Tanks rumbled past our house in the predawn haze. An armed soldier, visible only from the waist up, surveyed the road ahead from each turret. It was Thailand in 1986. A failed coup.
An army truck, the canvas flaps rolled up, slewed to a halt on the unpaved and muddy road at our neighbour’s locked gate. Armed soldiers burst past the terrified guard as he opened the gate. Screams reverberated around the compound and over the wall into ours. From my bedroom window I saw women, Cameroonians, slapped, pistol-whipped and man-handled into the truck. Money was exchanged and some were allowed to stay. It was Equatorial Guinea in 2004. A failed coup.
I have lived in countries where governments are corrupt. I have lived in despotic countries where, whether power has been taken violently or elections have been mired in irregularities, the leader has ‘a direct line to God’. I have never, thankfully, lived in a war-torn country.
Countries and cultures not my own have sometimes fascinated me, sometimes horrified me. But I have been able to compartmentalism the differences, without necessarily accepting them. In all the counties I have called home – twelve of them – I have prided myself on my ability to adapt to different environments, different political tenets, even when I might not have been entirely on board with those elected, freely. That’s okay. That’s democracy.
Relocating to America the first time in 1997, the year after Fox News came into being, I was struck by the intense political partisanship – there seemed to be no shades of grey, but there was still a civility. We lived in the suburbs, in a Republican stronghold and I learnt, mostly, to keep my opinions to myself. To respect the people around me who might not have had the same exposure to global cultures or customs, and therefore found it harder to understand those from different backgrounds. But I spoke differently and so, for the most part, I was accepted as a foreign liberal.
After a nearly three-year stint back in Africa, we returned to the United States and moved to a more flexible part of Houston – Downtown. In 2010 we shed our resident alien status to become US citizens. Texas has had a Republican governor the entire time I have lived here. There have though been both Republican and Democratic presidents. Some I have liked, and agreed with on both sides of the political spectrum. Some I have not. That’s okay. That’s democracy.
But the tenor has changed.
Until the week before the presidential election in 2016, I believed the American people would see through the bombast, the lies and complete lack of humility, and would reject the misogny and coarseness of a man attempting to become leader of the free world.
I was wrong. That’s okay. That’s democracy.
After the initial utter dismay, and after a dear friend pointed out I was in danger of becoming one of those people I despise – an intractable woman, I stopped myself swinging from stunned torpor to hysterical rantings, and prepared to give the new president the benefit of the doubt.
52 long days later wherein we have seen a rash of crass tweets, the clumsy roll-out of an ill-conceived immigration ban, a pathetic attempt to appease those wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act – an act everyone on both sides of the political divide agrees needs repair, the craven signing of the anti-abortion executive order, a lack of cohesive governance and the blatant mistrust of the security services, I say, in good Anglo-Saxon English, sod that. There are citizens who feel they have been given free reign on their behaviour. Who shout racial epithets before murdering an innocent Indian sitting at a bar. Whose Confederate flags flutter freely on the backroads. Who have the confidence to push through with seeming impunity laws against the LGBT community.
People in America are not mysteriously disappearing, never to be seen again, but there appears to be little room for dialogue or diplomacy. Any president who hamstrings the people working for him is a person only wishing to surround himself with sycophants. With serfs so wary of their own position they are not prepared to question the master. Those who do, are dismissed – Sally Yates and on Friday, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. An independent judiciary is obviously not high on our president’s list.
Neither is draining the swamp – that much touted praise. Washington is rich with millionaires new to government – with people singularly unable to understand, or who have forgotten, how a family struggles to put food on the table, struggles to get adequate healthcare, struggles with education. Washington is drowning in a mire of unelected nepotism – what was called in Papua New Guinea – the wantok system. That is not democracy.
There might not be tanks rolling past my front door, or thugs in uniform pistol-whipping my neighbours, but the current political climate in the United States is divisive, is unpleasant, is unwelcoming. We are a nation much of the world looks at with amazement, and fear, for all the wrong reasons.
Yet, We the People, elected this president so I guess it is democracy. And yes, in 52 days I have become that intractable woman.