“He packs up the teleprompters and the selfie-sticks and the Greek columns and all that hopey, changey stuff and he heads on back to Chicago…. There, he can finally look up… and there, over his head, he’ll be able to see that shining, towering, Trump Tower. Yes, Barack, he built that. And that says a lot,” said Sarah Palin in perhaps the most bizarre endorsement Donald Trump received last year.
Many of us laughed back then. We are not laughing now. I think she had a point there. That hopey, changey stuff doesn’t simply belong in today’s world. Only outrage, misplaced anger and unjustified sense of victimhood does.
Today we live in a world that has been ripped apart into two irreconcilable halves. They are calling it post-truth world. I prefer to call it post-hope world where nothing has actually changed, but your perception of it all forces you to think it has and hence gradually translates into reality. Consider the wholesale folding up of hope in past few years from the eyes of a Pakistani. Growing up we were told that India was this great big secular democracy and we were not. We inherited a system of governance from the UK and it was a multicultural, multiracial, tolerant democracy and we were not. How the US was the greatest cultural and economic magnet of all and best promise of hope.
Then teachers started developing problems. Our Indian teacher dug the deepest, darkest, stinkiest hole and threw itself in. Now the country is ruled by the most perverse arrangement that is neither secular nor much democratic and which dictates its terms through fear. It is an irreversible hostage crisis and beautiful Indian people are the hostage.
Britain. Beautiful Britain. The land of Big Ben, Beatles, Fish and Chips and Windsor Castle. Cradle of our democracy. It decided to break away from its European roots. Concern was that people from Eastern Europe steal their jobs. It is being speculated that the queen is ill and may not recover. To me she is the guardian of the post-war consensus. Now that the post-world-war consensus has evaporated, an embodiment of hope like her is bound to be sick.
And America. The land of opportunity, hope and immigrants is now wary of immigrants stealing the jobs there. The Eldorado. The Utopia for many of us, is tired of promising hope. And can you blame it? The way the world took it for granted in the past decade, should have told you this mood was overdue.
In fact, America is still not devoid of hope. If you have followed the confirmation hearings of Trump’s cabinet picks you would know that a deliberate effort is being made to preserve the middle ground. If truth be told I am sure America and Britain will find their way out of the woods. This is who they are. Their institutions evolved through centuries, owing to never-ending sacrifices made by great men and women. No mood can permanently wish that away. But that is not the point of this piece. It is about what I call the hope fatigue and how the world appears from the window of a Pakistani. Past 15 years bear testimony to Pakistan’s desire to remain within the fold of civilisation. It is the moral compass of the civilisation that keeps whirring around instead of pointing to true north as if it has been hit by an electromagnetic storm.
If truth be told, of the above-mentioned examples it is only India that worries me. And to an extent my own country. India, because it seems to have set itself on an irreversible path of retrogression. And Pakistan because its shaky progress is still reversible. In fact, seeing bad examples in the region and constant heckling by the world, one fears, can cause a relapse.
The last bit brings you back to the matter of hope because it affects you and me. In the past two decades I have made it my business to offer hope wherever possible. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. All in the love of this land. But the beloved seems incapable of loving back. Even today, after suffering so much at their hands it still keeps pining for its early flings with obscurantism, authoritarianism and elitism. Why should I, after reading every evil-beats-good story, tell you there is still hope. I am exhausted. I am sure my kind all over the world is.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2017.