We landed in Oaxaca Mexico last evening and checked into our hotel, the Hotel Boutique de la Parra. It was 9:00 pm. The shops were closing. The town seemed very quiet. Especially when going to a hotel in a part of a foreign country where we had not been before, we entered our accommodation with a small degree of fear and trepidation. Located in what was clearly an old part of town, the entrance was totally non-descript. So was the lobby for that matter – more a wide hall with an old very large wood desk-table at one end with large round unadorned legs above which were intricately carved side bracing boards. The desk had a full glass top.
Underneath the glass was what must have been an old colonial door with about 40 (4×10) recessed panels. Each panel was bordered with a line of brass semi-circles, some broken off. The panels were surrounded on each raised side with a brass knob, about the size of a loonie, with a raised centre backed by a serrated brass washer. Given my obsession with counting, I estimated there were 206 of them.
A very modest and quiet desk clerk checked us in and we were led by a young, indigenous porter through a very wide corridor passing beside a large central courtyard with tables and chairs. The very end of the hall veered to the left. When we came down for a late bite to eat, and checked out the rest of the corridor, it opened into another even larger courtyard, this time with an expansive swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs.
At the time, though, instead of continuing along the corridor, we went up a very broad semi-circular stone staircase with an iron guardrail topped by a darkened wooden handrail. We turned back along another very wide hall with a Mexican tile floor, at least 14” high ceilings braced by rows of wooden beams. At the end of the hall, which I estimated to be above the check-in desk, were large wooden double doors ahead of us and an equally large single wood door on our right. The latter led to our room. The hotel was laterally expansive as were the halls and staircase. But so too was the room. It was divided into two sections, one with two large ornate wooden beds and the second section, a quasi-sitting area with a desk and free standing large wooden wardrobe and a buffet table. To the left was a very large bathroom with a huge tub-shower with the grouting around the tub obviously redone a number of times.
Though old, the place was absolutely charming. And spotlessly clean. We washed up a bit and went out for an evening walk. When we landed, the pilot announced that the temperature was 78 degrees Fahrenheit (we flew in on United Airlines), but the temperature had dropped considerably and the air was fresh and cool. A restaurant had been recommended by our driver, Origen, just around the back of the hotel. We went all around the large block and could not find it. We asked a policeman and several waiters in restaurants off the main piazza behind the hotel. No one seemed to have heard of it and we did not think any of the waiters were lying so that we would eat at their place.
We settled for a large restaurant with an outdoor patio facing the square. There were plenty of street vendors and too many beggars who came up to our table so that, after we gave change to the first two, one a very old woman, we were polite but cold to the rest and simply said “Gracias, no.” Not untypically, we did not want to be pestered when we were tired and were just looking for bite to eat in a quiet spot. Not wanting to be pestered, regarding others as pests, is in itself a derogatory approach rationalized by our own self-absorption.
The food was disappointing, but we were not surprised as everywhere we go when we eat in a large tourist restaurant, the meals are rarely good. But what made it worse, on our way back to our hotel, we passed a darkened open doorway and noticed a small sign, Origen. The dark corridor off this small unnoticed restaurant would, we were sure, have led us to a place with excellent food. C’est la vie.
As we have come to expect over the last few years, the Mexicans we met were always polite and courteous, some very upbeat and others quiet and modest. They are extremely pleasant and attentive hosts. And I could not help but recall what Donald Trump said of Mexicans when he announced his presidency in the atrium of Trump Tower in June of 2016.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
“In my opinion, the new China, believe it or not, in terms of trade, is Mexico.”
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
So goes the fevered and incoherent and unsubstantiated ravings of The Donald. One of my readers is obsessed by my obsession with Donald Trump. Let me explain that obsession by the title of this blog. Kinyarwanda is the language of Rwanda and Burundi. When I and a Norwegian co-investigator were asked by an international consortium of states and international organizations to investigate the non-action by other states and their failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide, one of the first terms in Kinyarwanda we learned was inyenzi, meaning cockroach. This was the term used by the Hutu extremists in Rwanda to depict the Tutsi who were their targets when they slaughtered 800,000 in a matter of ten weeks in what was the fastest genocide in history. Insect terms are used to depict the Other who are imagined as rising up in huge numbers and threatening your society.
