Friday, 12 January 2018

How can others trust me if I don't trust myself?

Trust. It’s impossible to live without. And yet it’s so hard to win.

This all came to mind recently as part of the process I’ve been going through to try to make it easier to get into the United States on visits. Honestly, if a European want to understand how ghastly it is for non-Europeans to get into, say, Britain – you know, those demoralizingly long queues at immigration full of unhappy people combating boredom and jetlag – you need to try to get into the US as a non-citizen or resident. You wind backwards and forwards in long lines between stretched ribbons and, as often as not when you finally get to the front of one, you just go through one process – having your retina scanned and fingerprints checked, say – only to step into the next queue.

Which is what happened to me when I arrived in Boston last Sunday.
Smiles, but not that comforting
Trump and Pence: the men whose trust I need
I have therefore applied for inclusion in the US Trusted Traveller Program. This allows you to use a shorter queue and therefore, one hopes, to get in a little more quickly. It does, however, require winning the trust of the United States government.

Now I appreciate that the US only needs convincing that I don’t plan to engage in any criminal activity. It’s not my intention to carry weapons: I own rather fewer than most Americans (none at all). Nor do I plan to smuggle any banned substances, such as drugs – really not my scene: “drugs cause cramp”, Dorothy Parker assures us, and there are some fairly unpleasant penalties associated with carting them around too. Indeed, I won’t even be bringing in simple foodstuffs: we did travel with bananas once, which we’d forgotten to eat in the plane and dutifully handed over the customs officer when we arrived, by which time they’d been reduced to an unappealing brown mass anyway.

In that limited sense, I think I’m worthy of the US government’s trust, even one headed by the notoriously paranoid Trump.

Trust, though, must cover more than simply a reasonable endeavour to avoid downright criminal behaviour. One can’t help feeling that a trustworthy individual can also be relied on in everyday life. And there, sadly, I’m not wholly convinced I can even wholly trust myself.

For instance, when I was waiting to check in my bags for the flight to Boston, the thought occurred to me that I really didn’t need a winter coat for the flight. I took it off, emptied the pockets into my laptop bag, and packed the coat. That left me feeling pleased with myself for being so farsighted, but only until I got through security and decided to buy something.

That’s when I discovered that my wallet wasn’t in my bag. What’s worse, the pouch where I’d put the other things wasn’t properly closed. I cursed my carelessness.

Doubts assailed me. Had I left my wallet in the coat? Or had it fallen out of the laptop bag without my noticing? Worse still, how could I possibly find out?

The answer, of course, was that there was no way. I just had to spend the next eight or nine hours, until I got my case back, combating the ever-returning fear that I’d lost the wallet. An easy flight turned into a far less pleasant experience.

As it happened, the wallet was indeed still in my coat. I needn’t have worried. But it rather undermined my trust in myself – after all, had I concentrated a little more for a minute or two, I could have spared myself several hours of pain.

Not my idea of a trusted traveller.

Still, I’m glad to say the US has agreed to award me that status despite my own doubts. On the other hand, another shock awaited me as I walked into the building when my interview was to take place. Up there on the wall were portrait photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

It’s odd. I’ve naturally seen Trump on TV again and again since he was sworn in. Practically every day there’s some new appalling revelation about the man. Inevitably, I knew perfectly well that he was President.

And yet, somehow, it was seeing those portraits that really brought it home. I’ve seen Federal buildings with portraits of Obama and Biden before. I’ve seen photos of many presidents. They strike me as entirely mundane sights, just what one would expect. But to see Trump up there – well, it really forced me to realise the ghastly truth: that hideous clown really had succeeded Obama in the White House.

In the short term, it wasn’t as chilling a realisation as the discovery that my wallet was apparently missing.

In the longer term, though, it may have far more frightening consequences.

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