May 26, 2020
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A Flame-Top With A Torch

America’s struggling masses have made this a trickster’s finest hour

A Flame-Top With A Torch

We watched in utter disbelief as a Fanta-coloured fascist with bad hair, small vision and a large ego won. Markets felt its seismic aftershock: Nasdaq nosedived, the Dow went down 800 points. We had thought Hillary would make her story. But instead of her promised shattered glass ceiling, Trump wants a high wall near Mexico and a door slammed to deport Muslims. This son of German and Scottish imm­igrants, who paid undocumented Polish workers a lowly $5 an hour, and was married to a Slovenian who worked illegally in the US before she got her citizenship, will make good on his promise of rounding up 11 million undocumented immigrants. Funds, Congress approval and sheer logistics be damned.

We hope bridges, physical and metaphorical, will be built. Trump has made bombastic promises on much-needed domestic infrastructure—a welcome idea—but has remained vague on resources. He has shortlists (all regressively anti-abortion, pro-gun choices) to succeed Antonin Scalia, the late, unlamented US Supreme Court justice. Trump will try to repeal Obamacare. He will have the eager support of the conservatives in both. He will unravel Obama’s global legacy in other ways.

We can’t peg this loss on Hillary’s charmlessness, the e-mail scandal, idealistic Sanders fans, disillusioned millennials or third-party voters.

The unemployment rate, brought down to 4.9 per cent, may go up again. Will this rich billionaire with poor impulse control short-circuit America’s cautiously reviving economy? Even after squandering his slumlord father’s crooked billions, declaring fake bankruptcies and multiple lawsuits, skimming fat off his charity foundation, dodging huge taxes, and stiffing partners, clients and servicemen, Trump is not the successful businessman he claims to be. He is also the only President-elect with no experience in political or public service.

The US is sunk in a nadir of nativism and Brexitentialist rage. Tub-thumping xenophobia will dictate foreign affairs. Putin, the man behind one-sided Wikileaks attacks, was the first to congratulate Trump. MSNBC has said this was the first time a hostile foreign power influenced the outcome of a national election. NATO is jittery over Trump’s hardliner indulgence of Putin’s interventionist ambitions in the Baltic region. America, the self-styled peacekeeper, will turn into a schoolyard bully. Trump will feed his supporters’ paranoia with bogeys of China, Iran and ISIS. Trump may even scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for him “the worst deal the US ever signed”. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty hangs in the balance. The world will be wary of those volatile fingers on angry 5 am tweets or nuclear codes. State visits will be fraught. (“You tiny fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon” is just a foretaste.) We will see a rise in protectionism and mut­ual suspicion. A pity, since Hillary, while hawkish, managed US interests well in Asia and Europe as secretary of state.

India will not be affected, beyond tougher immigration laws. Stronger pledges against terrorism will be mutually beneficial. As for Indian Americans, a whopping majority are Democrats who voted against him—mostly high earning professionals whom he accepts. Trump was also recently honoured by traditional New Jersey heartland desis (typically Modi-bhakts) who raised $1 billion for him—they are less affluent, like his regular small-town American Joe voter base.

This was the most polarising, populist campaigns in American history. We saw attacks on Hillary and Obama, with filthy signs and slogans (n*gg*r, b*tch, sl*t and worse), debates riddled with lies, speeches targeting Hispanics, alienating fellow Republicans. Trump’s inflammatory rhe­toric led to hate crimes—an anti-Semitic attack here, a black church burnt there, a Muslim boy routinely teased as a terrorist by a teacher and suspended from school. White supremacists are out of the closet and the Klu Klux Klan’s David Duke is rejoicing today. Trump needs to make reassurances to minorities. There are misgivings over whether the liberal secular democracy of USA will remain liberal, secular, or even a democracy.

How did we get an over-the-top buffoon with a fan-base of bottom-feeders for President? We can’t peg it all on Clinton’s charmlessness, late-breaking FBI spill by Comey, disillusioned millennials, idealistic Bernie Sanders fans, or conscience votes by spineless third-party voters. Why did polls and pundits avert their eyes from miles of Trump yard signs all over middle America? “Trump’s election is going to be the biggest ‘f*** you’.... He is the human Molotov cocktail they’ve been waiting for,” filmmaker Michael Moore warned us recently. And he was right. It is a cautionary tale. Washington’s progressive power-brokers ignore the pain of struggling classes at their peril—they have struck back at the elite establishment by voting in an outlier. Class anger and economic interests prevailed over gender. In Trump’s inconstancy and opportunism lie both our fears and hopes.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Washington DC.)

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