'India pours on pageantry' but trade deal remains elusive: How US media covered Donald Trump's maiden visit

  • While Indian newspapers focused on the minutest of details from hand gestures to the delicacies served to the Trumps, the US media obsessed over their president's eating habits and the pomp and show surrounding the carefully crafted photo-ops

  • Another talking point was the crowd size at Trump's roadshow and Motera stadium rally, which many papers said was in keeping with Trump's love for grand spectacles

  • Another issue that drew US media's attention was the similarities between Trump and Modi and the former's silence on the latter's policy which critics say are discriminatory towards Muslims.

The maiden visit of Donald Trump to India as the President of the United States has garnered much interest in both India and the US. While Indian newspapers focused on the minutest of details from hand gestures to the delicacies served to the Trumps, the US media obsessed over their president's eating habits and the pomp and show surrounding the carefully crafted photo-ops.

Another talking point was the crowd size at Trump's roadshow and Motera stadium rally, which many papers said was in keeping with Trump's love for grand spectacles.

The New York Times covered the US president's visit to India on its front page, with the lede paragraph referring to the Motera Stadium rally and Trump's love for 'spectacles'. The newspaper, which has been critical of Trump's mercurial nature and his policies, also termed both Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as 'populist leaders'.

 India pours on pageantry but trade deal remains elusive: How US media covered Donald Trumps maiden visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US president Donald Trump during the 'Namaste Trump' event. PTI

"President Donald Trump began a two-day visit to India on Monday by joining Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a campaign-style rally in a 1,10,000-seat cricket stadium that illustrated the populist bond between the two men and impressed a president who revels in spectacle," an article titled 'America Loves India,' Trump Declares at Rally With Modi read on NYT's front page.

The article didn't end there and drew several more parallels between the two leaders, calling both keen on cultivating a larger-than-life, unapologetically brash image as leaders. It also said that the Namaste Trump rally was a mirror image of Howdy Modi event in Texas, and commented on how Trump looked 'satisfied' by the grand spectacle curated in his honour by the Indian side.

"The event was the mirror image of a Howdy, Modi! rally the two men held at a football stadium in Houston in September and catered to Trump’s taste for a giant crowd. It also made vivid an image the leaders are jointly cultivating as larger-than-life, unapologetically brash figures leading their countries to bright new futures — even as critics call them mutual enablers in parallel assaults on democratic and religious freedoms," the article added.

The newspaper also criticised the US President for betraying his unfamiliarity with India in a speech intended to honour the country. "Even as he name-checked famous cricket players and Bollywood stars, Trump betrayed unfamiliarity with the country — and even his immediate location — when he stumbled over several pronunciations, including those of Ahmedabad itself, as well as Gujarat"

CNN, meanwhile, observed that the mood at Motera was similar to Trump's election rally and the US president appeared more than happy to bask in that glory.

"And while a major trade agreement seems unlikely on this trip, Trump was more than happy to bask in the type of massive crowds that don't typically congregate when he travels abroad (except to protest him)," it said.

"This is a loud and boisterous country, and that exactly in some ways really fits with the Trump style," Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution told CNN. "All American presidential visits to India are optic-heavy. In some ways, American presidents go to India to feel loved."

"The whole event took on the atmosphere of one of Trump's political rallies, complete with the Elton John playlist. And that, aides say, is what Trump was looking for when he agreed to travel 8,000 miles for a night in India: an uproarious reception and the biggest crowd he's ever drawn," CNN reported.

Trump, admittedly, is a 'reluctant traveller' and doesn't generally undertake longer state visits involving night stays. The current one to India will only keep him away from the White House for one day.

Meanwhile, how and what Trump will eat while in India also remained a subject of great speculation, given the US president's love for fast food and beef, a meat variety that upsets majoritarian sensibilities in India and is outlawed in parts of the country.

"President Trump has a well-documented history of eating — how to put this diplomatically? — like Guy Fieri with more bank. The list of the president’s favourite foods reads like a teenager’s dream picnic: burgers, taco bowls, Oreos, Diet Cokes, McDonald’s, KFC, cherry vanilla ice cream, well-done steaks, meatloaf and beef with an extra side of beef," said The Washington Post adding that the two-day India visit will surely present a challenge to the president who will be breaking bread with a vegetarian Narendra Modi on several occasions.

The CNN wondered how the POTUS will live without his meatloaf and beef burgers.

"The President, whose diet is often a rotation of steaks, burgers and meatloaf, faces a potential shock as he prepares to travel to three Indian cities this week. His trip includes stops in Gujarat state, Agra and Delhi, where Hindus are the majority and cows are revered as sacred," CNN reported.

The media house quoted a Trump aide who has dined with him on several occasions as saying that Trump has a salad with a meal every now and then — but other than that, "I have never seen him eat a vegetable."

Fox Newsmeanwhile, lambasted CNN for its 'obsession with Trump's eating habits'.

"The liberal network that once hyperventilated because President Trump is sometimes served an extra scoop of ice cream has struck again – this time mocking the president because he might have to eschew a cheeseburger or two during his trip to India," the news network noted in an article.

Another issue that drew US media's attention was the similarities between Trump and Modi and the former's silence on the latter's policy, which, critics say, are discriminatory towards Muslims.

The New York Times criticised Trump's lack of mention of Modi's alleged anti-Muslim policies, the protests over the new citizenship law and the revocation of special status and statehood of Jammu and Kashmir.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have enticed Mr Trump to fly 8,000 miles with the promise of a two-day spectacle. But serious issues remain," the article read. "Mr Trump has shown little public concern for actions by Mr Modi that have drawn international condemnation...."

The Boston Globe said that Trump has never publicly rebuked world leaders for human rights' violations. While in India, he, in fact, bolstered Modi's hardliner stance by speaking about 'radical Islam'.

"Trump has refrained from publicly rebuking world leaders for human rights abuses during his overseas trips. He made no specific mention of the citizenship debate during the rally but included passing references to religious tolerance for all faiths, including Islam. He also specifically referred to the United States' success combating 'radical Islamic terrorism,' particularly originating from India's longtime rival, Pakistan," the article noted.

The Washington Post, in an editorial titled Trump validates Modi’s divisive agendasaid: "Trump’s own Islamophobia needs no introduction; his friend Modi is almost a mirror image, an ally who speaks the language that divides, polarises and berates all critics. Trump’s visit is meant only to satiate his narcissistic instinct of seeing millions of people chanting his name. Modi, whose own megalomaniacal tendencies are legendary, is getting what he wants, too: the President of the United States praising him in front of television cameras and his ardent supporters."

The focus was back on the real work only on Tuesday, when Trump and Modi were expected to discuss threadbare the festering trade dispute and talk about security-related matters.

"Trump has all but ruled out striking a grand trade deal on this trip. He said in his speech the US and India would make 'very, very major' trade agreements but that they remain in the early stages. Modi, he joked, is a 'very tough negotiator'. Trump did announce billions in new defence sale agreements, which the US hopes will lure India away from purchasing its hardware from Russia," CNN reported.

The media house noted that as the elaborate state visit came to a close, its outcome appeared more about optics than policy.

Trump and Modi announced some modest agreements on defence and security, including the purchase of $3 billion worth of American military helicopters and other equipment for its Navy. But the duo remained largely noncommittal on the much-awaited trade deal. Trump merely indicated that a deal will be signed eventually but made no references to a timeframe.

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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2020 16:33:49 IST


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