the world’s melting pot. “Never before in history,” Galbraith declared, “had so many people of such varied languages, customs, colours and culinary habits lived so amicably together.”

New York is a microcosm of the United States, the world’s melting pot. Every American is essentially an immigrant. The only exceptions are indigenous Indians who have been in North America for several thousand years and now lead deprived lives in reservations across the country.

President Donald Trump himself is of British-German descent. His father Frederick was from a German family in Bavaria, originally called Trumpf, which immigrated to America in 1885. The irony couldn’t be richer.

Trump’s mother, Mary MacLeod, came from a Scottish island. Mary immigrated to the US in 1930 to find work as a nanny. She met and married co-émigré Frederick Trump six years later.

Being anti-immigrant is never a good political strategy in America. Trump won the presidential election not on an anti-immigration plank but on an anti-refugee plank. His “Muslim” travel ban, dismissed by an appeals court, was poorly thought out and abysmally executed.

Trump is planning to issue a new executive order for a less over-arching travel ban. The courts will come into play once again, distracting attention from an issue that has been clouded by Trump’s recklessness.

That issue of course is terrorism. Terrorists claiming refugee status have poured into Europe, especially Germany which has taken in one million refugees fleeing the brutal sectarian wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

ban-embed_021717045504.jpg Being anti-immigrant is never a good political strategy in America. (Photo: Reuters)

Trump was lifted to victory in the presidential election by a tide of anger among whites (including, contrary to popular fiction, educated whites and white women) against what they saw as “reverse racism”.

Their jobs were being outsourced, black and Hispanic crime was driving them away from urban centres, school violence had spiked, civic standards were falling and infrastructure was crumbling. Trump, however, made the classical mistake of believing that inflammatory campaign rhetoric can morph into presidential governance.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (to whom Trump is erroneously compared) did not make that mistake. He did not let his election rhetoric seep into governance.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, Modi threatened to jail the Gandhis and Robert Vadra. As prime minister he has done nothing except repeat the rhetoric during the current Assembly elections (“Congress should hold its tongue, I have its entire janam patri”). Rhetoric in India remains confined to electioneering.

On Pakistan too, Modi breathed fire and brimstone during the 2014 general election. And yet his first move after winning the election was to invite Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony.

In contrast, Trump has behaved like a bull in a China shop, making America a molten pot of seething internal conflicts. The sacking of National Security Adviser (NSA) General Michael Flynn over sensitive pre-inauguration discussions with the Russians exposes cleavages within Trump’s cabinet and White House staff over a raft of issues, including immigration, the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS) and relations with Russia.

In an extraordinary and combative press conference at the White House on Thursday, February 16, Trump again accused the US media of being “dishonest”. He said it had a political agenda: to make it difficult for America to repair its relationship with Russia by publishing leaks from mid-level intelligence officials (holdovers from the Obama administration) on General Flynn’s contacts with the Russians.

Strength in diversity

America’s greatest strength is its diversity (as is India’s). In an interesting article in Business Standard, Farhad Manjoo embellishes this point well: “If you want to understand why tech employees went to the mat against Mr Trump’s executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, you need to first understand the crucial role that America’s relatively open immigration policies play in the tech business. And you need to understand why people in tech see something cataclysmic in Trump’s executive order, and in the other immigration crackdowns waiting in the wings: the end of America’s standing as a beacon for the world’s best inventors.”

Silicon Valley attracts the brightest minds because it welcomes people from all over the world. Religion does not matter. Colour does not matter. Nationality does not matter. Sexual orientation does not matter. Gender does not matter.

racism-embed_021717045521.jpg America’s diversity was built over centuries by defying discrimination. (Photo: Reuters)

What does matter is grey matter. Merit is the official religion of Silicon Valley. America’s diversity was built over centuries by defying discrimination.

Catholic immigrants suffered great prejudice at the hands of the Protestant majority. The sectarian intra-Christian prejudice was so deeply embedded that America elected its first Catholic president only in 1960: John F Kennedy. Immigrants of Irish descent (like President Kennedy) were discriminated against through the 19th century.

The waves of Italian immigrants (all Catholic) during that period too were subjected to prejudice and name calling. Blacks of course had neither the right to vote nor in the deep south, even liberty.

It took the civil rights movement in the 1960s to give African-Americans the same rights the high-minded American Constitution guaranteed all Americans.

America’s treatment of its original inhabitants (indigenous Indians) and the wars it has waged in Asia, the Middle East and South America deserve a historical volume of its own.

A new book by Joshua Kurlantzick, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, reveals the gory details of how the US has killed millions of civilians around the world.

In a review of the book, The Economist writes: “The bombing of Laos in the 1960s and early 1970s always used to be referred to as America’s ‘secret war’. This was not just a mistake or even a misunderstanding: it was a terrible misnomer. For the Laotians who cowered in caves to escape what is considered the heaviest bombardment in history, the campaign was certainly not a secret. The American air force unleashed an average of one attack every eight minutes for nearly ten years. By 1970 tens of thousands of American-backed fighters were involved, at an annual cost of $3.1 billion in today’s dollars. By the time the campaign ended in 1973, a tenth of Laos’ population had been killed. Thousands more accidental deaths would follow from unexploded bombs left in the soil.” 

Given its violent past, America has perhaps, in Anglo-German Trump, got just the president it deserves.  

Also read: Donald Trump’s ‘alt-fact’ press conference almost crowned US media as the enemy of the state


Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

Biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. Ex-TOI & India Today. Media group chairman and editor. Author: The New Clash of Civilizations

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