So we now grapple with the results of the most divisive elections in American history. Hillary got almost a million more votes than Trump but she lost to him 290-232. Worse, some 42 per cent of Americans, many of them supporters of an unusually fine man, Bernie Sanders, did not vote, disgusted with it all. In other words, Trump has become the 45th president of this most powerful country on earth with barely 28 per cent of America supporting him, the vast majority of them whites from rural, educationally-poor backgrounds. Awesome.
It is not difficult to know why folks who voted for him did so. Overwhelmingly, “it’s the economy.” Most Americans have seen no real increase in their incomes in years. Many are jobless, victims of the long recession, or are trapped in the wrong jobs. A survey conducted recently says that almost two-thirds of Americans wouldn’t be able to come up with even $500 in an emergency.
But there are also some other reasons why they voted for Trump. I got a few of these from an American (senior citizen, well-to-do, white) gentleman I sometimes play golf with. “We don’t want socialism,” he said. “None of that Obamacare. And unfair trade practices of other countries. And the illegals — Mexicans. This is our country, I say to them; we came here first; we have made it what it is... And hell we don’t want any more Mo-slems. Look at what they are doing in Germany, France, England... your country too. A Mo-slem I once met told me why. Their Koran tells them to make everybody Mo-slem, and if the people don’t agree, to kill them... And they want to sleep with 12-year-olds. Jesus!... And I hate to see guys kissing guys in public when I’m out there taking a walk with my wife. God knows I’m not a prude,” he hastened to add, “but there are things you do in public, and things you don’t.”
The question, of course, is what happens now? A few changes are certain. Trump’s wish-to-change-list is headed by trade pacts, commerce, construction, manufacturing, jobs. In other words, things that spell dollars, which makes sense. If Trump has an expertise, it is making money.
That is what everybody said at a desi party I attended a couple of days after the elections.
“Trump will be good for the country,” they added.
“He will lower the taxes.”
“What about the H-1B visas?” I asked. “And the software from India? Will Trump stop those?” A pause. Then somebody said, “No. Not really.” Another pause. “He will soon realise that they are good for America.”
I moved to another group, made up of doctors, including a ‘mixed’ couple, Muslim husband, Hindu wife. The husband wore a worried look.
“Do you really think that Muslims in America have reason to be afraid?” I heard someone in tattered jeans ask the husband.
“We have been afraid for years,” the husband replied, “ever since 9/11. We are only more afraid now.”
“Of what?” I joined. “Hate crimes?”
“Among other things,” the husband nodded.
“I disagree,” said the tattered jeans. “Yes, there will be controls on people coming to America from some countries, which is understandable, and surveillance on er... mosques and things like that. Nothing more.” A moment of silence followed.
“I’m only glad,” the wife then said, “that I gave the children Hindu names.”
“Hindus too could be affected,” said the husband, “by association.”
The next day, I called an old friend in Washington, an expert on South Asia, quick-witted, humorous, friendly to India. “So, will Trump carry out any changes in America’s foreign policy,” I asked him. “Or will the Washington establishment, as usual, have the final say?”
“I am tempted to say that there will be no change,” he said, “that Republicans will be Republicans. But Trump is his own man”... Oh, shall I share a scandal with you?’
“Please do,” I said. “I love scandals.”
“His team doesn’t want anybody in Washington to prepare any notes for him on international problems.”
“Hmm… What about our part of the world?” I continued. “Do you see Trump doing anything differently there?”
“He’ll do what the Russians ask him to do,” he laughed (alluding to the much-publicised Trump admiration for Putin). “That should please you Indians.”
“You forget,” I shot back, “we are your defence partners now.”
“Oh yes,” he agreed. “And Trump has gotten close to the Indian community in America. That should help. The rest is up to you. He is already talking to the Chinese, you know. And Pakistan might nominate him for the Nobel prize.” He laughed again. “But take care. Trump could turn out to be a misguided missile.”
There’s the rub. What is Trump really like? That he is narcissistic, arrogant, macho, combative, non-intellectual and anti-liberal can be taken as given... We can live with all of that. We are living with that in our own politicians. We can also dismiss as campaign rhetoric many of the things he said before he got elected. But what is he like deep down? Nobody is sure. He might or might not be anti-black, anti-Jew, anti-Muslim, anti-Latinos, anti-liberals... Perhaps that too would not matter if he is pragmatic, as Obama thinks he is. But Obama could be wrong. America may really have elected a misguided missile. It would be terrible (even if occasionally entertaining) if that were so. Why, the man might not even last the four years he has been elected for.
Kiran Doshi, the author of Jinnah Often Came to our House , is on a visit to the US.