A lurch to the right in US
Although one would like to be objective about a global event that has just occurred, it is difficult to be enthused about the way the American people...
Although one would like to be objective about a global event that has just occurred, it is difficult to be enthused about the way the American people have elected their new president.
Their democracy, with all its flaws, with all its wars and invasions – overt and covert – all its support to drug mafia and dictators while advocating freedom - has been something people have looked to, for better or for worse.
But none expected the worst that has happened. There was much hoping against hope. There was also confidence, wishful one, and not just in America, that Mr Donald Trump would at some stage be stopped. He could not be, first by a confused and inept Republican Party and then, by the American people.
He is now the President of the United States of America. Welcome to the new world where democracy can be hijacked – democratically.
The possibility Trump’s election was never ruled out after he, and ‘outsider’ to the political establishment, felled formidable competitors, all senior politicians, in the race for the Republican Party’s nomination.
They included governors and senators, including Jeff Bush, whose father and brother have been past Presidents.
Over the past year, Trump, to his credit, won 56 primaries and caucuses where 16 Republican candidates tried that and every kitchen sink they could throw at Trump and nothing could stop his juggernaut. Even then, the Americans were unprepared and unwilling to welcome him.
What put off many was his manners, his unabashed rhetoric, his vilification of women, Muslims, Hispanics, other religious and ethnic minorities, refugees and not the least media. There was violence, verbal and physical in this most toxic and divisive campaign the US has ever had.
Worse were reports of his boasting of sexual prowess on unwilling women, using his money and fame. When exposed, he did not exactly deny them. He dismissed the whole thing as “locker-room talk” and publicly humiliated those who women who claimed to be victims.
A book written by him has said many more things. But the most telling is his complete me-for-myself talk, using money and power. Whether such a person should aspire for a public office can hardly be a question, now that he has been elected to one of the world’s most powerful offices.
Many saw it coming. One argument that this writer made in these columns was that if the United Kingdom, touted as the world’s oldest democracy and home to Mother Parliament, could vote for Brexit – exiting the European Union — then the Americans could also vote Trump to the presidency.
The two had lurched to the ideological right when Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK were elected in the 1980s, ostensibly in response to the numerous foiled rebellions of the political left through the earlier two decades.
After the end of the cold war, with the democracy’s so-called triumph, the new century has made things more open, more complicated and more challenging. The US was supposed to ‘lead’ to a better world.
But the new development should compel the world to question this misplaced hope. And while the world may look anxiously at what has happened in the UK and now the US, there are lessons to be learnt closer home as well.
The Trump victory means death blow, for now at least, to aspirations of the Americans electing their first woman.
Again, the world community that has seen the likes of Sirimavo Bandarnaike and Chandrika Kauaratunga, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia and Angela Merkel, to name a few, had hoped that in electing Hillary Clinton, the Americans would end a great lacuna by their democracy. Alas, they have elected the man who consistently called her ‘crooked.’
Was being a woman a plus point or a minus point for Hillary? And how far did she lose for being a woman? These questions may have no easy answers. For all her years of public work, holding high offices like Secretary of State, not to speak of eight years as the First Lady, she remained highly unpopular.
The Clintons – she and husband Bill – are supposed to have amassed millions from books, speeches and interviews. There were graft charges. She is supposed to have received money from dubious sources, including from Qatar businessmen who also fund the Islamic State.
Her mishandling of the Middle-East never left her. Libya, where the American ambassador got killed, does not have a government worth the name today. She was frequently called a “warmonger” during the campaign. She collected campaign funds and spent much more than Trump.
Her use of private email for official work became her Achilles Heel. The FBI damned her, rather unfairly, very close to the polling day. The renewed investigation was based on innuendos, as Barack Obama, tirelessly campaigning for Hillary, put it. She lost her lead over Trump thanks to this.
Overall, Trump is a protest leader who explicitly positioned himself as an avatar of the general discontent that America is suffering from.
The answer, as with so many other countries suffering from economic slowdown and a reconsideration of liberal immigration and social policies, for Trump is straightforward — a return to a nativist, nationalist politics built on a rejection of free trade, a return to a muscular American military posture abroad, and a social vision that returns so-called old America, read as white America by critics, to the centre of national politics.
The saddest man, besides the Clintons, will undoubtedly be Obama whose legacy will be challenged and changed. His presidency had tried to salvage the very fabric of American democracy from the destructive forces that have grown inside it.
Now Trump will have to prove he is a completely different man to the candidate who has violently marched towards the presidency.
Many Americans (since they can afford) want to leave America led by Trump. The Canadian immigration office web site crashed once the election results were announced. Not just the Americans, many of the world community are in the dark about how Trump would tackle foreign policy and global issues.
Trump compared his own election campaign to the anti-establishment Brexit campaign. Last month, he told a cheering rally in Pennsylvania: “Believe me, this is Brexit times five. You watch what is going to happen.”
The British, who have always enjoyed umbilical relations with the US now do not know whether Trump, with an inward-looking vision of putting America first and oppose inference in other countries’ affairs, will be helpful.
He has described his foreign policy as one of “Americanism, not globalism". For one, Obama’s reach-out to Cuba and Iran may get jeopardized under Trump.
But Trump could dramatically change the balance of power in Europe, for example by fostering warmer US relations with Russia.
Vladimir Putin who shocked many and enraged the Americans and Europeans alike by openly supporting and praising Trump, must be smiling. Whether he will also have the last laugh, given the Western focus on punishing him, remains to be seen.
What does all this mean to India and Indian Americans? The latter can take pride that they have marked an impressive presence on the political/legislative scene in their adopted home.
Whether Trump will keep his promise to relax visa and green card rules promised to the “Hindu Republicans” remains to be seen.
For New Delhi, used to dealing with both Clintons and Bushes, it doesn’t matter much. The Indo-US ties have burgeoned over the last two decades under both Democrats and Republicans. Mutual chemistry between Trump and Narendra Modi will need to work like it had done between Manmohan Singh and Bush and Obama with both Singh and Modi.
More important is the ‘strategic autonomy” that India strives to retain vis-a-vis the US. Will Trump display the vision and patience to deal with a ‘complicated’ India that is neither Pakistan, nor Saudi Arabia, nor China? We shall have to wait and watch.