Remembering ‘The Selfish Giant’

by Gautam Raja

The television was on in the living room of a comfortable home on a recent rainy day in Southern California. As we walked in, the woman of the house looked at the images of the Trump family live at the Presidential inauguration. “Finally, a first family we can look up to,” she said.

I was shocked. I had to go back and replay her statement in my head to confirm what I’d just heard. Now, I can work hard to understand why you may not like Obama’s policies, his politics, or even him as a person, but when it comes to your inability to look up to his wonderful family, I’m puzzled. How is Trump’s family more worthy of your respect? Oh wait, don’t answer–let me just give you a tight-lipped smile, be professional, and get out of here as soon as I can.

The day after the inauguration was one of my lowest in recent memory. While one of the big women’s marches was taking place not 20 miles away, I was among Trump supporters who thought the marches were “stupid”, and the marchers “morons”. As I heard some of the arguments against the march, I felt less angry, and more deeply sad. “Why are these women marching?” asked somebody. “Are they not treated equally in this country?”

I understand that some people think Trump will be good for business, but now, it seemed, this argument was a pre-election cover for agreeing with his other viewpoints too.

“How do you explain the danger of institutional sexism or racism to people who think that the opposition to Trump’s misogyny is personal, like if you ran into him in a lift?” lamented a friend to me on Whatsapp. Another friend was almost annoyingly rational.

“You need to lower your expectations of people,” he said, when I complained to him about some of the pro-Trump arguments I’d heard.

Though potentially patronising in its application, it was good advice. After all, I have no context for the other point of view. I come from a world where people are truly shocked that I actually know Trump supporters, “that too in California”.

“I don’t know anyone who supports that man,” said my mother who lives in India, and for that bit of news, I was grateful.

In my lowering of expectations of other people, I’m still not able to reconcile the woman in the house, nor her husband who chortled about “throwing out the illegals”. Trump’s family decidedly does not fit a conservative ideal the way Obama’s does. There can be no other reason for this person to not be able to look up to the Obama first family, other than that they are black.

I felt disgusted in her presence, but so far, her racism could only be inferred. I’m not sure if I can claim her house to be a hostile work environment and refuse to go back. Today, as I write this, news of Trump’s wall is across the front page. I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s selfish giant, who builds a wall to keep children out of his beautiful garden, only to bring on a perpetual winter. Spring returns when the children sneak in again through a hole in the wall, causing the giant to see the error of his ways, and tear down the boundary. The garden was so much more beautiful and meaningful when it was a part of the larger world, and not an enclave unto itself. The fact that this argument even has to be made today seems like a fairy tale in itself.

First published in Gulf News, January 31, 2017