Sunday, November 13, 2016
Mohammed Hanif - After Trump, Fear and Gloating in Pakistan
KARACHI, Pakistan — There is dread, and fear and loathing. But mostly there is gloating. Those who are gloating here in Pakistan have a convincing enough narrative: Everything we already knew about ugly America just got a chest-thumping confirmation from Americans themselves. The bully that roamed the earth proposing to start wars, topple governments and bankroll tin-pot dictators has finally come home and brought with it all the racism and vulgarity it doled out in various parts of the planet. It has come home to assert its supremacy, its whiteness, its right to be ugly and foul-mouthed and to get rewarded for it. America, say the gloaters, is a bit like that aging thug who can’t terrorize the neighborhood anymore and so has turned on his own family.
Trump’s win has made the rest of the world more self-righteous, especially here in Pakistan, especially among men. He is the final proof, if any proof were needed, that a man can have it all, that a man can be all the man he wants to be — a billionaire and a porn star in his own life’s movie — and still make people love him and trust him with their future.
Pakistani democrats feel they have a special right to gloat. Over the last few days, some of them have been reminding the rest of us Pakistanis that we have never elected a right-wing fascist as our leader. They have reminded us that we elected a woman as our leader way before America even contemplated the possibility for itself.
The late Benazir Bhutto was indeed the first woman to be elected as prime minister of a Muslim country. But we seem to have forgotten the ugly campaign against her, the sexual innuendoes and the doctored pictures — all this before Photoshop and social media. And let’s not forget that we managed to assassinate her 70 days after really, seriously, trying to kill her. We have also not even gotten around to finding out who killed her. And, as any working politician will remind you, her legacy doesn’t get you very many votes.
So we can gloat all we want, but hating powerful women is definitely not just an American thing. When Hillary Clinton was last in Pakistan as secretary of state in 2011 and she brought her town hall-style meeting to Islamabad, the most intimate compliment she got was that she behaved like the envoy of a quarrelsome mother-in-law who is always asking Pakistan to do more.
Still, Pakistan’s ruling elites were hoping Hillary would win — not because they believed she stood for something, though, but because some of them once had dinner with her and met her family. If American presidents have had many quarrels with their Pakistani counterparts, they have had many more love-ins. America has bankrolled all three of Pakistan’s military dictatorships. It was very close to us when our dungeons were full of political dissenters and F-16s bought in the United States were bombing our people.
American presidents have been fond of hosting Pakistani dictators at Camp David. Now it’s the turn of Americans themselves to be ruled by a dictator, and of their own choosing. We, at least, never picked ours. The U.S. election result will make democrats in my part of the world rethink terms like “anti-establishment” and “working class.” To them, it looks like white men and women led by a pretend-billionaire and real bigot are rebelling against other white men and women with slightly better manners. Those here who gloat over the Trump win are basically saying that those previous American presidents weren’t that different. They’d put their arm around your shoulder and walk beside you for a bit, and then they’d stab you in the back. Trump kicks you while spitting on your face with a crowd cheering on.
The race was made to look like a fight between education-hungry, willing-to-do-anything immigrants and the white blue-collar working class ignored by the elite. But why would the struggling white working class vote for Trump? Because he is from the elite but doesn’t have its pretensions? Do people really vote for one rich man in order to spite the other rich men? I have seen pictures of your apartments, your private jet, your gold-plated crockery. Thanks for sharing. Here’s my vote. Is that the essence of democracy that America has championed all over the world?
Pakistani democrats are quite fond of explaining away their own contradictions by saying, This is the beauty of democracy. One day the American nation is being asked how a person who can’t handle his Twitter account will deal with nuclear codes. The next day that person is handed down those very codes. This is indeed the beauty of democracy. This is also the curse of democracy when democracy is practiced to keep brown and black people and women in their place.
Americans are often accused of being ignorant about the world, of not being able to tell their Mosul from their Kandahar, of having no memory of who they bombed and why. If the world beyond your borders doesn’t really interest you, maybe there is some merit to staying home, cooking dinner and taking out the trash. But first stop calling each other trash and then decide whose turn it is to take it out.
I asked my son, a freshman at college in London, what his American roommates thought of the election results. He said his best friend is glad because the country needs a revolution. Everyone else, he said, is shattered. I asked: You mean your American friend thinks that the Trump win is good because it will trigger a revolution? No, he corrected me. Trump is the revolution.
Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti,” and the librettist for the opera “Bhutto.”