Friday, February 10, 2017

Looking on the bright side of Trump

Image The Sun.
THERE is a CBS tape of Donald Trump calling Barack Obama early in the morning. A dozy Obama answers his cell by saying, “President…er…Barack here.”

When Trump identifies himself, Obama tells him that it’s the first time in eight years he’s been able to have a lie-in. Why is the President bugging him?

“I don’t sleep, I tweet,” retorts Trump sharply, who tells Obama now that he’s in the White House, what must he do? And, oh yes, what is this “politics thing?”

It is indicative of world affairs that many people would actually believe that this meme had really happened, and that an angry Donald Duck had also changed his name. In trying times laughter allows us to have a time-out from reality. In the post-truth, alternative fact era, it’s like an oxygen mask in a fart storm.

And Trump, a hot-air narcissist, has certainly given us lots of that; a man who – like Hlaudi Moetsoneng – always gives me the impression that he is talking to his mirror. He must have said “very” at least a million times during his campaign, “very serious, very bad.”  

By comparison, President George Bush II might have given us a meaningless war on an abstract noun, an illegal invasion, Guantanamo Bay, water-boarding and statements like “making the pie higher” – but – he did have a gung-ho vacuity that he was doing something, even if he didn’t know what it was; and, he did at least look like a president.   

26,000 bombs-a-year President Obama surrounded by “yes we can” coffee mugs, was shot down by an uncooperative Republican house quicker than the drones he sent to Pakistan and Yemen. However, he did show some swagger when assassinating Bin Laden, annoying Netanyahu, negotiating with Iran and – at the last moment – refusing to veto a UN vote against Israel.

But where Trump goes – Mexico wall ‘n all – nobody knows. Incidentally, it’s an idea filched from Democrat Bill Clinton, who mooted it in 1995 to a standing ovation. I think the point is that Trump is unpredictable, unsweetened by the poisoned saccharine of international diplomacy.

That’s why he will still un-nerve the Israelis, in spite of promising to build an embassy in East Jerusalem and snuggling up to the Israeli right wing. Trump is unpredictable, and Israel doesn’t like unpredictability.

The Trump universe, which is business as usual in the form of capital and Cecil John Rhodes-like profiteering, has made its mark by condoning subliminal racism and making it the conscious new cool. That is why a supercilious buffoon like Jared Taylor of The New Century Foundation can confidently tell journalist, Jorge Ramos, that African people have an inferior intelligence, and that he would happily kick Ramos, a Hispanic, out of the US.

For many US citizens, the most problematic aspect of Trump’s policies has been his Islamophobia. But again, this is nothing new. Most have forgotten the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, which gave immigration authorities the power to deport green card holders. After 9/11 the legislation morphed into the Patriot Act which went from focusing on Palestinians to Muslims.

Apart from Trump’s bizarre travel bans on Muslims – whom he thinks carry bombs or WMDs in their travel bags – he has exempted the countries most responsible for the export of terror, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but clamped down on countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.  

But ironically, very ironically – to borrow a Trumpian phrase – Trump has managed to shoot his own foot on Islamophobia. Decent Americans have revolted against his supremacist notions and Twitter decrees by embracing Muslims in large numbers.

After 9/11 I was told that one couldn’t find an English-translation Qur’an anywhere in the US. In 2012 the New York Times reported that a Religion Census had showed that due to immigration and conversion, the amount of Muslims in the US had risen 67% since 9/11. A researcher had ventured that the anti-Islam sentiment after 9/11 could have had something to do with the increase in numbers.

In 2017 the situation has been even more extraordinary. People such as Abbas Durab, a second-generation US citizen of Afghani descent, have expressed to me their utter amazement to see US Muslims praying at airports, and in public spaces, whilst being protected by fellow citizens during protests.

Hasan Minhaj, who appears on Trevor Noah’s Late Night show, said that he was also gobsmacked by the response, saying that white people had rushed up to him and hugged him for being Muslim. Whilst he was talking with a comic edge, his amazement that his Muslim-ness had been acknowledged for the first time in 31 years, was genuine.

Durab informed me there were unprecedented scenes at the famous Women’s March, when being photographed with a Hijabi almost became something of a status symbol.

But where Trump has already made his mark is that by default, and definitely not presidential design, he has ensured that Islam will become mainstream in the US. By selectively targeting Muslims he has exposed Islam. By demonising Islam he has stimulated a curiosity, something which many will no doubt explore like they did after 9/11.

From now on Muslims doing normal things in public, like wearing hijab, fezzes, turbans and thawbs (robes) will be regarded as normal. Things like people praying in public spaces will also become normal. Going to mosque will be normal. Mosques will be normal. Muslims will be normal.

Of course, the Klu Klux Clan and the supremacist muttering classes will proclaim that the sky is falling in and that hordes of limb-cutting Orientals are massing at the gates, but it will be too late. And as they slap their holsters and tote their Smith and Wesson’s, all that they will have to shoot at will be empty Mexican tequila bottles.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The magic turns on the magician, Trump and the law of unintended consequences

“FOOLISH are those who indulge in foolish actions
Foolish are those unconscious of their festering words
And doubly foolish are those with even more foolish reactions”

These words, penned by an unknown poet, succinctly capture the notion of unintended consequences, something that in our troubled day and age enjoys painful currency. In the social sciences, unintended consequences are defined as outcomes that are not the ones always foreseen, or intended, by an action.

