Certified news junkies like me never had it so good. The Bengal and other state elections followed by a late-blooming Olympics were barely over when the US Presidential campaign kicked in and day by day, week by week, it’s been giving any soap opera a run for its money, complete with a hero and a heroine, villains and fools, sex and sleaze, twists and turns, shocks and surprises and a nail-biting finish to boot. No wonder CNN will reportedly make “$100 million in television and digital advertising revenues more than it would expect in the typical election year,” ie $100 million in addition to what the channel would have raked in anyway.
Still, the next seven days can’t go soon enough for me. Laughable, right? What’s it to me who becomes the President of the United States? There was a Facebook post by Rajya Sabha MP and BJP ideologue SwapanDasgupta a couple of days ago, admonishing others from sticking their noses into an election that is none of our business. We didn’t like it, he said, when outsiders gave us unsolicited advice during our 2014 elections, we should let Americans decide what suits them best.
But what happens in America doesn’t stay in America. It seldom has. Nevertheless, I can’t remember any other election threatening to touch my life like this one. The race for the most powerful job on earth has always been important but can you recall even one image from the 2000 campaign that gave the world George W Bush and the Iraq War with all its chilling consequences?
True, the 2008 election was memorable, but only because of the colour of the skin of one candidate. The thought of a black man being courted by this racist world, India included, was too delicious for words. But I didn’t expect the anointment of Barak Obama to affect my life directly, nor did it.
The world may be a more peaceful place because of his labours vis-à-vis Cuba and Iran, or maybe not. He may have been right about staying away from Syria for all practical purposes or maybe it was a cop out. World finances could be more stable thanks to his shepherding of the US economy or maybe more could have been done. I just don’t know.
But come 9 November and the impact on my life, thousands of miles away from the White House, will be proximate and immediate. Or not. Precisely the choice Donald Trump has threatened (or promised): sweeping change or business as usual. And never has status quo in distant America appeared so enticing.
Not because my nephews and nieces, enjoying the fruits of globalisation that have sent jobs to our shores, stand to lose “yugely” if Donald Trump emerges the victor. Outsourcing is anathema to The Don’s vote base of angry white men whom globalisation has left behind so he happily breathes fire at it. What he does once he enters the West Wing though remains to be seen. As Prof Sushil Khanna of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta points out, “It’s not easy to get out of globalisation once you’re a part of it.”
Nor will a new President mean much for Indo-Pak hostilities. These responses are calibrated by geo-political considerations, not by personalities. If America needs Pakistan then all the bonhomie between our Prime Minister and a President who is “a fan of the Hindu” will amount to little or, rather, the bonhomie will be predicated on who needs whom how much, not on how much one respects the other.
Nor do I believe a woman as the first citizen of the world will be that transformative. It may be novel for America but we have seen too many women “wearing the pants in the cabinet” and to what effect? No one will claim Indira Gandhi’s India or Jayalalitha’s Tamil Nadu or Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal are havens for women or operate very differently from those ruled by the ‘unfair sex’. In fact, given that lives of blacks in America have distinctly worsened in the last eight years, Hillary Clinton’s contribution to the cause of women may be no different from Obama’s achievement for his kinfolk: breaking of barriers, unshackling of dreams.
No, the reason I am so anxious to know who the next President of the United States will have to do with our own politics, the way it is being played out now and how it will be practiced post this 9/11. A Hillary Clinton victory may not make things here better but a Donald Trump win will surely make them darker, meaner, nastier.
True, today’s India teeming with hyper-nationalist demagogues is far removed from the sophistication that Nehru’s India could boast of. Still, the Western code of conduct for public life remains the touchstone for Indian politicians even today. Our penal code, our election rules are based on these concepts of civilised discourse. And America has always seen itself as the upholder of these notions of democratic behaviour across the world, if necessary by force.
But what happens when “the leader of the free world” repeats what he’s said over and over again on the campaign trail, turning Western liberal thinking on its head: that it’s ok to be openly racist and communal, that all Mexicans can be called rapists, all Muslims terrorists, that they can be forcibly kept away, that political correctness is for birds? Imagine what a shot in the arm that’ll be for netas who love to mock “sickularists”, swear by gau-raksha and ghar-wapsi, want to pack all Muslims off to Pakistan.
“Their hearts are bleeding for terrorists,” ridiculed a BJP spokesman those questioning the killing of eight undertrials in Bhopal. They were, he claimed, “sympathising” with them because of their religion. “Do you think they would have done this if it was not religion?” Imagine the fillip such speakers will get when they hear such sentiments echoed from inside the White House and just as crudely.
The Bible verse that has most influenced Donald Trump is, surprise surprise, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…” or so he has said on the campaign trail. It works like this: “What happens is they hit me and I hit them back harder and, usually in all cases, they do it first. But they hit me and I hit them back harder and they disappear. That’s what we want to lead the country.” Which must be music for BJP leader Ram Madhav who had demanded “for one tooth, the complete jaw” after the September Uri attacks. Next time he can confidently ask for more.
Vengeance, thy name is Donald Trump. He not only approves of torture, if you can’t get the terrorists, “take out” their families, he has decreed. “Look, you have to play the game the way they’re playing the game,” Trump told interviewers when asked whether he was stooping to the same level as the “savages” he sought to defeat. By that reckoning the MNS and the Maharashtra chief minister have been models of rectitude over resolving the Ae Dil standoff. Trump will embolden them to aim higher.
The world will be a brutish and frightening place once Donald Trump comes to power and India, teetering on the edge as it is, will be encouraged to tip over into an abyss of hatred and illiberalism. Now is the time for America to go into its save-the-world mode and defeat Trump resoundingly. For themselves, for us all.