By Thomas Chatterton Williams
August 9, 2017
My two most unpleasant travel experiences of 2017 (so far) have involved flights into Russia and the United States. Everything about going to the former is painful, from the tourist invitation racket, whereby you must cough up 30 euros to a travel company that “hosts” you during your stay, to the Kafkaesque visa-acquisition process. But the act of flying into the United States, even as a natural-born citizen, has grown nearly as antagonistic, with borders aggressively extended into foreign points of departure and all manner of burdensome screening processes you would never encounter when traveling to any other democratic country in the West.
Flying from Madrid to Boston this week, I got my first brush with the Trump administration’s new “enhanced” security measures—a move officials have described as a compromise to prevent an expansion of the practically sadistic in-cabin laptop ban, as if those can’t present a threat in the cargo hold). Before accessing the gate, having already passed through security and a half-dozen passport checks, as well as customs on the connecting flight from Portugal (even though that’s already in the European Union), many of us had to get through a further “random” screening in a private room, where Spanish police unpacked our bags and swabbed our electronics for the ion detector. This kind of security theater is of dubious utility, but the message of suspicion and unwelcome is effectively delivered.
Once inside, of course, America remains a vastly different place than Russia. But what they both inspire is the discomfiting sense that neither entirely desires you there.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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