In the year 2000, I had, ahead of me, a great transition. I was transitioning from Dhaka, an increasingly busy city with palpable growth aspirations, to Dartmouth College, a 256-acre rural college campus, hours from any urban life.
I was transitioning from a homogenous Bengali Muslim society to a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant environment, unerringly elite, and possibly, equally homogenous.
I was transitioning from religiously conservative surroundings to a thriving Greek scene, in which the idea of fun revolved around fraternities and sororities.
And last but not least, I was transitioning from the relative leisure of British A' Levels to a hectic quarter-based academic environment, midterms every three weeks, and IVY League rat race.
Clearly, there were areas of culture shock. One more aspect of the culture shock revolved around the politicisation of campus life. The shock lay not in the fact that most, if not all my friends, had strong, often visceral, differences in world views and to a degree, values.
The shock lay in the fact that many held values that were either exclusively representative of the Democratic Party viewpoints, or equally representative of the Republicans, without a dash of gray or an overlap. The binary was not just surprising but bewildering.
For instance, I had a friend, Bruce (name changed), who believed that poor people had only themselves to blame for their plight, and deserved no subsidies, hand-outs, or favourable policies. It did not matter whether they were the American poor, or the hard-core poor in Bangladesh. He also believed that climate change was a liberal conspiracy; abortion was evil; as was homosexuality; Muslims; and taxes for the rich. He was also pro-Iraq-war. Quite cookie-cutter.
Meanwhile, another friend, Peter, advocated for minority rights; was pro-choice; pro-environment; pro-taxes; pro-Palestinian; pro-Muslim and every other minority in America; and anti-war. Equally cookie-cutter.
This binary held true not only for Bruce and Peter, but many well-schooled, well-heeled Americans I would meet on other campuses, in conferences, or in social events.
Over the last twenty years, as I have kept up with Americana, worked with Americans, and of course, continued to sustain a keen interest in American politics; I have watched this binary degenerate into volcanic fault lines in the American body politic. This volcano has, of course, erupted several times during the Trump Presidency.
Yes, you could argue that Donald Trump was the architect of said volcanic events, but I would argue that Trump is a product of the times. The fact that we are witness to a moment in which the sacred seat of American government can be besieged by rioters, much like what happens in the Banana Republics that Americans have long derided, is not the work of Trump alone, if you ask me, but a result of a long history of politicisation of values, media, and Americana at large.
In a Pew study, American respondents were asked about the use of, trust in, and distrust of 30 different mainstream news sources. Interestingly, more Republicans express distrust than trust in 20 of the 30 mainstream sources. Republicans express trust more than distrust in only seven of 30 outlets, including the Fox News and radio programs of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. The findings are exactly the opposite for Democrats.
Recent events, the tragedy for the families of those who lost loved ones, or the punitive measures being meted out, may or may not speak to the conscience of those who rioted, and others who would, if they could, against the purported sweeping liberal conspiracy.
Therefore, I do not think that Joe Biden will have an easy Presidency. I think he will be met with non-cooperation of biblical proportions, no pun intended.
Some of my academician friends posit that we are witnessing collective insecurities of a great power in decline, so these events are par for the course. They lament the weaponisation of the binary in the American body politic. They also lament the significant degradation of the moral authority of America.
I lament the same, to be honest. But above all, I worry about the lawlessness that has surfaced, given I have two brothers and a sister and her family who live in D.C., close to the Capitol Building. For my family and for all well-meaning Americans all over the world, I hope the inquiry behind recent events is not short-changed by the need to "heal" or "build bridges," and recent events serve as a wake-up call to the need for more balanced approaches to lawlessness, violence, and ideologies that stem them.
Sajid Amit is Associate Professor, ULAB, and Richard Hofstadter Faculty Fellow, Columbia University, 2005-2007, and Vivian B. Allen Foundation Scholar, Dartmouth College, 2000-2004.