Let’s Chill: Trump Is A Symptom Of The US’s Deep Ills, Not The Illness Itself

Let’s Chill: Trump Is A Symptom Of The US’s Deep Ills, Not The Illness Itself

by R Jagannathan - Thursday, November 10, 2016 02:14 PM IST
Let’s Chill:  Trump Is A Symptom Of The US’s Deep Ills, Not The Illness ItselfDonald Trump
  • Donald Trump was not elected for who he is as a person.

    He has been elected to pose the right question to the power elite, and one hopes he will do just that.

One of the ironies of the recently held US Presidential election is that the winner was the one who doubted the system, not the loser. It was Donald Trump’s raucous supporters who were expected to flood the streets if the verdict had gone the other way. But, in the end, it was the so-called Democrats who ended up being the spoilers.

Yesterday (9 November), when the results came in, thousands of Americans from the Left-Liberal side were out on the streets shouting “Not my President, not today”. A CNN report (see the video and story here) quoted protestors as chanting “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” while others chanted “I will not live in fear.”

Even if one were to take this outburst as a one-time emotional over-reaction, it still reveals the deep political and social divide in America. The US of A is no longer one country in spirit.

But the larger point is this: if a democratic outcome is so shocking to half the country (it may have been the same if Hillary Clinton had won instead of Trump), one needs to question its democratic credentials.

Democracy is about accepting the verdict of the people, not refusing to do so. Faith in democracy also means understanding taking what politicians say with a pinch of salt. Whatever politicians may say on the stump, when in office they will act more moderately. Not for nothing is the Narendra Modi government sometimes criticised for being UPA-3 and not NDA-2.

Granted, Trump has not been the most civilised of candidates, having repeatedly courted controversy over his remarks on women, Afro-Americans, Muslims, Hispanics, and untold others. But it was his extreme political incorrectness that constituted the bulk of his appeal. It was what convinced his supporters that he can speak the truth to power, and bring in serious change.

The stock markets tanked after the results, once again showing that it lives in its own imagined world.

In India, The Times of India headlined the Trump election win as “Don of an anxious era” and columnist Swaminathan Aiyar said Trump was “no solution to the civilisation crisis facing the west.” He went one better and created a new make-believe quote on behalf of Trump: “I grabbed America by the p***y and she said yes.”

The problem with all this scare-mongering is that the commentariat seems to have even less faith in democracy than the people crowding the streets of America with anti-Trump slogans. The same thing happened after Brexit, when a livid elite called for a second referendum. The same thing happened in Delhi, when the Lutyens cabal refused to accept the reality of a Modi elected to power democratically.

Americans should chill. Trump is a symptom of the disease wracking America, not the problem. He may not have the right solutions, but he is at least acknowledging the problem.

Moreover, we all need to stand back and ponder a few home-truths.

First, we must acknowledge that the media has become part of the establishment in large parts of the world, including the US and India. While it may occasionally do critical stories against its favoured leaders, it tends to be more critical of those who are threatening to the establishment. This is what is happening in the US, just as it happened when Modi was elected in 2014. The media has a lot of introspection to do.

Second, it is fine to lambast Trump for his populist nonsense, and excoriate him for his outrageous observations, but the presumption that his rhetoric will lead to policy action on the same lines is stupidity on our part. No President of the US, or for that matter any head of democratic government anywhere, can change the direction of policies 180 degrees. This is because heads of government do not rule alone; they appoint ministers, listen to lobbies and think-tanks, and the courts. Trump will be reined in and circumscribed. He is not going to be able to deport millions of illegal immigrants, or ban Muslims from entering the US, though some rules may be tightened. Nor is he going to make sexual predatoriness acceptable in America.

The reaction of Wall Street to Trump is foolish. Do the markets expect a businessman to damage the business environment? Are Trump’s promised tax cuts something they don’t want? At best you can say these promises may not happen, but there is no reason to think Trump is going to do anything worse to the economy than an Obama.

Immigration curbs are now going mainstream. We build fences to keep out illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, many European countries oppose the entry of more Syrian refugees, Brexit happened because the Brits were worried about accepting too many Poles, and still we think Trump’s proposed wall on the southern border is somehow illegitimate. He may make illegal crossing difficult and deport some Hispanics, but he is not going to be able to do much more than what the US is already doing.

Third, we are not cutting Trump any slack or giving credit for the things he said right. In foreign policy, he may well do better than the current establishment. US policies on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya have bombed badly, leading to the creation of deadly terrorist organisations like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. The US still treats Russia like a cold war threat, thus pushing Vladimir Putin into China’s open embrace. Putin may be an autocrat and may have aggressive designs on some parts of the former Soviet Union, but he is no Stalin threatening the core of Europe. Trump has had a more open mind on foreign policy and US-Russia ties than the current establishment. The world should welcome this. Change will be good here.

In his post-election speech, Trump promised to be good to his allies, and so there is not going to be any disengagement with Europe, nor will all trade pacts be torn up. What he is most likely to do is ask others to bear a bigger share of the costs of partnership, whether in trade or defence relationships. This is hardly going to rock the world.

Fourth, Trump is not alone in rethinking the post-World War II world. While globalisation, open borders and technology have helped many countries lift the poorest out of poverty faster than before, the questions thrown up by these trends have not been addressed by ruling establishments anywhere. They refuse to acknowledge that globalisation and automation may have both winners and losers. If these issues are left unaddressed, support for globalisation and technology will wane.

It is this refusal of the beneficiaries of globalisation to acknowledge the pains of the losers that has caused deep anger, creating space for the Trumps and Marine Le Pens of the world. Their language may be bigoted, but they are also flagging the right questions. You can say they have the wrong answers, but who stopped the establishment and the elite from seeking better answers?

Donald Trump was not elected for who he is as a person. He has been elected to pose the right question to the power elite, and one hopes he will do just that. If he doesn’t the world has to tolerate him for only four years. Or even less.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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