New Delhi: Donald Trump has won and everyone who wished, or were assured that he wouldn’t, have had to eat humble pie. An unkind observation, but given the circumstances under which he won, it seems to be apt.
I am no expert in the Byzantine nature of US politics and now it interests me only as a curiosity show, mainly because George W Bush could riddle the world with his inanities for eight years. If the comedian Dana Carvey is to be believed, it was a “feather in America’s cap” that it went from Dubya to Obama. The latter’s reign wasn’t exactly a throwback to the halcyon days, but statesmanship can be expected to veer around to some consensus and carry everyone along. Obama did so in a fitful way, faltering here, straightening up there. But his legacy would seldom be frowned upon.
With Trump around, most people are asking if the world will ever be the same again, given that a radical overhaul of the international order would be needed if he were ever to realise his diabolical plans that are borderline ridiculous. Here’s his bucket-list: deport around 3 million (30 lakh) Mexicans, build a wall blocking off Mexico, prohibit entry of Muslims into the US and withdraw the traditional American policy of being the global sentinel. Of these, the last has NATO and many West European countries worried. The Japanese Prime Minister has already planned a trip to Washington to figure things out as Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy might be one of the first casualties of the Trump presidency. But these are more serious matters, fit for discussion in august gatherings, and ones that will be analysed by minds much finer than mine. I am only about to make some sundry observations and draw some analogies, which, given the turn in the weathervanes, might seem incredulous as well.
A Pew Research Center report provides a breakdown of the Trump electorate that includes a sizeable number of women and those with higher education, besides more Blacks and Hipanics than won over by Mitt Romney in 2012. Now, recall the things that Trump said throughout his campaign that had nothing to do with his enigmatic aspiration of “Making America Great Again”. Despite his demeaning observations of women and minorities and his obsession with making US the primus inter pares, reflecting an anachronistic understanding of the global order, Trump resonated with a wide cross-section of voters. Why? It might be trademark American indifference to anything outside their borders or sheer nativism.
For decades, Americans were self-sufficient without a care for anything beyond their boundaries as they were fed such elegant theories as “unipolarity” and “end of history”. Much of this was tarnished by the 9/11 attacks and further eroded by the financial crisis that started in 2008. Since then, liberalism has been side-tracked by xenophobia and even Barack Obama couldn’t turn things around. Race riots in American cities are not incidental but a symptom of an atmosphere mired in exclusionary thoughts whose end-result is the victory of Donald Trump. For however liberal America is projected to be, the Mason-Dixon line still seems to hold sway in hearts and minds across wide swathes of America. It is this very America that had problems with an African-American at the helm for eight years. If this seems incredulous then the execrable remarks about Michelle Obama might be proof enough that right-wing extremism that was biding its time will let loose itself soon, with a little help from the KKK. And this itself is an irony for the raison d’être of the KKK’s initial existence was virulent anti-Republicanism.
These are not unique thoughts and Trump would have been aware of them and due to his very awareness of the discontent among people he could take advantage of it. Most Americans needed a leg-up but the kind of socialism avowed by Bernie Sanders was anathema to them. So, Hillary Clinton was the best of a bad lot. Having apparently milked the system and cosied up to the same people that were the only gainers of the recession, Hillary Clinton was in no way a convincing champion of the popular cause.
Added to this was her penchant for subterfuge and you have at hand a Machiavellian archetype, the insider who decided what was good for the system and the masses. These are by no means exceptionable traits to sully a politician, but in a country rife with stark differences, Trump’s public capers seemed like a Godsend in contrast to Hillary Clinton. This is why the traditional Democratic vote base actually shrank and that of the Republicans increased. Just as Barack Obama arrived at a crucial juncture in American politics, Trump too has come at an inflexion point. Unfortunately, the way it has been done leaves a lot to be desired.
Donald Trump is essentially a businessman and his understanding of a situation is centred on profiteering and, hence, his hyperbolic claims and promises and, hence, also, he is the only President ready to settle a $25 million class-action suit that alleges fraud. But in precipitating situations people become blind followers of the one who provides millennialist solutions. In the past such situations gave rise to Fascism and Nazism; now we have Trumpism. This isn’t such a sacrilegious observation.
Trumpism’s erstwhile counterparts arose during times of mass uncertainty and upheaval, at the root of which was economic strife. They provided the man on the street a purpose in the form of a uniform and aligned his vision in a way that everyone differing from a political view was accused of heresy and of being an outsider. It was the benison for fringe loonies, who could now settle scores and right the wrongs of the past. But then, the man at the helm metamorphosed from a goon with a stick to a statesman with the smooth words, while his devotees were asked to wait, for deliverance was at hand. This is evident in Trump’s about-turn on his promise of banning the entry of Muslims into the US and the adoption of a conciliatory stance declaring that he is the President of all Americans and extending cooperation to everyone willing to work with him.
If this sounds familiar, then we only need to go back to 2014, when the man with the 56-inch chest and the survey-inducing words, “hum paanch unke pachees”, was projected as the messiah of a blighted nation. Today, he is the avuncular uncle and a leader-par-excellence, who agonises over his and the nation’s woes publicly, fearing for his life, but carrying on nonetheless like an Atlas wronged. He forgets his past except when he has to drum up his constituency or when things run aground or when he is at the end of his tether. I still await the 15 lakhs that were promised to be deposited in every Indian’s account, along with an assorted collection of other bumper offers. But I wait in vain, for patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel and because big bad Bill is sweet William now.