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I entered the United States last week to join my family who decided to spend their Easter holiday in Quantico Triangle, Virginia Marine Corps Base, just nestled outside Washington, D.C. Quantico, a town in Prince William County, is bordered on three sides by the marine base and on the fourth by Potomac River. The military base that surrounds Quantico is said to have kept it from growing. Yet, it remains its primary economic driver. It is ironic that Virginia, which prides itself as the City for Lovers, is best defined by Quantico, the town that got swallowed by a military base. The cohabitation between this famed love and the military installations approximates to the relationship between the beautiful and the bestial. But that is hardly the issue before us.
What seems to have captured my attention in the course of this short holiday in the United States, and for which I have written this article, is the interest the Trump presidency is currently generating among Americans. From the hoopla over travel restrictions on nationals of certain countries, the ongoing military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to the muscle-flexing between the United States and North Korea, Americans are taking a keen interest in how Donald Trump, their tempestuous president, will navigate through these waters of controversy and belligerence.
In the week just gone by, Trump ordered the US military to bomb ISIS locations in Eastern Afghanistan. The operation called “mother of all bombs” left some 94 ISIS fighters dead. Trump, we are told, is also planning to deploy ground troops in his bid to heighten the offensive against ISIS. While this is going on, the United States is heading for a collision course with North Korea over the latter’s decision to carry out its 6th nuclear test. Trump is threatening action against the Koreans over this. North Korea has since thundered back. It has warned that it would reply “mercilessly” if it is provoked by the U.S.
These scenarios are creating tensions in the United States. Opinion polls conducted by certain organisations in the country indicate that most Americans are against Trump on foreign issues. But the Trump presidency is pushing ahead with its policies because, according to the White House, the Trump doctrine is “America First”. This doctrine, from what we know and can see, is facing a lot of hangups. The Executive Order, which seeks to ban or, at least, restrict citizens of certain countries from entering the United States is being repudiated and challenged. A number of lawsuits are trailing the order and Trump is obviously hamstrung by it all.
The travel ban is, truly, a major sore point of the Trump presidency. It had and is still having major reverberations in the Muslim world. Even a country like Nigeria, which was, in no way, mentioned in the Executive Order wanted to drag itself into the mix because of the scare-mongering disposition of its people. Since we, Nigerians, enjoy putting ourselves into the centre of everything, even when they have little or nothing to do with us, we exaggerated the so-called travel ban. We blew it out of proportion and made it our affair. It got so messy to the extent that government officials began to talk at cross purposes. The presidential adviser on foreign and diaspora matters, in a clear act of diplomatic faux pas, issued a travel advisory without clearance from the foreign ministry. She asked Nigerians to shun the United States if they had nothing compelling to do there. The advisory caused uproar in many circles. Some families and individuals, who had planned to travel to the United States developed cold feet. They did not know what to do anymore. Will they be turned back at entry points to the United States if they ignored the advisory and followed their instincts? There was really no reason for that frenzy. Nigeria was never on the list of countries listed in Trump’s executive order. But the advisory had polluted the air. Not even the disclaimer from the foreign ministry could douse the tension and anxiety it created among many Nigerians that planned to travel to America. That is the way we are as a people. We have a penchant for putting ourselves at the centre of every issue imaginable.
I have been a regular visitor to the United States for nearly two decades now. In all those years, it never bothered me how US immigration officials admitted visitors to their country. Even in 2005 when a colleague, who travelled with me from Nigeria was quarantined for upwards of two hours at Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. before he was cleared, I never had cause to raise questions. My attitude to such developments was that the officials of Homeland Security always have their reasons. I do not think anything has changed in spite of the frenzy and anxiety with which we are approaching Trump’s executive order. Nigerians should learn not to cry more than the bereaved. Americans are at the centre of Trump’s policies, whether pleasant or not. They, not Nigerians, should be the ones to lose sleep over Trump’s missteps. And in line with that, Americans, in the last few weeks, have devoted more than enough time and space in reviewing the Trump presidency. My interactions with those that I have encountered in Washington D.C. reveals that there is a growing antipathy against Trump among Americans. Many have had to openly explain why Hillary Clinton was not elected president. There are two broad positions here. One says that Hillary did not represent the change that Americans wanted. Her close association with the old order worked against her. Trump, they said, cashed in seriously on this Clinton disability. That was why he was always appealing to the ordinary folks of the American society. Trump was said to have read their psychology so well that he always knew what would appeal to their ears and he told them that. Then, there are those who say that Hillary had a lot of baggage to contend with. They said she was not a straight character. Such people, therefore, thought that it would be too much for Americans to combine Bill’s baggage as president of the the United States with that of his wife, who was also aspiring to become the president.
Whatever the situation, Americans are not running away from the fact that they infested themselves with the Trump disease. But they are not planning to be stuck to it helplessly. That is why they have embarked on a review. They are taking a serious interest in the role Russia allegedly played in the emergence of Trump as US president. They are asking all the necessary questions with a view to knowing where the rain began to beat them. Those who appreciate the serious-mindedness of American people believe that nothing will be swept under the carpet.
In the face of all this, many an American believe that president Trump’s rhetoric is escalating tensions. They wonder why Trump is indulging in Afghanistanism when there are domestic issues to deal with. They argue that the president has not yet come clean on the allegations of Russia’s involvement in his election. They also point to the fact that he has refused to file his tax returns as required by law. With these sticky issues trailing Trump, Americans are questioning his doctrine of “America First.” No doubt, America as the world’s watch dog wants to be seen to be at the commanding height of world affairs. But that, they say, is not what Trump is doing. Their president, they suspect, is merely diverting attention to foreign issues in order to cover up for his inadequacies at home. They are rejecting this in its entirety and are insisting that Trump must look homewards if he wants to survive the storm. By the time all of this comes to a head, the world will know whether the Trump doctrine is working or not.