So, to backtrack a little, it was hardly surprising that Trump had featured heavily in my conversations with friends during a recent trip to the US and Canada, ending just a day before he arrived in Britain. It was clear that to all our diasporic folk, his obsession with immigration, undisguised Islamophobia and other dismissive slants against certain foreigners, were a constant reminder of their second-class status, even in the leafy suburbs that I went to.
The contrast between the US and Canada was very obvious. In Toronto what I had noticed on previous visits was even more pronounced this time: the multi-cultural nature of Canadian society seemed well entrenched. The non-white presence is an accepted fact of life in Canada, where the national ethos is one of sharing their space and good fortune generally with newcomers who are welcomed and embraced, even to the discomfiture of some old-timers.
In the US however there is a culture of `me first`: a self-centric mentality that seeks to keep at bay those who do not look like one of their own. That is in effect what Trump is all about, judging by his pronouncements at various times both before and after he became President. But then he is a product of his north-west European ancestry and upbringing.
How is that germane to this discourse? Taking a long view, it is no exaggeration to say that towards the end of the 15th century, there began what soon turned into a massive movement of people across the oceans when the burgeoning populations, political and religious pressures and other factors in north-western Europe drove them to embark on a search for new lands. And so they came to the Americas, north and south, and later to Australia – at first to plead and negotiate with the native inhabitants of these places, then to fight, plunder, conquer, defeat and displace or push them outwards into reserves or other inhospitable environments to near extinction. In the process they created nation states out of these lands in their own image, thus to control who else might enter there and on what terms.
And the `me-first`, land-grabbing psychological make-up of northern Europeans was also an integral element in their empire building in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, propelled by an almost genetic predisposition to gobble up large bites of any cake, leaving only the crumbs for the rest of humanity.
And `the rest of humanity`? The Africans, the South Asians, the Chinese, the Japanese et al seemed content to stay put within their own domains, barely venturing out to settle in foreign lands, especially if it involved crossing the seas. It is true that within Asia, and across the Indian Ocean, there did exist trading routes and even pockets of resident merchants and the like in some countries along the way but they did not remain rooted there long enough to constitute a threat to the local populace as distinct minorities.
It was really not until the 19th century that large scale migration of Indians out of the sub-continent began to take shape under the aegis of the British Empire, after slavery was abolished in 1833. They were enticed or encouraged to go where they were needed to fill an economic or administrative vacuum at different levels and in various capacities. That is how Indian minority communities became established in East Africa and other parts of the former empire, to play an important role in their development. The Chinese, also, sailed across the Pacific to the west coast of America where they were recruited to work on railway and other infrastructural projects as indentured labour. Other nationalities too joined in the trail one way or another.
That was the broad state of affairs until decolonisation circa 1950. The point of all this is that at best non-white people have always featured as secondary players (as subjects or supplicants and on sufferance) in the global migration story of the last 5 to 6 centuries. Fast forward to the present then, notwithstanding the postcolonial arrival and settlement of large numbers of them in Europe, America and Australasia, the path to entry for more of them is now firmly restricted, with calls for even more stringent controls.
This is where Trump comes in. Despite his own immigrant family background, when he rails against immigrants he only of course means those of colour or supposedly lesser breeds. So he wants to keep them out. According to his supporters, his strictures are only aimed at illegal immigrants but the language and tone he employs to denigrate migrants in general obscures any such distinction.
In this context then, riding on the crest of a rapidly expanding wave of populist nationalism across both sides of the Atlantic, Trump has made the anti-immigrant rhetoric respectable and, as leader of the western alliance and of the most powerful country in the world, immigration a defining marker of our time. The danger is that he is fuelling a slow moving grassroots xenophobic fire that is steadily spreading across Europe; with a potential for a 1930s` style persecution of racial and ethnic minorities with dire consequences.
It is worth noting however that Mrs May`s response to his comments about immigration was to point out that `(t)he UK has a proud history of welcoming people who flee persecution or want to contribute to our economy and society` and that `(o)ver the years immigration has been good for the UK`, though it was important that `we have control over our borders and a set of rules to determine` who can come into the country. The crux of the matter lies in that qualification. Britain could not possibly have coped with huge numbers of migrants who poured into mainland Europe during 2015/6 without altering the delicate balance in the relationship between the host and the migrant populations, nor can it ever.
But, like it or not, there is a grain of truth in Trump`s statement about immigration having harmed the cultural fabric of Europe. The evidence is plain. For some 500 years from the end of the 15th century, Europe was in the business of exporting its surplus population. In the short span of the last seven decades or so, however, it has found itself at the receiving end of a sustained and seemingly unending trans-global migration trajectory. This has profoundly affected its character. In the eyes of the indigenous Europeans, a vastly different and varied mix of people from across the world are presenting all manner of problems and challenges to the established social and political order. From a historical perspective, even the Moorish invasion of Andalusia and the extension of Ottoman rule over parts of central Europe, both of which lasted several centuries, did not alter the basic colour complexion of the continent, which is now seen as visibly changing, complicated by the spread of Islamic influences on the body politic. In short, we are witnessing a collective, and pre-emptive, form of resistance and reaction to a rapidly changing demographic scenario on either side of the Atlantic, where the dominance of the white race is being undermined by new arrivals.
What is lacking in Trump`s tirades against immigration however is his failure to mention the underlying causes of the migration flow from the third world to the first. He ignores the fact that US and its allies` past and contemporary foreign policies, military interventions abroad and exploitation of natural resources overseas are a major contributing factor in this process and that one sure way of reversing the human traffic is to improve the conditions and quality of life of people on the move. Now that is a tall order indeed, requiring a range of bold initiatives, such as ceasing to prop up corrupt regimes and promoting good governance and extensive programmes of development in those far-off countries. Trump ain`t going to do it; he is rather bent on creating his own brand of a new world order, where immigration is banned!