Though it is debatable whether the sort of fervor seen during US elections in India is justified, I have to admit that the US politicians put on some show during election season. By virtue of being ‘the most powerful person on earth’, it is natural for a lot of people around the world to follow the American elections with the enthusiasm that we saw.
So another outsider won. Arvind Kejriwal was the last outsider to clean sweep an election (smaller scale of course, but anti-establishment candidate with no political experience). The polls got it wrong, as they usually do. Women are outraged because Hillary didn’t win. Muslims are outraged that Trump won. Facebook is outraged that Hillary lost. Pauline Hanson in Australia is pleased that Trump won. It was a divided campaign, and the divisions continue even after the results have been declared. In fact, this was Trump’s personal victory rather than a Republican one.
So why did he win? How did a foolish, chauvinistic, and almost blatant liar win the the race to the White House? Here are four reasons Trump won when everyone had written him off:
- Anti-establishment/outsider image: As I mentioned, there is a mood of frustration and helplessness in most democracies, where on one hand, people are reminded what a great privilege it is for them to live in a democracy, and on the other, there is acute resentment and despondency when it comes to electing new leaders. Whether it is India or it is the US, the general narrative on the street is that ‘all politicians are thieves’. Trump isn’t a politician. He is everything but a politician. He lies, evades important questions, fails miserably on providing policy related details, makes personal attacks on his opponents, changes his stance on issues over the course of the campaign and so on. But he enjoys this ‘straight from the horse’s mouth image’. People think that he says it like it is, without sugar coating stuff. And people like that. For example, his references to the ‘greatest job theft on earth’, referring to the steady outsourcing of US jobs, primarily to China and Mexico, and his straight talking about Islamic terrorism was welcomed by most common people. Only the left-leaning media was on his case, portraying him as a cobra with poisonous fangs.
- Successful businessman: America loves capitalism. Trump has woven an image (it is debatable whether it is true) of being a self-made billionaire. He asserts that his growth story can be replicated at the national level for all Americans. If you remember, Modi had this image of being a successful CM of Gujarat, and everyone talked about his ‘Gujarat Model’. There wasn’t any; unless you consider building roads, and proving water and electricity to be a novel model. But the development hungry Indians clung on to that phrase without taking the trouble to dig deeper in anyway.
Similar is the case with Trump. Recently, I was in the US and was talking to a middle aged white man. He told me that the fact that Trump was poor to begin with and how he managed to transform himself into one of America’s wealthiest people is an inspiration for him. The fact is that neither was Trump ever poor (his father Fred Trump was a very rich man, who gave him around $200 million to kick start his businesses) nor is he very successful, but the average American voter isn’t that different from his Indian counterpart when it comes to believing stuff that he wants to believe.
- Voters responded to his vilification in the media: No doubt he is incapable of being a good US president, but the media’s shameless portrayal of Trump being an agent of hell was untrue and unwelcome by the American people. For example, for the last one year, I am hearing how Trump is anti-Muslim. All he said about Muslims was that till America figures out a way to effectively vet Muslim refugees from hostile countries in the middle-east, it should not accept any more of them. It is a perfectly logical statement, one that Trump was well within his rights as an aspiring president to make. But the media concocted it to sound as if Trump is going to drop nukes over Mecca and Medina. Funnily, even Indian Muslims (why should they be left behind in the race towards foolishness) are criticizing Trump as being anti-Muslim on the Indian television channels.
Again, I remember the sort of portrayal Modi was subject to in 2014. From Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudaagar’ remark to NDTV’s constant vilification of the man, there was nothing that Modi was not guilty of. But the voters knew better and rejected this narrative, much like the voters in the US have. To keep matters simple and not cause dissensions in their families, they didn’t make it evident that they supported him (which is why the polls got it wrong), but when the secret ballot box presented itself on Nov 8, they made a different choice.
- Promise of jobs and economic recovery: Contrary to popular perception, Trump did not win because of the bible-belt voters. They always vote Republican, but their numbers are not enough to give the Republicans a victory. Trump won because he was able to take his message of creating manufacturing/blue collared jobs and stimulating economic recovery to states that have been the worst hit. When you compare to Obama’s 2012 victory, Trump wrestled Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania from the Democrats. Most of these are those typical, working class states, which have been traditionally Democratic strongholds.
