So the ‘outlier’ has done it. Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America. Here was a candidate who did not behave like a conventional politician. He was abusive, in your face and curt. He raised politically incorrect questions. He had a ‘terrible’ past. He was intolerant of dissent and behaved like a boor. Very few actually gave him a chance. Yet he managed to do the unthinkable, Why and how could he do it? Here are some of my 2 paisa musings/rumblings on this Trump victory;
Firstly, to my amusement there is a lot of disappointment especially in the Liberal left of this country. I can see and hear their lamentations. “Oh America, how could you do this!”, “Oh Americans, how you have failed us!”. This would really be pathetic if it was not so hilarious. I found the lamentations of the Indians especially offensive, laced as it is with a deep sense of ethnocentrism and may I add hypocrisy. I did not see the same liberals left whining with the same ferocity crying “Oh Siwan! what have you done”, when it elected a Sahabuddin again and again or with, “Oh Bihar! what have you done” when it elected 142 Member Legislative Assembly with criminal records of rape, murder and extortion or when West Bengal elected107 MLAs with criminal records. Is it because left liberal morals are relative and some crimes/criminals are construed less reprehensible because they serve as instruments of so called larger goals of keeping so called communal forces out?
And then what ethnocentrism? Are the American voters some gold standard for so called rational political behaviour and voting? Do they really mean that while so called ‘lesser democracies’ could be condoned for selecting boors and criminals but how could America do it? Bah!!
Secondly, the liberal left seeks to provide simplistic explanations to the complex phenomenon of Trump’s triumph. The left liberals have been harping that he won because of racism and hate. This in my humble opinion is too simplistic an explanation and is also not borne out by facts. If it was only about racism how is it that he did five points better than Mitt Romney amongst black voters and two points better amongst Latinos? It is now reported that majority of the white women too voted for him. How do you explain that when you accuse the man of being a misogynist? Why is it that in the swing states which voted for the first African American President twice in the last two elections by huge majorities, suddenly became racists? And if they indeed had become racists what explains, as per some reports, the high approval ratings that President Obama still enjoys in these states?
The real story for me is not that Trump won this election but that in the oldest democracy of the world nearly fifty per cent of the eligible voters were apathetic enough not to vote. There exits around the world today a deep resentment against the professional political class and America is no exception. Why should it surprise anyone that a rank political ‘outsider’ has been elected when the US Congress as per the latest Gallop poll has an approval rating of 13 per cent? I was in the USA for about a month in September/October and could see the anger amongst ordinary Americans who were looking for ‘change’. Amongst the candidates it was Trump rather than Hillary whom they thought could be this agent of change. People knew his failings but were ready to overlook those. They were sick and tired of the politically correct conventional politics of the east coast elites anchored in Washington DC and New York (Like Indians were in 2014 with politics anchored in and around Lutyens Delhi). Trumps victory is a revolt against the opaque world of political compromises and lobbying. Ordinary Americans had enough of those thought leaders who ‘talked at’ them rather than ‘talked to’ them. Their value laced oratory did not enthuse them anymore. In a way it was the vernacularization of politics where people were ready to repose their trust in those leaders who empathise with them. Trump raised issues of those classes/groups of people like veterans who felt they had become completely voiceless in the political system while Hillary was caught calling them ‘deplorables’.
This election also proves the fact that is ultimately about economy, jobs and livelihoods. Address these and you win elections and keep getting re-elected. The leaders who keep winning elections (incidentally who are hated by the liberal left and are branded as dictators) like Erdogan, Putin are all people who inherited troubled economies and then put their nations into high growth trajectories. Perhaps there is a lesson here for PM Modi. A single minded pursuit of economic growth, job and livelihood creation for the people of India will ensure that he keeps getting re-elected. Globalisation has created winners and losers and those that have been left behind are very vengeful and angry. There is a huge group (probably the largest economic group in the USA) in the USA which sees itself as a victim of globalization having been pushed out of permanent ‘cushy’ manufacturing jobs to back breaking and temporary jobs in the services sector where they are paid hourly. There is a deep seated feeling in this group that it had no voice in the system and Trump campaign tapped into their anger effectively.
