I have returned home after a two-month sojourn to Trump’s country. I last visited there in 2016. That was election year and halfway down it seemed Hillary Clinton had it sealed. Trump was hardly ‘a politician’ or someone who could be taken seriously. November heralded instead the advent of Donald Trump, and the rest is history.
I have travelled to the US often and have a good feel for its politics and social economy. The state of the roads, the general efficiency of the civic systems, and the perceptible sense of excitement or a lack of it in society is a tell-all of where America seems to be heading. Society there has always been consumptive yet the quality of what you see on the racks will tell you how the Americans are buying and living; or how frequently and how well they holiday. Trump was to have run the system down – yet, contrary to expectations and loud ramblings, I sensed none of it. Obama’s sullen idealism seemed a lot more boring than the rejuvenation Trump has kicked into the system.
America looked vibrant, cleaner, greener and greatly more active. Trump has breathed a new life and a new sense of purpose in most Americans. He has also alienated a few, especially if they are from a minority but his job numbers are unmatched and the economy is greatly more enthused. He is ceasing wars on the battlefield even when he threatens Iran with some bluster and movement of a fleet or two but his real battle is inside and with his economic competitors.
If that puts off Merkel of Germany or Macron of France, so be it. He’s convinced that he will always get a better deal. He’s done it with Mexico and with Canada, and he is trying his utmost with China with all indicators that someone will blink to avoid another recession. In this deal, Trump will probably settle for some win-win arrangement despite his relentless aggression on terms of trade. Iran, he thinks, can be cowed down with the immense economic stringency placed through sanctions. There is every likelihood that he will get a deal with both China and Iran better than what he currently has.
The US remains innovative on the more emergent areas of the economy, leading the pack on AI and automation. Trump is lavish with his military and allocates freely to keep its edge against the competition. Withdrawing from the INF Treaty is meant to beckon Russia to outspend America. Clearly, Russia is in no position to oblige and Putin is good at giving a pass. So for those waiting for the US to go under, ‘don’t sweat’. And there isn’t any among the Democrats currently who has the making of displacing him in 2020. So more bluster, more of arm-twisting and a far more of Trump making gains for American economy seems the foreseeable future. The market for the exceptional product is still in the US and those like China producing to meet that demand will be loath to lose it. Expect four more years of trumpeting the white man’s burden.
I also stopped briefly in Turkey. I have visited Turkey a few times without finding much fancy for it. Yet one does it for other reasons given that Erdogan’s Turkey has found a new sense of existence as a global player. The entertainment (TV drama) industry has done them immense good in portraying a lifestyle which triggers curiosity. This image is what drives millions to search for what is on the screen. This has been the sea of the pirates and many have grown to be recognized in history. Not without reason they are enterprising thus.
Istanbul sits at the crossroads of culture and history and thus has great touristic value. A depreciated Lira helps. Like the Chinese, the Turks too have found Pakistanis gullible. The Turkish defence industry, for example, mimics Israel which has been its most covetous benefactor. Others who have been graced the liberty of Israeli technology are South Africans and China in some cases. These nations then sell the transferred technology to the rest of the world. The Israelis too have a potent Mediterranean presence. So it’s a greatly happening place which entices the rather proscribed and conservative subcontinental no end.
Nothing ticks the Subcontinental more than a hint of racism. Our senses, historically, are tuned to detect a whiff when it exists. Well here there is news. I found the Turks to be blatant racists – not in the Arab way who assert superiority on the basis of race, but more around antecedence. They will fawn and fall over the white-skinned who they know should be wealthier than brown-skinned suitors. That includes the Pakistani. The Jauhar brothers made their politics out of a cause that none in Turkey cares for. That was in the beginning of the twentieth century. The twenty-first is a different place.
In a guided tour of the Hagia Sofia by two English-speaking Turks for a diverse group, what stood missing was the mention of Islam. Hagia Sofia is a mosque from the Ottoman times which is now no more a mosque; its Christian roots dominate overwhelmingly. The one-hour talk-through was all about the great Romans and Pope Constantin – the obvious signs of beautiful Islamic calligraphy notwithstanding.
I return to a Pakistan mired in its Afghan and Indian issues. Kashmir has lit a new fire to the tinderbox, courtesy Modi. Although some progress is visible in Afghanistan, neither Kashmir nor India is yet bygones. These perpetuities define our national culture. Some of it may have been self-nourished but most is bequeathed. Over those we have little control. In other areas we haven’t done credit to ourselves by failing to fulfil the promise.
It cannot be that the promise never existed and it always was assumed. It is more case of perpetual distraction and short-termism which have become our defining characteristics. Add sloganeering and hyperbole, and that rounds off our national character. The story of Karachi tells us that. Heaps of trash mark its landscape. No more the clean coastal city of its fabled night-life. Just last week it got an international mention as the fly-capital of the world.
It is a travel back in time – by decades if not a century. Even the Turks keep their cities clean.