The American Democratic Party National Convention (DNC) has cleared former vice-president Joe Biden as the party’s candidate for the 2020 presidential elections, and a half-Tamilian Brahmin woman with Chennai roots, Kamala Harris, as his running mate.
Departing from the standard practice of colourful, quadrennial pageants, when politicians would address large, eager crowds in packed auditoria, it was held online this time in light of the ongoing Wuhan virus pandemic, with keynote speakers addressing their supporters digitally.
The crux, as always, was about getting people to vote in larger numbers, since results are dependent on voter turnout.
In 2016, Republican Donald Trump won with less than 60 per cent of Americans voting, and incongruously swung the Electoral College even though he got 2 per cent less votes than his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
This is important because the apparent oddity of Trump winning more seats with fewer votes manifested itself only because of the incredibly huge landslides Clinton got in two states — California and New York.
If we discount these two which Clinton won, 39 of the remaining 48 states showed a material swing towards the Republicans.
In political terms, the best way to counter that is to somehow increase Democrat voter turnout (much like how former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath was caught on video, asking Muslim voters to come out in larger numbers and defeat Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019).
It’s simple math: an enhanced partisan voter turnout can neutralise negative vote swings, without needing to try and woo back those who switched sides.
But the methodology employed to that end by keynote speakers at the DNC, offered an interesting perspective on the nature and evolution of liberal democracies globally: if taken at their word, the seniors of the Democratic Party demonstrated a strangely puerile distancing from the idea of America, in their quest for more Democrat votes, and an oddly increasing similarity to our own secular parties.
This does not augur well for American democracy, and could mark a gradual, epochal shift of genuine, grassroots democracy away from the West, to the Indian subcontinent.
A word on the main speakers first: arch-Leftist Bernie Sanders (Red Bernie to many) spluttered his way through a polemical diatribe against Trump, and offered his support to a slew of socialist welfare measures. His rhetoric was framed in alarmist, apocalyptic, existential terms, and offered no advice on the economy.
Michelle Obama too, made a strong, emotional appeal, laced with the same sense of alarm, doom and gloom.
Maybe there is some method in such madness; playing the gender, fear and race cards together may work to invoke a sense of pathos, and reduce voter apathy, but only Americans will fall for the audacious, saccharine-laden apophasis of someone who talks politics by saying she doesn’t talk politics.
An assortment of turncoat Republicans were given top billing, to explain why Trump had to go, on the apparent assumption that former Republicans badmouthing Republicans would induce Republicans to vote against Republicans.
Rather than being a meaningful electoral ploy, this was a convoluted tactic masquerading as strategy, which only highlighted Democrat frustrations at being wholly unable to attract votes from Trump’s core base.
Things have reached such a state that Republicans are being wooed with a surreal sales pitch called “Biden conservatism”: a small tent within the Democratic camp which proposes — hold your breath —that Republicans vote for Biden in 2020, so that they may unseat Trump now, and reclaim their own Republican Party in 2024. These snake oil salesmen would have better luck hawking toothbrushes without bristles.
Hillary Clinton’s ephemeral return from political wilderness, for the DNC, was tinged by the secret hope of anxious Democrats, that she put aside her habitual churlishness for once and be a team player; she did, but the effort showed.
In a brief speech endorsing Biden-Harris, she referred to herself half a dozen times, before castigating Trump, advocating more social spending, encouraging voter turnouts, and plugging the race vote with a salute to the militant Black Lives Matter movement.
Barack Obama was the star turn, the darling of the liberals, and he didn’t disappoint.
Over 20 anguished minutes, the man informed his party that Trump was a ‘reality show’, a disinterested attention-seeker (whatever that means), a nepotist (read crony capitalist), a gold bricker, and someone who uncompromisingly degraded institutions. (Trump’s response was a crisply-timed tweet through extra cover to the boundary: “Welcome, Barack and Crooked Hillary. See you on the field of battle!”)
But the strange thing is, while Obama and other speakers repeatedly, and petulantly, laboured to highlight Trump’s personality flaws, and portray him as uncouth, unfit or unwise, none of them offered any rational explanations on why they thought Trump was bad for America.
Instead, the Democrats only highlighted a surprisingly-structural policy cluelessness, as a result of which, the sole, real counter they had to Trump, was a promise of greater social spending.
This was eerily reminiscent of Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in 2019, Rafale, Rafale, Rafale, chowkidar chor hai, and the freebies of his NYAY welfare scheme (American economist Abhijit Banerjee and Chicago green-carder Raghuram Rajan were involved, inter alia), which flopped before it could be launched.
The Democrats’ rhetoric vacillated between outrage, cloying mawkishness, frightening negativism, and a superficial, Yankee version of faux Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb, when the actual truth is that black and white live together and apart, peaceably, in Middle America.
