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Dear President Trump,
I am an Indian living in China. Along with the rest of the world, I have watched, with great interest and greater entertainment, your ascendancy to the most powerful job in the world. No stranger to Indian campaign rhetoric, I laughed away your blustering as just that. Unfortunately, you proved me wrong. You were serious. Unfortunately too, the entertainment has entered its diminishing marginal returns and the implications of your ideology are no longer a laughing matter.
More than a decade ago, newly arrived in China, I fell into a conversation with an older Chinese lady. I was possibly the first foreigner she’d been in close, extended contact with. “The Chinese are the greatest people in the world!” she asserted with the full confidence of one with thousands of years of historical evidence behind her.
Now, Indians trace their cultural memory farther back than any Chinese possibly can — we do have our ancient mythology to bolster us, after all. “Well, Indians think the same thing about themselves,” I offered as counterpoint. She resisted, the idea as blasphemous as Theism can be to an atheist.
Years went by and we grew closer. She gave my infant the love of a grandmother, even though we shared no biological cord. She gave me the counsel of the old — buzurg, we call them in India. A buzurg bears the label of age but the burden of the wise. A buzurg is respected in India for his/her life experiences that we youngsters can learn from by maintaining proximity with them — the assumption being that he/she lived a life well led. I learnt a lot about good parenting and the dignity of the old from that lady.
In return, I like to think our conversations opened her mind beyond the Chinese perspective, for a few years later, in a conversation we agreed how all this talk of greatness is essentially meaningless. Which bring me back to your ascendancy, President Trump.
You claim to want to make America great. Nothing wrong with that. That’s what leaders at all levels are supposed to do — make their family/community/company/country great. Here’s the catch though — we ALL think we are great. Every living human being believes there is none as great as him/her. By extension, EVERY society believes that about themselves too — and with good reason. The Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Thai, Polish, Russians, French, Greek, Italians, Germans, Iranians, Iraqis, Turks, Egyptians, Ghanians, Ethopians, Malians, Central and South Americans. Heck, even the badly trodden upon Afghans! The list is endless.
Perhaps its nature’s sense of humour — Lady Luck plays civilisational roulette — but almost everyone seems to get their chance at the table at some time. The last few decades have been America’s turn. While you throw the civilisational dice that are in your hands currently, I hope you will also keep in mind the state your actions will leave the world in. After all, aren't great leaders ultimately measured by the legacy they leave behind?
This is what it boils down to, really. You want to make your country great again. So do other governments. Yet, in the end, what are we but humans with the dice temporarily in our hand?