In the early years he was one of the very young people who are given a set of procedures to follow and then face an endless stream of human beings whose circumstances may or may not fit the procedures - at the risk of stating the obvious, this work generally is given to the very young, people on their first or second tour of duty who want to be perceived as doing a good job by their superiors so they can graduate from the crap job to something more intellectually challenging. In later years he was the head of mission, the person all those very young people needed to impress; if they were only following orders, they were not, of course, following his orders (the procedures come from a very long way away), but he was the one to whom difficult cases might ultimately be referred. Or not, as the case might be. Because the obvious way to look good if you are processing visa applications is to be efficient, to keep the number of cases perceived as difficult to the absolute minimum - not create work, cause problems, for your immediate supervisor, and definitely not create problems by, say, challenging or bypassing your immediate supervisor and going straight to the top. To put it another way, if you're head of mission, the obvious way to keep your workload down to a manageable 12 hours a day plus weekends plus diplomatic schmoozing, is to make subsubsubordinates think twice before bothering you with visa queries that are comprehensively covered in the procedures.
So let's say you're a consular officer in Germany in the 1930s. You are living under a profoundly anti-Semitic regime; Jews are being progressively stripped of civil rights, there are pogroms which go unchallenged by the police, you get more and more visa applications from people who, at the risk of stating the obvious, don't see a tourist visa as the answer to their regrettable deficiency with respect to Aryan descent. Maybe they apply for the visa they actually need, and don't qualify; or maybe they cunningly apply for a tourist visa when they have every intention of remaining in the country if they possibly can - in which case it is your job, as a consular officer, to get to the bottom of this and determine that this is not a genuine application for a tourist visa, and reject it.
My father, like most Americans who lived through the Second World War, had an absolute abhorrence of Hitler. The thing he took personally, however - the thing that sent him into paroxyms of fury - was the practice of American consular officers, who followed the rules for visa applications during the 30s and 40s and so condemned many Hitler-designated Jews to death. You must imagine the American Consul General in Rio de Janeiro stalking up and down his palatial residence in 1981. Decades have passed since the unsuccessful visa applicants went to the gas chambers. The Consul General is SCREAMING. He thinks of the young consular officers turning down one application after another; he SCREAMS: 'Get 'em OUTTA there, get 'em OUTTA there, get 'em OUTTA there. For Christ's SAKE. Just give 'em the fucking VISA, application approved, approved, approved, get 'em OUTTA there.'
Zygmunt Bauman (Life in Fragments) says:
Two closely related features more than any other marked the modern spirit: the urge to transcend - to make things different from what they are - and the concern with the ability to act - the ability to make things different...
It was not so much that transcendence makes things better; it was, rather, that things as they are are not good enough. ... Fortunately for someone blessed with a tankful of fuel, 'things as they are' can be moved away from: they do not have enough pulling power. They are devoid of authority, of good enough reason to be what they are, unless shaped and reshaped on purpose, to the measure of the current human capacity to shape. The easier we move away from things, the less authority we are inclined to allow them; our ability to move away is the measure of their arbitrariness, and so - in a world governed by reason - of their unbearability. The need to change and the ability to change prompt and define each other.
One reason a Jewish state, with the right of return for ALL Jews, looked so desperately important, was precisely that even the most deadly forms of anti-Semitism were not enough to get a Jew past consular officers who were just doing their job. We may note that many would-be emigrants wanted go to an America that was in the grip of the Great Depression; it was not a good time. Now is not a good time.
Something the US government might helpfully do at this very bad time would be to issue a visa and green card to all inhabitants of Gaza who wanted them. If they really wanted to be obnoxious, they could extend this handsome offer to every Israeli between the ages of 18 and 25. (An Israeli soldier once told me if the US did this no one would fight. I have no opinion on the likelihood of this, but I note that the West's victim-oriented asylum laws don't make it particularly easy for reluctant members of a militaristic society to get out.)
Hillary Clinton is now Secretary of State. I'm sorry to think she never had the chance to meet America's Angriest Consul.