In my studies of genocide, I determined that there were four different levels of regarding the Other before reaching the stage where one group tried to exterminate them. First, they had to be regarded as Other, that is, as a group totally distinct from one’s own. Second, they then had to be relegated to an Inferior Other. Third, they became classified as a threatening Other. Fourth, they had to be classified as a group that threatened you so much that you had to push them away from where you lived, in what came to be known as ethnic cleansing.
Only when a group decided that the last option was not feasible or that such a decision would only come back to haunt them later, did they decide on extermination of the Other. This was the process that the Akazu, Hutu Power, the small group of 400 Hutu who led the genocide, went through in deciding on a plan of genocidal action against the Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda. The issue for me is not simply racism, but the early warning of possible genocide. That may seem extreme, but I only ask that you hear me out.
In a rambling incoherent speech describing America as a victim – of China and of Japan for example – he said the following: “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.” Look at the language – “beating us,” “killing us.” Look at the order of the remarks. They are beating and killing us at the border and then, also, economically.
To repeat: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Mexicans are Other. Mexicans are inferior Others. Mexicans are threatening Others – rapists, criminals. “Some, I assume, may be good.” But the rest, the overwhelming rest, particularly those who arrive at American borders, are a threat and their entry must be prevented. Ethnic exclusion should be an American policy when it comes to Mexicans trying to cross the border. Not quite genocide. But only a stage or two less.
After numerous lies, misrepresentations and gross distortions, Trump said, “Now, our country needs— our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal,” which, of course he never wrote. It was written by a ghost writer, Tony Schwartz.
One of the most important reasons Americans needed a great leader was the threat of the inyenzi. They could have called a Tutsi utu-akamonya (flying winged red ant) or imi-umuswa or aukinga (locust) or ama-ijeri (grasshopper), but Hutu extremists wanted to associate Tutsi with filth as well as danger. On 16 May 2018, when Trump once again renewed harsh rhetoric to refer to the danger of irregular migration from the south, more specifically that time, Central Americans, he called the undocumented immigrants from south of the U.S. “animals.” Since Trump’s vocabulary is very limited, locusts might be a better term. Though it lacks an association with dirt and beastliness, “locust” has biblical overtones. A locust is defined as a specific species migratoria in the genus locusta of insect within the kingdom of animalia.
But it is not only their migratory characteristic that make Locusta Migratoria (Linnaeus 1758) the term appropriate to the way Trump characterizes these irregular migrants from the south, but the migratory locust is polyphenic. When the locusts stay home as solitary individuals, there is no evidence Trump fears them. Some of them may even be good. But when they leave their solitary phase, when they transition to a new polyphenic phase, they become gregarious, multiply rapidly and swarm. A gregarious adult locust is brownish.
They are highly mobile and fit Trump’s construction in his imagination, for rather than a caravan travelling from 15-20 km in a day, a flying locust covers than distance in an hour. More significant, compared to lice or flies, an adult locust consumes its own weight in fresh food each day and, for every million locusts, a ton of food is consumed per day. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said on 16 May 2016. These are, Trump said, “some of the most vicious and violent offenders on Earth, like MS-13 gang members putting innocent men, women, and children at the mercy of these sadistic criminals.” Anyone who helps them (like Hutu moderates) is guilty of “obstruction of justice.” Trump went on, “We have to break up families…It’s a horrible thing we have to break up families.”
Trump’s fears and fevered imagination grew by leaps and bounds, nano-times faster than the growth of the supposedly giant “horde” in the caravan of Central Americans accompanied by 32 UNHCR officials. Any journalist who went down to visit the caravans and saw mostly women and children simply did not know, according to Trump, that there were many criminals and even “unknown” Middle Easterners among them (read terrorists). Of course, border guards would not be able to tell the difference because the members of the swarm were all brown.
“Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy. [sic!] Must change laws!” (22 October 2018) Since the House of Representatives would not change the law to allow him to reach his goal of building a 2,000 mile wall, or even to fund 220 miles of unnecessary wall, Trump was willing to allow 800,000 American citizens suffer as most were furloughed or were not being paid. In addition, the president in mid-November ordered a massive military deployment to the Mexican border to stop the horde which had already diminished to less than 4,000.
It is important that the lies Trump tells be exposed. It is important that the nature of those lies rooted in a fearful imagination of the Other be exposed. It is important that his depiction of the Other be exposed. It is important that the danger of that depiction as it grows and develops be exposed. Trump must be exposed, not only as possibly guilty of collusion with the Russians, not only as guilty of obstruction of justice, not only as guilty of breaking the law, but also as a clear and present danger.”