The acronym NIMBY stands for ‘not in my back yard’ and has come to symbolise a trend in American culture where individuals come together to oppose the erection of a seemingly undesirable or dangerous facility, structure or hoarding near their home, even though they might be in favour of the erection of such things elsewhere. A typical example of the NIMBY phenomenon is when people who demand the erection of new mobile phone cell towers in order to achieve better signal strength for their smart phones nevertheless oppose such towers being built within the confines of their community. Other examples include the public support for electricity generating wind farms combined with an opposition to the towering windmills being built near one’s home.
But the NIMBY phenomenon stretches far beyond cell towers, windmills and opposition to halfway houses built in one’s neighbourhood. At present, US citizens are divided over how to approach the arrival of the so-called migrant caravan at the US-Mexico border. Donald Trump and his supporters tend to favour posting the military to the border to ensure that none of the migrants illegally enter US territory while Trump has also threatened a long term closing of the entire border. On the other end of the spectrum, liberal Americans tend to favour a more Angela Merkel style open border policy and have expressed anger that teargas was fired on members of the caravan trying to storm the ramparts dividing the USA from Mexico.
The current rows over the border issue are mostly domestic US policy matters while Mexico’s government is also necessarily involved as the migrants have entered Mexican territory where they currently remain, the NIMBY principle is very much at play and both Trump supporting conservative Americans and pro-migration liberal Americans are equally culpable.
On the liberal side, there has been more opposition to the firing of non-lethal teargas on migrants trying to storm the US border than there had been liberal voices raised in opposition to US troops firing high grade lethal weapons on civilians in countries as diverse as the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia. Likewise, while conservative pro-Trump Americans are somewhat ironically trying to justify the legal movement of US troops from one part of US soil to another in the face of strident liberal opposition, these same conservatives passively accepted the movement of US troops to foreign theatres of war in spite of such movements violating international law and in many cases violating the US Constitution whose principles American conservatives tend to claim are absolute and subject to the strictest possible interpretations.
Taken in totality, it is clear that both the presence of in some cases radical migrants as well as the presence of a locked and loaded US military on the Mexican border makes Americans feel a combination of passion, dismay and an overall heightened state of emotions. By contrast, the reduction of the Syrian city of Raqqa to rubble by the US airforce in a totally illegal military intervention got considerably less attention as has the fact that post-Gaddafi Libya is now home to the world’s largest modern slave trade where mostly ethnic Arab slave traders sell black Africans to the highest bidder in a country that once saw legal migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa work peacefully beside Arab and Berber Libyans.
Yet these cataclysmic events never became the national talking point that the current border conflict has become even though no one has died in the current stand-off in either the Mexican city of Tijuana or the American city of San Diego. The fact of the matter is that because the migrant caravan conflict is literally in the backyard of the USA, people are paying attention and emotions are exorcised while conflicts in southern Europe, the Middle East and south Asia did not register on the radar of the wider national dialogue for most Americans.
What this has revealed is that Americans are able to take strong opinions on political matters in spite of their reputation for being more aloof than for example French voters who are currently approaching their third week of major anti-government demonstrations in Paris. In reality, the polarisation of the Trump era has shown that Americans of all political stripes are more than capable of forming strong opinions and expressing them without ambiguity – with the caveat that in order for this to happen, something must happen in their proverbial backyard.
And thus one arrives at the true tragedy of America’s evolving political landscape. Just as was the case during more placid periods of US history, so long as the US military and CIA commits atrocities far from America’s backyard, few care while many remain unaware that such things are even occurring.