It wasn’t immigration, gun control, abortion or Islamic terrorism that delivered him victory; it was the promise of economic recovery.
I must add that I don’t believe that Trump will be able to deliver on any of his promises, but the fact remains that these promises resonated with the frustrated populace of America, who decided to roll the dice.
So that’s about Trump. But how did Hillary lose? After all, Hillary’s loss caused Trump to win, rather than Trump forcing a win on merit. I recently wrote “If Hillary can’t win after being Bill Clinton’s wife, having run for nomination earlier, having been Secretary of State, having been the first woman to be in contention for the presidency, having twice the campaign funds than those of her opponent, having an opponent who is ridiculed by his own party, having Bernie Sanders endorse him, AND having the most popular president of recent times in Obama campaign extensively for her, then perhaps she doesn’t deserve to win”. Here are four reasons Hillary lost:
- She’s a woman: That’s a trick title. Contrary to what you think, she lost not because America ‘is not ready for a woman president’ or that the ‘white males in America wouldn’t vote for her’ but because most people did not like the fact that her gender was being touted as a qualification. As someone who considers himself a feminist, I was disturbed by the fact that millions of young women were pinning their hopes on Hillary because she is a woman. Her statements about there being a glass ceiling etc. were rejected by most people (including myself), who did not see a presidential election as being a battleground for feminism. Obama put it well when he said that “she’s the most qualified candidate we’ve got who also happens to be a woman and a mother”. This was perfect. The focus was on her experience and qualification; potentially being the first female president was to be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Her attacks on Trump as being anti-women were also quite funny because her husband actually did what Trump was accused of perceiving.
- Stank of the establishment: Listening to Hillary, put on spin on her words ever so well, reminded every potential voter of what an archetypal politician looks and sounds like. With someone so radically different running against her, the fact that she had 30 years experience including several years inside the White House was hardly seen as an advantage. It was seen as a sign that things will continue as they are, and for people who didn’t like the way things were (majority of America), that was not an option. In fact, almost half of the democratic voters wanted Bernie Sanders to be their candidate and not Hillary for exactly the same reason: change. But they couldn’t get Bernie in, and I suspect, several of those voted for Trump.
- Anti-incumbency: Obama was leaving some pretty big shoes to fill. Though he was the most popular American president I’ve witnessed, 8 years with Democrats in power was enough even for the traditionally democratic voters. The fence sitters were sure to switch, as they did. Hillary, being the pro-establishment candidate that she was, represented a continuation of Obama in office. In fact, Trump latched onto this notion, and attacked Hillary as being ‘four more years of Obama’ during their debates. She also seemed pretty arrogant and overconfident, especially at the tail end of the campaign, and overconfidence is often punished in politics. Moreover, the voters not only elected Trump to be the president, but perhaps as importantly, handed control of the Congress and the Senate to the Republicans. So anti-incumbency was at all levels.
- ISIS-Saudi-Pakistan nexus: Hillary (and Obama) are in bed with the Wahhabi dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Pakistan. The ordinary American might not know much about these details, but without the Democrats in power, there would probably be no ISIS. Hillary’s foreign policy has been quite disastrous, particularly for America. Americans see their influence in the middle east waning, with Americans trying to return home from two inconclusive wars. The Taliban were funded and formed by President Jimmy Carter, who was a Democrat (Carter was also responsible for creating havoc in Iran that caused the Islamic revolution in 1979). Hillary (and her husband’s) benevolence towards Pakistan is clearly shown by the fact that her closest aide and designated Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin is half Pakistani, who grew up in Saudi, and has close ties to the Muslim brotherhood. Hillary’s refusal to name and shame Islamic terrorism as such did cost her some, if not a significant number of votes.
I placed a bet on Trump. I knew he’d win. I don’t think he will be a successful president, but I knew he’d beat Hillary. Perhaps Sanders would have beaten him, but those are just theories now. I have also been pointing out that the election rhetoric that Trump employed will tone down immediately after he wins, as it has. If you hear Trump’s speech on election night, when it was announced that he’d won, you’ll find a very balanced, unifying, and inspirational speech. Very different from all that we heard come out of mouth so far, but that is the nature of elections and democracy. To some extent, Modi’s election rhetoric also toned down after he assumed office (although he never said things as ridiculous as Trump did).
