After a 14-hour flight, we landed in LAX airport. We stood in line for two hours awaiting stamping our passports. A man behind us protested the long wait. Half an hour later as the line stood still, he politely repeated his protest to the same official passing by. “I’ll send you back to where you came from if you don’t shut up”. The man looked White European and, from his accent, he seemed to be French. The official was not white American.
A few years ago, Adam Ereli- Former Assistant under-Secretary of the State in the US- came to my “deewanyah” for a visit. I complained to him about how rude the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff are in most US airports. His comment: “They are rude to me too!”
I have known America for well over forty years. I studied there and have wonderful friends and great university memories. In fact, hardly a year passes by without visiting the US as a tourist or as a participant in an academic or a political conference. Sadly, year after year, I have watched the America that I know fade away.
The political atmosphere is so intense as the nation is divided between two irreconcilable teams. One feels and listens to the deep schism in the media, talk-shows, debates, and political dialogues. Even in the social gatherings, one often hears: “I don’t want talk politics, cause I don’t want no troubles!”
The divide is even deeper these days as the FBI raided the house of former President Donald Trump in Mar-A-Lago, Florida. The search warrant issued by a federal judge was to look for extremely sensitive documents which Trump “unlawfully” took with him before leaving the White House in January of 2020. Supporters of Trump view this search as a conspiracy to prosecute him hence to prevent him from running for president again come the year 2024. The anti-Trump block sees the search as a simple implementation of the law which no one is above. Some observers think that pressing charges against Trump could lead to troubles and even bloody confrontations. They see threats against the FBI and instigating violence by extreme right wingers as proof for their pessimistic expectations.
Many don’t foresee the two political teams coming to a compromise ever. On the one hand, there is a right-wing, conservative, traditional and highly capitalistic block. On the other, there is a liberal, leftist and somehow socialist team. Tens of matters cause the rift between the two. Thus, abortion, gun-control, gay marriage and immigration to name just a few. Foreign policy is hardly an issue of divide amongst Americans.
Ethnic grouping is much clearer than what it was in the past. Police brutality is captured by video recording on mobile phones constantly. This week, a horrifying video of three policemen kneeing and punching a defendant on the ground with no real threat to the cops. No riots or even demonstrations erupted in light of the release of the video as the defendant was white yet his human rights were violated.
Another video was recorded and released of a black and pregnant mother who was hand-cuffed and yelled at in front of her three children for a minor traffic violation.
Mass shootings are on the rise, in addition to a new phenomenon of looting of shops by mobs of young people in broad daylight. The media refers to this novel wave of lawlessness as a “take over!”
American prisons are densely populated with over two million inmates representing the fifth of all prisoners in the world. Even outnumbering the prisoners in China which has one and a half million prisoners but with a population of a billion and a quarter of a trillion people. Blacks constitute 40 percent of the prison population, whereas their number is merely 14 percent of the total population of the United States of America.
I do have and will always have a feeling of gratitude to the US for the quality education which I received there. My generation and I will never forget the decisive military role the US played in the liberation of my country- Kuwait- from the Iraqi occupation back in 1990. I still think that America is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a wide diversification of landscapes and climates. I still find long road-trips in the US a unique thrill. Nevertheless, I think that the America that I knew as a young man is long gone.
I stopped in a rest area. “Perhaps America has not really changed much,” I thought to myself. “Perhaps you’ve gotten old, and you’re beginning to see things with a different perspective.”
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Independent Arabia.