Welcome to America
In a couple of days, I’ll fly into LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport. Once I pass passport control and pick up my luggage, I will see a big picture on the wall, the picture of the president of the United States of America, the country I chose as my temporary home when, as it then seemed to me, I had lost my own. For the last eight years, every time I looked at the picture of Obama’s face (under which it states “Welcome to America”), a smile would always, without exception, appear on my tired traveler’s face. Yes, no matter what, this is a good country (or, at least, a bearable one) if it has such a president, I would always think to myself. This is a president who had, much before he became a president, written a beautiful book, a book that I read to my young son. (What can I do? I tend to fall for well – constructed sentences much more than for any other form of charm!) This is a president who belongs to a minority but was chosen by the majority (when will that happen in my former country?) This is a man who is mild, gentle, wise, educated. And, on top of that, he’s even musical! Who can ask for more?
Oh yes, like many others, I too was always complaining: why didn’t he fight the evil banks more radically? Why didn’t he punish the war criminals Bush and Cheney? Why did he keep, together with Hillary, intervening across the world, creating catastrophe after catastrophe, continuing the war-mongering politics of his predecessor? Why was he sending drones all over the world, killing innocent bystanders? And so on. And so on. Like many others, I was asking myself: what kind of power does the president of the U. S. really have? Isn’t he, after all, just a hostage of the Almighty System? While the System is the hostage of the greatest God in our universe – Money?
And then the cataclysm happened.
This time there will be a different face watching me from the airport wall. Instead of the beautiful, mild, intelligent and noble face of Obama, there will be a repulsive orange caricature, a vulgar bad joke on everybody’s account, a scary reminder that the world has lost its mind. I will be welcomed to my adopted country by a man who wants to exile our friends and acquaintances who pray to a different god, a man who wants to build a massive wall around America so he could protect her from all those who are different. Or, more precisely: darker. I will be welcomed by the unpleasant smile of a man who brags about grabbing women between their legs. I will be welcomed by a man who had assembled the richest and the most conservative administration in the history of the U. S., a man who hasn’t read books in his life, a man who has clearly shown that he is a narcissistic sociopath, a man who reacts exclusively out of his childish “id” (which the stupid world keeps gratifying over and over), a man who is proud to be the greatest bully, the bully everyone is scared of because he is rude, insensitive and completely unpredictable.
How will I deal with it? Will I spit at the picture? Will I spit so that everyone sees it? Will I spit inside, secretly? Will I think of the irony of fate that had showed all of us its middle finger and slapped us across our faces? “Hahaha,” fate is laughing. Or is it some frighteningly cynical god? “You believed America was different? You believed that what had happened in your poor little country could never happen here? You believed that you had saved yourselves, that you had escaped war, injustice, bigotry, primitivism and violence? You believed (because you had read it somewhere) that America didn’t elect fascists? You were wrong. There is no refuge; there is no salvation. Everything is the same everywhere: stupidity and hate always win in the end”, says the cynical god and adds: “Still, I am disappointed in you. You did not understand anything from your own example, from the pathetic example of your own little peripatetic life that had carried you across the world like a leaf in the wind.”
With his thin, long finger pointed into our face, this god continues scolding us: “Wasn’t it you that had said we were all equal, that the world was one, that everything that was happening to anybody was happening to all of us, that the categories of “us” and “them” don’t’ even exist, since we were all “us?” Yes, I remember you blabbering something like that from your superior, liberal, righteous position. How then could you even think that there would be more reason, more wisdom, more sensitivity for those who pray to a different god, or – god forbid – those who have darker skin, or – god forbid even more – those who dare to love someone of their own gender? It’s your fault that you were blind, that you were deaf for everything that is not you. It’s your fault, now and in the past, during that little dirty war of yours, that you could never see anything, notice anything, or understand anything. That you didn’t have any idea about where you lived and among what kind of people you lived. At that time as well, some 25 years ago”, the god continues maliciously, “you were similarly shocked and disgusted. And, just like now, you were constantly repeating: “How is this possible?” Remember that, why don’t you?” the cynical god finishes his tirade triumphantly.