I predict that those who expect Trump be the end of ISIS and Islamic terrorism will be disappointed. Just as I predicted that hard line Hindutva supporters will be disappointed by a very secular Modi. Trump will not do anything spectacular about these issues. In fact, the whole issue of restraining immigration of certain Muslims from entering the US has been taken down from his official website. So the Muslims hate him for no reason. And the anti-Muslims love him for no reason! Though I am biased towards him for being a secret atheist, the evangelicals, who voted for him because they vote Republican, will also be disappointed. Sam Harris tweeted a pithy statement where in he said that the 80% of evangelicals had just elected the nations first atheist president!
Clintons’s love for Pakistan, and their cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia is well documented. It was Bill Clinton who imposed crushing sanctions against India as a result of our nuclear program while doing nothing to prevent nuclear proliferation from China to Pakistan. It was Bill Clinton who sided with Pakistan during the Kargil war, limiting India’s ability and right to cross the LoC and reclaim PoK. It is under the Democrats that Christian missionaries in India and around the world have been thriving. It is the Democrat-supporting media (CNN, NY Times etc.) which continue to show a biased and historically incorrect picture of Kashmir. It is under Obama’s watch that what Rajiv Malhotra terms ‘atrocity literature‘ against India has hit new highs. It was the Obama administration which persisted with the preemptive ban on Narendra Modi obtaining a US visa under a discriminatory law (touted as a religious freedom law; funnily, dictators from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were welcomed with warmth even though they preside illegally over lands where minorities have ceased to exist).
NRIs and the Indian media is also incorrect about the post-Trump future of the Indian IT industry, which depends on the availability of H1B and L1 visas. Under Obama’s regime, H1B visa fees were hiked four fold and L1 visas for Indian companies were almost stopped altogether. Traditionally, Republicans have been closer to the IT industry in the US, and are therefore more likely to respond to their constant pressure to raise the cap of H1B visas. It is hard to say if Trump will do anything about this particular measure, but he is more likely to help us rather than harm us on this front.
Democrats are protectionists; it is completely against their policies to encourage foreign talent. Although, I must add the Trump is hardly a conventional Republican. His statements on the economy and immigration place him side by side with the socialists, but I doubt he will stand by those. He will, most likely, tow the Republican line, which as I said is usually pro-industry. It was George Bush who lobbied for and granted India the nuclear waiver, which was the most pro-India step that America has taken since the Indian independence. Without that, there would be no chance of India even knocking at the NSG door, forget about standing a realistic chance of getting in.
I am not a Trump supporter. I think he is a man with a pretty average IQ, but I think we owe him a chance to do what he wants. With a Republican monopoly in all arms of government (senate and congress), he doesn’t have an excuse to not perform. I also respect him for winning a race against all odds. From being ridiculed by the tallest leaders of his own party to being ripped apart by the media (both mainstream and social), he trumped against all odds, and for that, he deserves respect.
I think he will fail as the US president, but I do think that he cannot be worse for India than what Hillary Clinton would have been. He is likely to take a tough stance against Islamic terrorism, which automatically helps India. I am not certain whether he’d have the will to tackle Pakistan, but he will certainly be more benevolent towards India.
It disturbs me to see the almost blind support for Hillary Clinton, not only by NRIs, but also by Indians in India. From Mullah’s to Barkha Dutt, they all love her. But that’s not all. The Pakistanis love her too. For the last 2 days, a quick review of Pakistani news will tell you about the phobia that has gripped Pakistan because Hillary lost. They all rooted for her. On their shows, they despise Trump (for the usual reasons) and accuse him of being pro-India and anti-Islam.
Isn’t it funny that the Pakistanis love Hillary and despise Trump, and most of India ALSO love Hillary and despise Trump even though there can be no policy in the world where India and Pakistan are on the same side? Well they are right; Hillary would have benefited them and would have continued spending billions on keeping their coffers full while turning a blind eye to their support for terrorism, Wahhabism, treatment of minorities, and their disproportionately large nuclear weapons program. With Trump, all of this is likely to get tougher for them (which automatically means it will get better for us), and as Pakistan will move further towards their new flat-faced masters, Trump will increasingly rely on India to deal with the the China-Pakistan nexus.