Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sat, Sep 10th, 2016

What is Aleppo?

One would think that after the massive destruction of what was once the largest city in Syria for over four years, it would not have escaped the attention of a candidate running for president of the country which has contributed by its inaction to this atrocity. But this is the bevy of buffoons election cycle in which the Republicans have nominated a bankruptcy-prone, boggle-headed blowhard named Donald Trump, the Democrats a flawed establishment dynasty hanger-on called Hillary Clinton and the Libertarians a former governor named Gary Johnson, who when asked about the refugee crisis due to the war in Aleppo, asked “What is Aleppo?” 

It was not even “Where is Aleppo?” which would at least have revealed geographical ignorance, but “What is Aleppo?” Imagine candidate Dwight David Eisenhower in the early 50s asking a reporter “What is Hiroshima?” or Lyndon Baynes Johnson in 1964 asking “What is Saigon?” Since Gary Johnson is the former governor of New Mexico, I suspect he knows “what” the Alamo is in his neighboring state of Texas. Gary Johnson’s ignorance of the crisis in the Middle East is bad enough, but it is far less problematic than the incoherent ranting of Donald Trump that there should be a total ban on all Muslims entering the United States, that he can force Mexico to build a wall to keep out all those Mexican “rapists,” that Valdimir Putin is a stronger leader than Obama and the list of absurdities goes on.

For the record, the once magnificent city of Aleppo, with a historic suq, is now mostly a load of rubble as the forces of Syrian President Asad and a variety of rebel groups continue to create more destruction. Several hundred thousand residents of Aleppo and nearby villages have been forced to flee and many end up as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon or Europe. The situation in eastern Aleppo is especially dire, with up to 250,000 citizens trapped there. If Governor Johnson is as addicted to tweets as Donald Trump, someone needs to tweet him that “Aleppo is a humanitarian crisis that no one on earth should be ignorant of.”

Alexis de Toqueville, The French traveler visiting the young nation of the United States in 1831, wrote something that rings eerily true for the current election, and not just the current one. “I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run,” he wrote more than a century and a half ago. At the time the president was Andrew Jackson, arguably one of the worst and most bigoted that ever lived in the White House. He signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which led to the insidious “Trail of Tears.” The main source of Jackson’s wealth was from slavery, and he represented a pro-slavery party. I can only imagine what de Toqueville would say today about Trump, Clinton and Johnson.

I suspect the question that the world outside the United States is asking is “What is America?” Is it the ideal of a beacon of liberty, a nation built up by immigrants, including my Sicilian grandfather and my distant relatives who came to “New England” only a few decades after the Mayflower? Legally, America has only become the “land of the free” in stages. Slavery existed until 1863, women could not vote until 1920 and although Native Americans were granted the right to vote in 1924, it was not until 1948 that they could vote in Arizona. Meaningful civil rights was not passed until 1964. Despite these growing pains, the United States is still a great place to live. Despite all its flaws it is still far greater than anything in Donald Trump’s white-washed predatory vision of making American great again.

What is America? The upcoming November election will tell us which way the country is heading. Two terms of an African-American president and increasing rights for LGBT citizens bode well for a more tolerant future. If every American citizen actually turned out to vote, Trump would lose by a landslide. But the reality is that turnout of eligible voters in the last election was only 57.5%. There are less Republicans than Democrats, although there are now more registered Independents than for either of the two major political parties. But some elements of registered Democrats are less likely to show up and vote. The current trajectory of polls has showed a consistent lead for Clinton, whose high negative rating is still a bit better than Trump. But if you really want to know “What is America,” you need to wait until late evening on November 8.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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