November thunderbolt

The dramatic, widely unexpected > outcome of the U.S. presidential election has stunned all the pundits and prognosticators who had placed very little faith in a victory for Donald J. Trump. It is clear now that the thinking, privileged elites of Washington, D.C. and New York were way off the mark in their predictions and poll analyses. The widely forgotten, disinherited and disadvantaged who inhabit the rural interiors of the United States, who have seen their lives grow steadily more arid and unanchored, spoke through what has been called “the election of our discontent”. That howling at the moon, that anger — a kinetic force in American democracy today — was ignored on the radar screens of celebrity television and media channels of the country. Instead, the Republican candidate was projected as a maverick iconoclast — a misogynist and xenophobe, among other traits, to boot. And as for Candidate Clinton, could anybody have been more out of sync with the popular mood of the country? History’s verdict on her will not be kind.

Tapping into America’s angst

For Donald Trump, the road from Trump Taj Mahal, the failed casino, via numerous Trump Towers, to the White House has been a long and winding one that he negotiated as a self-propelled wayfarer, with little or no faith being placed by the world on his ability to achieve his ambitious goal. On the journey, he captured the mood of the “unprotected” classes among the American people, their anger, frustration and disillusionment with the government in Washington, and he became the messenger for that mood of America. The country thus saw a presidential candidate who called his campaign a “movement” in near-messianic mode — a movement whose slogan was “Make America Great Again”, offering the angry multitudes hope for the future. There was no ideology here, no overflowing of new and revolutionary ideas, but only simplistic, repetitive incantations about how his competitor, Hillary Clinton, was corrupt and ineffectual, that the legacy of the Obama administration, especially Obamacare, needed reversal, that immigration required to be checked and reversed, and that Muslim entry into the U.S. should be rigorously monitored and even prevented. In all this, he tapped into the mother lode of basic grievances of the wide swathe of white Americans, particularly the non-college educated, rural, blue-collar population. It was Brexit on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Something has happened. It is revolutionary”: these were the comments describing the events of the evening of November 8 in what has turned out to be the biggest political upset in U.S. election history. Mr. Trump’s acceptance speech has been described as inclusive and humble, he promised to bind the wounds of the nation as also promising respect for and friendship with other countries. “I want to tell the world community that while we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone... all people and all other nations,” he said after his victory. Only time will tell whether his promises to the people of his country and the world will be fulfilled. But looking at the map of the U.S., populated in the red of the Republican Party, with the groundswell of popular will being expressed in favour of Mr. Trump, it is difficult to deny the fact that a legitimate victory has been won. The Democratic Party’s “blue wall” came crumbling down today, and with both Houses of Congress being largely Republican too, one sees the party of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy shrunken. The legacy of President Barack Obama is also jeopardised as Mr. Trump has long expressed his determination to undo it.

Foreign policy of a Trump presidency

The Trump administration’s foreign policy will be of special interest and relevance globally. Mr. Trump’s vision of America in the World is yet to be spelt out in any granularity, and while he is expected to appoint seasoned and experienced individuals to his team, going by his campaign pronouncements, the Iran nuclear deal will go under the scanner (whether it will be reversed is the question) and America’s alliance relationships in Europe and Asia will be scrutinised more closely. His Democratic Party opponents have long stressed that Mr. Trump questions basic premises of U.S. strategic and security policy in place since 1945. In their view, the American Century will change with Mr. Trump coming to power. However, American institutions and the American system will constrain him and are expected to prevail over ad hoc or impulsive tendencies in the new President.

But more importantly, potential crises situations are not alleviated because of a Trump victory. For instance, the North Korean regime’s intractability and renegade tendencies will need careful and urgent focus (the failure of “strategic patience” with Pyongyang will most likely be acknowledged) as also the relationships with China and Russia. Mr. Trump came across during the campaign as having a much more rational and less prejudiced approach to the situation in Syria and Russian involvement in the region, and it is hoped that his advent to office will see more collaborative, well-reasoned policy approaches and dialogue with Moscow to defeat the Islamic State instead of just pursuing the prospects of regime change in Damascus.

The Asian amphitheatre

The pivot or rebalancing to Asia announced by Secretary of State Clinton in a speech in Chennai in 2011 was never fully elucidated or effectively deployed by the Obama administration. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade arrangement will be another aborted deal since the Trump government will not support it or take it forward because, in his view, free trade deals have destroyed working-class America. A challenge for the new President will also be how to pursue a more stable and intelligent relationship with a militaristic China that sees diminished U.S. economic power and military capability as an opportunity to advance its territorial claims in maritime Asia.

Mr. Trump is a proclaimed opponent of terrorism and his approach to Pakistan and its support of terror groups will be no-nonsense and adversarial. His policy and attitude to India is expected to be positive and welcoming, continuing the trends and direction in the relationship established over the last decade. His ties with the Indian-American community and his general view that “India is doing great” suggest that he is well inclined to further cement the India-U.S. partnership.

Immigration into the U.S. is a pet peeve for Mr. Trump. It remains to be seen how he will tackle the issue (he has made draconian promises to build a wall on the Mexican border and also deport immigrants) because there is widespread resentment at the grass roots in the country to foreign immigrants with the focus during the campaign on Mexico and the numbers of Mexicans in the U.S. (It is not acknowledged that the number of Mexicans entering the country has gone down from 2009 onwards.)

India and its diaspora

There are numbers of Indian and Chinese recent immigrants or new entrants into the U.S. whose status may be called into question. The issue of H-1B visas for IT professionals from India has been a vexed one also in recent years mainly due to nativist politics practised in the U.S. Congress by both Democrats and Republicans. There is no indication to suggest that as president Mr. Trump will advocate a new and altered approach to this issue. On issues of labour and trade, he is a protectionist and has come to power on a platform of restoring livelihoods for unemployed Americans rather than advocating solutions to visa issues for foreigners.

The American President-elect is generally not acquainted with the salient details of the India-U.S. strategic partnership. Among these, the issue of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group remains unresolved and the continued advocacy, support and diplomatic push required from the U.S. for the Indian case will be critical for its satisfactory resolution.

At the earliest opportunity, it will be advisable for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take the initiative to reach out to Mr. Trump so that the American President-elect is sensitised to the strategic interests that bind India and the U.S., and the multifaceted nature of the relationship between the two nations including its regional and global relevance. The ‘golden hour’ to do this may be even before the inauguration of the new President in January 2017.

Nirupama Rao, a former Foreign Secretary, was also Ambassador of India to the United States.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2021 5:19:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/November-thunderbolt/article16441031.ece

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