And we do remember. Is it about our own stupidity in the end? Is it about not being able to see what is obvious? Is it that we just cannot accept that the world is irreversibly divided into “us” and “them”? And that this division is neither ethnic, nor racial, neither sexual, nor – I would even say – political? What then does divide those two incompatible worlds? The books that we have read and they haven’t? There are some very well educated fascists after all. What is it then?
I don’t know.
But I know that I was blind and deaf to the so-called pulse of the world, both in “our” (not mine for sure!) war and now, in America. In both cases I couldn’t even fathom that the worst nightmare would become reality. As Aleksandar Hemon had written so well: “We could not imagine what was already happening.”
And that’s why we have been punished. The orange monster has come to warn us of our blindness. It has come to tell us we had been trying in vain all these years. It has come to hand us the final verdict: all the values you believed in are gone, just like those sculptures in Palmyra. This is now a different, “brave new world” (I wonder what Huxley would say about this? Or Orwell?); this is the world run by different rules. The bully rules.
No, I’m not that stupid (although I am stupid) and that naïve (although I am naïve) that I don’t know that those values and those ideals we had fought for, each of us in their own way, those values around which we had built our lives, that those values were often (too often) absent from the politics of the noble man who is now stepping down from the stage. The cynics will say: “It’s all the same anyway. Now the essence is bare and we can finally see its hollow inside; we have lifted the curtain covering Oz and now we can finally see, just like Dorothy did, that there is nothing inside. And this is all good. It’s healthy. The dissolution of the system is in fact a chance to build something new.”
But I don’t agree with the cynics. I think symbols are important. And if the president of America is the symbol of the idea of America, then I ask myself: what had happened to that idea?
The death of an idea is like the death of a human being. Irreversible. Unbearably sad.
And here, before our very eyes, an idea had just died: the idea of America as the land of freedom and equality. The idea of a country that wants to think of itself as “the land of the free, the home of the brave”. The idea of a country whose constitution says that “all men are created equal”. (My fellow cynics, are you laughing? I know what you will say: that those men who had written those words had been slave owners themselves. Yes, I say to that, they were indeed. But they had put those glorious ideas on paper and those ideas – accompanied, I must add, by a bloody civil war! – had finally succeeded in abolishing slavery.)
What had died now is the idea of a world that could maybe organize itself differently, so that we don’t rush into a new slavery marked by open racism. And that we don’t destroy our beautiful planet that we seem to be punishing with unimaginable cruelty – for what sin exactly? I guess for its infinite patience with us, criminals.
So, here it is, I can see a clear picture before me: the biggest gorilla (I apologize to gorillas, those beautiful creatures I deeply respect), sitting on the biggest heap of money, living in the biggest golden castle, is hitting his hairy chest with his big fists, screaming: “This is my world! Die all you sensitive sissies! A new age is coming. Those with no money should just die. So should all those who are different. Only the first ones will survive. The second, the third, the tenth – death to all of them! I don’t care about anyone’s suffering. I’ll take everything for myself. Everything. Only for myself.”
I realize: I need the idea of America intact. I can’t live without it. That idea, if not America itself, used to be our refuge, our hope, our stronghold. Perhaps our last illusion.
And that’s why I know what I’ll do when I pass by the new orange photo. I won’t look at it. I’ll bow my head and pass by it. I’ll mind my own business. With Voltaire on my mind, I’ll start tending to my garden. And I’ll say to myself: “This too will pass.” As does everything.
This is what we know and the orange being doesn’t. Unlike us, he probably hasn’t read Voltaire (is this our advantage or our disadvantage?) We will withdraw into some distant tower and there, humbly and patiently, we will copy and illuminate manuscripts, trying to preserve them for some different times. Just like the Irish priests in Middle Ages, we will try to preserve something of our world for some distant future that will, maybe, maybe, maybe, come one day.