People talked voter turnout, welfare, and race, but no one talked economy, except to the extent that they acrobatically interpreted increased social spending, as being somehow synonymous with economics.
How times have changed. Once upon a time, it was our liberal elite which aped the West and sought to mould us in their casts. Now, it is the liberal West which apes our secular, socialist, elitist proficiencies in electoral welfarism, and the unworthy division of society along sad lines of mistaken identity, for electoral profit.
The Democratic Party is now so similar to our Congress, communist, and social justice parties, that you half expect the Democrats to shortly invite Akhilesh Yadav there for campaigning — on his bicycle. No wonder they have black liberals who write books equating caste with race.
This is the sort of institutionalised fatuousness which passes for political theory in America today. Not that Europe is any better; the debate over the burkha showed that you could either have democracy, or a ban on the burkha — but not both in the same space.
Americans taking offence to statues and pulling them down are intrinsically no different from Europeans taking offense to a traditional Muslim garment, or the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan Buddha because they find idolatry offensive.
The similarities don’t stop there. Democratic Party affiliates, who paid to bail out black rioters arrested during the Black Lives Matter riots, are no different from their Indian Congress counterparts, who maintained rigid focus on the objectionable Facebook post of a young man (he made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed, in response to someone who abused a Hindu god), while conveniently glossing over the violence and mayhem of Muslim arsonists, who torched vehicles, homes and police stations during the recent Bangalore Janmashtami riots.
Barack Obama’s wooing of the white vote was no different from Rahul Gandhi wooing Hindus with his temple runs, or his Shiva bhakti. Nothing is changed, and both are still too slick for their own good; Obama still tries too hard to be whiter than whites, while Rahul Gandhi tries to be more Hindu than Hindus.
The fact is that it’s the same electoral formula: consolidate the minority vote, entice the fence-sitters who still rhapsodise about Chacha Nehru (or John F Kennedy, if in America), add a little guilt-tripping for impetus, and secure the popular mandate.
The high political profitability of such a strategy is obvious, when we note that the non-Caucasian vote (Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians, mainly) is now up to near 40 per cent in America. With each passing year, the Democrats therefore need less of the white Christian vote to secure a mandate, as long as they stick together and vote en bloc.
So, the empty political rhetoric of the DNC speeches show that even as India finally starts to shed its secular hypocrisies, for a mature, equitable, Dharmic democracy, American children of a European Enlightenment are slowly junking classical liberalism, Jeffersonian exceptionalism, and Christian morals, for crude political tools of the atheist, militant, activist, vote bank variety. One society is advancing politically while the other is regressing.
This sinking debasement of once-evolved Occidental thought, to the benthic depths of immature schoolgirl activism, is contrasted by an inexorable Asiatic sobriety, which now seeks to propel society beyond postcolonial politics, to civilisational policies.
A decades-long American custom of dumbing down, and legitimising mediocrity, has reached the substratum of traditions and principles; the bedrock of societal patience has been hit, and Berkeley progressives can dig no more, since mom, the flag, and apple pie are now at stake.
American liberalism has become effete. And if they bend any further backwards for the minority vote, their spines would snap. All they have left is a few ugly shards of race, with which to shred a beautiful land their forefathers fashioned.
If this keeps up, it is entirely possible that parts of America may become mired in a weird sort of zombie-anarcho-Marxism in the coming decades, along deeply polarising fault lines of violent racial identity — much as India was between the 1960s and the 2000s. That will have global consequences.
As much as we would like to believe in stasis and terra firma, the truth is that the world’s axis shifts constantly. The North Pole once hosted crocodiles in a tropical environment, and there were palm trees in Antarctica.
Similarly, India was devising radical advancements in surgery and metallurgy while Europeans were living in caves, and deriving formulae of trigonometry, while wild tribes dueled in Asia Minor using swords forged from Deccani steel. And yet, a majority of that same India couldn’t put a square meal on the table, while a rocket put the Sputnik satellite in space.
That is changing, and there is now a clear divergence in the force: the tiny liberal democracies of Europe are growing increasingly irrelevant, and illiberal, as India gets its act together. With each passing year, the world is slowly reducing to the Big Four — Russia, China, America and India. And only two of those are democracies.
So if Yale-Berkeley liberalism becomes the driving force of North America post-November 2020, it is conceivable that domestic social strife and culture wars in the ‘new world’ could cause two to shrivel slowly to one, and create an imbalance of power.
That is how important the 2020 American presidential elections are (much as 2019 was for India and the world).
Thus, a conclusion for the short- to mid-term is that India must be prepared to respond cautiously, to fairly dramatic shifts in American policies, if Biden is elected president.
But whether Biden wins or not, the Democrats would do well to learn from India, that the politics of fear doesn’t have happy endings. America deserves better.
Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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