The term was popularised in the 20th century by American sociologist, Robert K Merton, who passed away in the 1960s. One can only imagine what his response would be to US President Trump, and the unintended consequences of his words and deeds, were he alive today.

Blinded by his vision for a re-invented – largely white America at the expense of its founding principles – Trump has energised the world for all the wrong reasons. From his bizarre trade tariff proposals to pay for Mexico’s wall, to his sexism and to his denigration of racial minorities, he has taken the fear out of bigotry.

From the war-torn streets of Aleppo to green card holders, he has raised the ugly flag of Islamophobia. He has deliberately profiled the global Muslim community by issuing a hold on immigration, by blocking Syrian refugees and by targeting seven Muslim-majority countries.

Trump, an unapologetic narcissist, has falsely informed himself of the notion that refugees – especially Muslims – harbour a sociopathic hatred for everything around them and that they are, somehow, a threat to the US. During his campaign Trump even mooted the idea of a “Muslim register”, evoking bitter memories of World War II when over 100, 000 US Japanese citizens were interred.

The absurdity of Trump’s worldview – which has at the stroke of a pen destroyed and devastated the lives of thousands – has been revealed by the Cato Institute, whose research has shown that in the past 40 years only three deaths in the US have been attributed to refugees. In other words, a US citizen in 2017 will have a one in 3.6 billion chance of being attacked by the foreigners the president so fears.

If that’s not enough, last year 23 people died at the hands of infants playing with guns – twenty-three more than those who died in the US at the hands of Muslim “terrorists”. In fact, it was discovered that Americans were more likely to be killed by home-grown fanatics, errant lawnmowers, angry cows, boiling water, rabid dogs and vending machines.

If that’s not enough, in this post-truth era, Trump’s aides have had the temerity to defend something called an “alternative fact”, which to any sane person is an untruth. YouTube has provided some entertaining material, although after the inevitable chuckles, the feeling becomes one of foreboding – more after the sinister fashion of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, than political slapstick.

Fortunately, there are still good people in the world.  And judging by the protest and the dissent, the 45th US president has not had things entirely his own way. Whilst tit-for-tat is not the wisest course, it is significant that Iraq – the country that has suffered the worst from terror – has threatened to place a travel embargo on the US.

It doesn’t take rocket science to understand the unintended consequences in the Middle East. For the already embattled Palestinian population it will mean the ultimate affront of an American embassy on occupied soil in East Jerusalem, as well as the prospect of Jewish extremists being emboldened to seize even more of the West Bank.

And as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hunkers down in Mosul to make ISIS’s last territorial stand, he will be able to tell gullible extremists, “I told you so.” And as Al-Qaeda forces reload their weapons in Yemen and send out the suicide bombers, they will also say, “I told you so.”

The political hypocrisy that Saudi Arabia – the country of origin of nineteen 911 hijackers – has been exempted from the Islamaphobic bans is not unnoticed. Iraqi ambassadors have told me that the impending military defeat of ISIS will be nullified by the diplomatic sloppiness of Trump. They say he will not contain terrorism, but fuel it. The esteemed Brookings Institute concurs with much of this view.

Another unintended consequence of Trumpism will emerge from the infamous Mexican wall, something supported by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, facing his own problems due to corruption, has enjoyed the diversion.

Trump’s Mexican xenophobia might well be partly informed by a lucrative cross-border drug trade run by para-military thugs, but it is a double-edged sword. Should Mexico refuse to co-operate on narcotic policing, California and Texas could soon be drowning in cocaine.

The other issue is humanitarian. The Atlantic reported on University of Arizona findings which showed increased policing resulted in more migrants dying while trying to cross the border. Significantly, there was no uptick in the amounts of people trying to enter the US, whether there was more policing or not.

If he ever does lay the foundations for his infamous Mexico wall, it is a given that Trump will waste billions of dollars’ worth of concrete and razor wire. He will, say migration experts, compound crime by encouraging syndicates to traffic migrants via other, more dangerous routes. As Marc Pierini, the former European Union ambassador to Turkey and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told The Atlantic:

“A wall can slow someone down. It can compel them to change the route they take. But when people want to cross, whatever the motivation is, they will find a way to cross.”

The well-known Palestinian author and journalist, Ramzy Baroud, posted on his Facebook page that Trump represented a fierce, unprecedented battle between normal people and the American elites and their corporate interests.

These men had “hoodwinked” ordinary Americans to support war, to hate Muslims, Mexicans and migrants. They had brainwashed the voter to blame the poor for his misfortune, to objectify and oppress women, to support government misdeeds and wars “in the name of human rights, freedom and democracy.”

Quoting an Arabic proverb, Baroud concluded by saying that with Trump the magic had turned upon the magician, and that by the time the smoke settled, the US would find itself facing a changed and likely irreversible political reality.