In 2007, Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman published what would become perhaps his best-known work, “The World is Flat; A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.” The book addresses the issue of globalization and the continuing phenomenon of the world becoming more interconnected. Air travel, economic expansion and the internet have certainly made the planet a smaller place (figuratively, of course). Mr. Friedman addresses both the positives (the potential to help the impoverished, for instance), as well as the negatives (environmental impact), but it leaves the reader in no doubt of one thing: No matter where we live, for better or for worse, we’re all stuck with each other.
The “flattening” of the world lasted approximately another decade before the walls started to go back up. First the UK voted for Brexit and then, in a classic “Hold My Beer” moment, the United States voted in the evil version of Carrot Top. And just like that, the world began to grow again.
If you’re not terrified by the current administration’s “America First” rhetoric, you should be.* Millions of citizens have become disenchanted with both major political parties, whose members seem to spend much of their time trying to get reelected. Mr. Trump, if nothing else, gave voters somebody to blame. It became about the “illegal aliens (people who look different)” stealing jobs and “Radical Islam (people with a different religion)” making you unsafe. No mention of the impact of technology or the fact that the most dangerous part of any trip is the drive to the airport. It became about dividing people.
And now, we have a group of people with a different religion who don’t speak the language trying to come to the United States because a return to their home country could mean death. And the first thing that the new administration does is shut down the airports. We’ve been there before. It could be German Jews in 1939, whose ship the St. Louis was turned around and sent back to Europe. It could be the Chinese in 1882, who were prohibited from immigrating to the US by the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Or it could be the Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine in the 1840s, a time when immigrants were laughed at for their poverty, their appearance, their language and, of course, their religion. Nina was seen everywhere, but it wasn’t because the name was particularly popular. Rather, it was a job qualifier, standing for “No Irish Need Apply.” They took the work that nobody else wanted and were accused of stealing jobs. As Catholics, they were feared as potential traitors because they were viewed as subordinate to a foreign religious leader (the Pope). Does any of this sound familiar, because now, we have our very own Know-Nothing party.**
So what’s all this doing in a travel blog? Personally, I find it highly appropriate, because it’s travel and interaction with people from different backgrounds that will flatten the world again. It’s easy to hate or fear people that you’ve never met, and many people find solace in a politician who will tell them what they want to hear. But that doesn’t change reality, and it is only through more communication, not less, that we can fix our problems.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
*While I understand the reasoning behind naming an airport terminal after Charles Lindbergh, the celebration of the man casually ignores the dark side of the man.
**And, in an ironic twist on the hunted becoming the hunter, the organizers of the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, did everything it could to keep a gay and transgender military veterans group from marching, before surrendering their position under the threat of boycotts.
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