When I applied for visas for a couple of visits to Europe recently, one country issued on the second try. And the visa was delayed well past the declared date of travel, though I was still able to visit and attend to business.
Granted, my first application had errors but I didn’t think they were incurable ones given that I am too old to go pick tomatoes in a foreign country. For a moment, I thought I have probably made too many folks unhappy, shooting off my mouth.
So I have recently been gingerly navigating this whole question of President Donald Trump and the America he is creating. I suppose Mr Trump’s vision of America — white, wealthy, dominant, isolated and unaccountable — is as valid as any. I mean, I watched on TV on Wednesday a story about a group of mercenaries that Vladimir Putin, the Russian ruler, has deployed in Africa, Syria, Ukraine and other parts of the world to undermine America and help him rebuild the power of the former USSR.
And it is not as if the US is a land of angels. It has done things in its own interest, including the alleged murder of African nationalists such as Patrice Lumumba, blowing up many parts of Iraq and its invasion of other countries, which are, to say the least, indefensible. And internally, America is a confusing country to many Africans. First, it is a truly and massively wealthy country. You see it everywhere, in the smallest hamlet. Yet many of the people you meet are desperately poor, always on the verge of financial catastrophe.
Some American families, especially African migrants, have to be separated. Mum works miles away and is home only at the weekend.
It is the land of the free, devoted to freedom in its various forms. Yet, America is a strongly governed country with an intrusive state. Away from New York and Los Angeles, I found America intimidating and its police truly frightening. If you are a black person, especially if you are a poor, African migrant, you just read about freedom on the internet. Because even walking into a Walmart in Jersey is an experience — the attention you attract from the security staff and the detailed examination of your credit card by the sales staff — does not leave you feeling like a bird.
Yet, America is an inspiration for many around the world. The story of European migrants, oppressed by brutal feudal societies and the powerful home they created for themselves and those they left behind is truly an example of visionary leadership, community, strength of character and the good values of hard work and individual freedom.
If Americans have a fault, it is that deep in their heart of hearts, they have never really believed that other peoples have a right to the freedoms that Americans claim for themselves or that their story has a place alongside America’s. This is not to say they haven’t sincerely and honestly tried, they have. In their good moments, Americans have shown extraordinary generosity and courage on behalf of others.
The era of Trump is not one of those moments. The open hatred for people like us which I see on social media, from the mouths of mass killers and at times from the conduct of Mr Trump while not surprising — we always suspected it was there — is truly shocking.
Mr Trump’s dislike for former President Barack Obama, the way he treats black journalists and his disgust at the very idea of allowing in migrants from Haiti and Africa would tend to suggest that black folk are not exactly his favourites. Not to mention his history of discriminating against black tenants and all that stuff. If Mr Trump is a racist, why did America choose a racist as its leader?
When racists ran amok in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, Mr Trump’s unwillingness to completely condemn them — claiming that there are decent people among white supremacists as there were among those who turned out to oppose them — was a revealing moment.
Even when people take their military grade weapons and go out and massacre minorities as happened in the last couple of weeks, Mr Trump — and his party — will not acknowledge that while Americans have a right to own guns, the fact that the country is soaked in barely regulated weapons has a lot to do with these killings, is equally telling.
Remember, America is supposed to be different, better than us. But the cruelty shown to children of South American migrants trying to get into America — held in squalid conditions, separated from their families — is what has knocked the US from the pedestal on which most poor and less advanced societies had placed it.
Early in July when the US government was criticised for the horrible conditions in migrant detention centres, Mr Trump tweeted: “Many of these illegals aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions … if illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centres, just tell them not to come. All problems solved.”
No exceptionalism there then. Of course Mr Trump and those who share his world view are entitled to their beliefs and approach to life. I suppose they have a right to dislike other races and not to want to welcome foreigners in their country. Maybe people have been wrong to expect too much from folks who, at the end of the day, are just human and as fallible as anyone else. Maybe it makes better sense to forgive and accept.
After all, that’s all we can do with the Russian mercenaries carrying out their deadly operations in Central African Republic, right?