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  Opinion   Oped  25 Jul 2019  Global crisis of identity, allegiances is growing; not just in US & India

Global crisis of identity, allegiances is growing; not just in US & India

The writer is former lieutenant-governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry
Published : Jul 25, 2019, 12:22 am IST
Updated : Jul 25, 2019, 12:22 am IST

Trump’s no-holds-barred vitriol was so bitter that even members of his Republican Party were forced to take contrarian positions.

US President Donald Trump  (Photo:AP)
 US President Donald Trump (Photo:AP)

There is a global crisis of identity assertion, discrimination and aspersions that are redefining notions of nationalism and allegiances. It is particularly visible in countries with a heterogeneous populace and democratic frameworks, with the question of allegiance getting posited at specific “identity-types” that could be based on religion, ethnicity, region or in the case of India, even casteist denominations. These questions of allegiance are beyond the issues of legality, as deliberately stoked perceptions are recklessly invoked in order to question the allegiance of even those who have legitimately, and in full conformity of their constitutional requirements, been bestowed the citizenship of the country. The President of the United States, Donald Trump, personifies this wave of discrimination amongst his citizenry, whilst pandering to his personal style of politics (often beyond the remit of his Republican Party positions).

Ironically, the US is a nation that is almost wholly composed of “immigrants”, with the minority native Americans historically discriminated against by these “immigrants”. Today, the term “immigrant” has acquired a distinct identity of colour, ethnicity or religion that is more forgiving towards a certain “type”, while still very discriminatory towards another “type”, even with the same sets of legal documentation to certify their citizenship. The racist and supremacist undertones in the ongoing narrative of targeting only a certain “type” are unmistakable in Mr Trump’s rants and aspersions. His personal classification of people overlooks the fact that the “immigrants” are either born American, or have sworn a common naturalisation oath that states, “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Interestingly, the man at the centre of anti-immigrant sentiment has his own wife, Melania, obtain her US citizenship through questionable means. Melania Trump became a citizen in 2006, under the EB-1 — popularly known as the “Einstein Category”, that is theoretically reserved for super-achievers like Olympic, Oscar, Pulitzer winners, etc, who have attained “extraordinary ability”! Clearly, the successful model from Slovenia whose biggest claim to fame in the early 2000s was the fact that she was dating businessman Donald Trump would have logically struggled to showcase her achievements as having “sustained national and international acclaim”. Perhaps her Caucasian-European origins help her in avoiding the sort of taints that are typically afforded on other “immigrants” of a different “type”, even if they happen to be elected to the US House of Representatives!

In an unprecedented low by Mr Trump’s standards, the US President brazenly and racially attacked four Congresswomen of colour — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley. In a clear case of the “us”-versus-“them” narrative, he pejoratively alluded to the specificities of their origin by tweeting, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”. Whereas, in the case of the hijab-wearing representative from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, he outrageously and falsely accused her of being an Al Qaeda sympathiser. Ms Omar’s Somali origins, colour, religion and perhaps her stated positions (on immigration, Israel and Mr Trump, himself) were reasons enough for Mr Trump to attack Ms Omar personally, even as she has secured the largest percentage of the vote of any female candidate for US House in state history. In a carefully orchestrated move that was designed to strengthen his own base amongst his core constituency, albeit, at the cost of divisive politics, Mr Trump struck at the struggling Democrats with the weapon of manufactured fears and outrage.

Mr Trump’s no-holds-barred vitriol was so bitter that even members of his Republican Party were forced to take contrarian positions. The Republican representative from Ohio did some plainspeak and noted that the presidential tweets “were racist and he should apologise”. It was almost a flashback to the handling of the warrior-statesman and Republican senator John McCain’s passing away ceremony, where a bipartisan dignity, solemnity and grace was maintained in the remembrance by representatives across party lines, leaving Mr Trump to look petty and isolated, with his undignified sulk.

This latest diatribe is both “un-presidential” and “un-American” in that it militates against the constitutional spirit as enshrined under the First Amendment that ensures freedoms, rights and guarantees for all citizens, without favour or discrimination. However, Mr Trump has not shied away from taking extreme positions that are routinely xenophobic and unconscionable, as the ace practitioner of “fear” has realised its potency in the electoral gambit. Mr Trump’s whimsical harangue spares no one, neither friends nor the ostensible allies — as supposedly “friendly” countries like Canada, the UK, India, etc face the wrath of Mr Trump’s tirade of falsities and empty posturing. The question of allegiance afflicts all those who disagree with Mr Trump’s individual positions, be it the citizens of the US itself, or the ostensible allies of the US. The uber-nationalistic underpinning of Mr Trump’s “America First” is manifesting in a carefully manufactured drama that divides and weakens the proudly multicultural society of the US, to the immediate advantage of Mr Trump. Questioning the allegiance of a person, or that of a specific denomination of society, is the most powerful, regressive and distractive means of galvanising negative emotions for electoral gratification. Sadly, this is a global phenomenon that goes against the grain of celebrating multiculturalism in the so-called “free world”. Seemingly, the levers and necessities of participative democracy metamorphose in retrograding the natural evolution and progress of civil society.

Tags: donald trump, global crisis