Though it is too early to say that globalization is in retreat but nationalism has definitely made a comeback. What is also back is (what for the want of a better word), I would define as ‘an imagined core value’ of a nation which is a value of the majority and has hegemony over them. You might call it exclusivist or majoritarianism depending on where you stand, but sadly such values are gaining ground. Who are we as a nation or what defines us is also a question which is gaining currency, not only in the USA but around the world. While it is still too early to declare political correctness as dead, politically incorrect questions which were till sometime back considered taboo or impolite will now be asked (may be with hushed tone in the beginning). I was in NY when the explosions happened in September. While the mainstream media was quite ‘muted’ and ‘mature’ in its coverage, many people on the street I met were Islamophobic. Questions like why do they refuse to integrate? Why does a refugee from a war torn country who gets a much better life in our country do this to us were questions which were being asked if not so in public places but within the confines of homes and offices. While this may be a politically incorrect to write here but the truth is that a great deal of Islamophobia is sweeping round the globe, and America is no exception. While it may be right to accuse the non-Islamic world of being biased, there is also a need for the Islamic community to ponder as to why the world thinks of them as it does. Externalizing their problems and blaming the whole world for their state of affairs will solve nothing. And it is here that the Muslim community of India needs to act as a role model and take leadership. In an Islamic world riddled with turmoil, the peaceful Indian Muslims stand out like a beacon of hope for the world. I am reminded of the statement President Bush made to Secretary Rice, “150 million Muslims, and no Al-Qaeda? Wow!”. During the infamous Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union, Muslims from every country, except two, had congregated to fight the Jihad and these were India and Oman. There is a need for Indian Muslims to nurture and celebrate the syncretic Islam rooted in the Indian civilizational ethos rather than getting swayed by the sterile Salafi Islam which is completely alien to our syncretic civilizational ethos. Needless to say there is a need for the majority community too in this country to see that they reinforce this syncretism and unity by their actions and not destroy it.
One thing which always surprises me is the ability of the liberal left in this country to cast things in stone. They are experts in background checking and after that, it is ‘freeze frame’. A day is too long in politics and politicians do not have the liberty to be caught in a time warp. Yes, leaders say and do terrible things but the beauty of democracy and demands of governance is that it does give you a chance to change (or forces you to change). Trump might have done and said extremely reprehensible things in the past but being President Trump would restrict him from doing many such things now. And to those who say he will change the character of the USA I say, what can he do? Can he change the checks and balances as prescribed in the constitution of USA? Can he change the rights of the states? Can he abolish the constitution of the USA? Of course he will implement his agenda, but then in a democracy that is what the winner of the mandate is expected to do.
Leaders have to be judged not on the basis of what they did or said in the past but on their present actions. If India had stuck to holding people to what they said or did in the past, we would have prevented rebel leaders from joining the political mainstream. Should we have condemned a Laldenga when he joined the Indian political mainstream because of his past of having led a rebellion against the Indian state? What should our reaction be hypothetically speaking, if Syed Salahauddin or the Hurriyat leaders decide to abandon separatism and context elections in Kashmir? Should we keep harping about their past statements and deeds or welcome them in the political mainstream?
This election also has lessons for the Americans and the American establishment. Democracy demands that people’s verdict be respected universally, whether it is the United States or the Middle East. If today America can live under the shadows of a conservative leadership having facets of illiberal democracy, why should the USA intervene when a Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in some state in the Middle East through a free and fair electoral system? While some values may be universal, these values can and do get modified as per the genius and culture of the societies in which they are exist. Different societies have different historical experiences, are at different levels of societal development and so the flowering and maturity of these ‘values’ has to be organic and at a pace that is dictated by these societies. Any outside interfere is a sure recipe for chaos and disaster. We should not forget that the erstwhile USSR had all right ideas and values that it sought to promote in Afghanistan i.e. equality, women’s rights, education for all to name a few, but the Afghan society thought of it as an interference in their social and cultural ethos and the rest as they say is history.
And of course, how can one forget the mainstream media (MSM). It did get some real egg on its face, and deservedly so. This is a huge wakeup call for them, having got all their predictions wrong. This is what happens when coverage and reportage are not based on facts but their political prejudices. The mainstream media has forgotten that its main job is to report the truth ‘as it is’ and not as they ‘would like it to be. By peddling their preferences, they had become cheerleaders/activists and had lost their right to be called journalists. Editing a newspaper or writing articles does not qualify one as a journalist. Just because Uddhav Thackeray is the editor of Samna should we call him a journalist? Gandhiji also was the editor of Hind Swaraj and wrote prolifically, so instead of calling him a great political leader we should start identifying him as a journalist?
Social media has become an important tool of communication and was extensively used even in the American elections. This social media also has its detractors and one of the favourite pastime of many ‘doyens’ of MSM today is social media bashing, especially on being trolled and abused. While no body in his right senses can condone the virulent abuses being dished out in the social media space (especially on Twitter) but what really surprises me is the naivety of those people who are surprised and angry at being trolled. Sorry Sirs, but what did you expect when you joined a medium which has the advantage of anonymity and whose idiom is conversational? Do these ‘doyens’ not know how an average Indian on the street talks? Expletives like bc, mc form the regular vocabulary of an ordinary Indian (sometimes also of elites). Apart from the social media, was MSM not at the forefront (and rightly so) of defending the right of Anurag Kashyap to use ‘relentless’ gallis (swears) in his film Udta Punjab? Was Pahlaj Nihalani not chastised (rightly so) using the same argument that this is the way average Indians talk, and was he not contemptuously mentioned as a ‘sanskari’ censor? Now what are they, ‘sanskari’ journalists, who speak and want to be spoken to in Queens English by a teenager from Bhatinda who uses swear words in practically all the sentences he speaks?