Lessons from the American Presidential Elections

Part-2 of a two-part series

Image Courtesy:kyivpost.com

Trump and ‘Trumpism’ remind us with compelling force of the demons (Daityas and Danavas) of Hindu mythology. With his scowling looks, haughty demeanour, reckless conduct and ideas, along with passionate acclamation of milling crowds, he looks like the embodiment of some elemental natural force of insensate destructive power. Somewhat like Hitler and Nazis who had been initially dismissed as a bunch of crazy hoods. 

Of course, there are definite social factors that account for such phenomena, with more than 47 percent of American voters, and most of the Republican party forming a phalanx, rallying to his support. And deep-rooted reactionary prejudices, harkening back to the days of the Civil War and the anti-slavery movement that sought to end horrific social and racial oppression by plantation-owners, have continued to rankle among possessive classes for more than a century and half. 

The menace of Ku Klux Klan that has been terrorising black Americans in the deep South for more than a century in semi-secret operations had been products of such stubborn remnants of the past. Then there is the infamous gun lobby that thrives on rising incidence of crime in a country lately leaning towards gross inequality and deprivation of the masses. The right to carry firearms to defend oneself is a crying anachronism. The War Veterans’ association of soldiers who had taken part in America’s imperialist wars in last few decades have been taken over and run by war-mongers in league with American armaments industry and Big Finance. All these are backed by financial power of corporates who equate social regulation of capital with constriction of liberty. And Trump speaks for them and confers on them liberal tax cuts; and supports scattered militant far-right groups when he intones: “Make America great again!” 

Trump has been projected by his backers as a lone fighter against the crooks in the centre of Big Finance Wall Street, figured in the public imagination as a wily, blood-sucking stinking rich and debauched elite battening on earnings of the honest poor. But the very first man he reportedly officially met upon assuming office had been a top-ranking executive of the biggest bank of the world, Goldman Sachs. And he has among his patrons, giant oil corporations like Exxon Mobil that have amassed astronomical wealth and funded immense fake research challenging the reality of climate change. Yet he has the inexplicable support of the once well-off and now struggling American working-class. Part of his appeal is the carefully nurtured image of ‘the outsider’ taking on the crooks of Wall Street.          

An opinion piece in the Indian Express of November 14, by Anush Kapadia has deplored that Democrats have lost the support of their long-standing base, the white working-class. He has pointed out that they had solidly backed Barak Obama in both his terms in office and argued Democrats should not have neglected this traditional social base. The result, it is argued, has been the continuing hold of Republicans in Southern and mid-Western states. Hence, his call for re-orientation of Democratic Party policy towards States.  

It turns out however that for last three decades or so certain states have been persistently marked as ‘red’ meaning Republican and the rest as ‘blue’ or Democrat. American elections have become such an expensive affair that usually victory depends on patronage by wealthy donors from the corporate world. Trump had such patronage and certain liberal rich donors might have contributed also to Biden’s election funds. But it is significant and heartening that common voters supporting Biden raised 700 million dollars among themselves for that fund. A state like Texas that has become prosperous through oil usually elects Republicans funded by Oil. But this time some stubborn red States turned blue.            

But the mystery of massive working-class votes for Republican party remains. Actually, Barak Obama lost working-class support for Democrats when he gifted 700 billion dollars to Wall Street managers to pull through when the 2008 recession set in, destroying millions of jobs and incomes, yet spent little by way of relief to the working-class who were suffering great distress. The story went among them that the President they had elected rewarded the very crooks that had wasted their hard-earned savings and income out of sheer greed. No amount of reasoning would erase that picture. Obama like most American Presidents regard success and survival of corporate business their first priority. Incidentally, his remarks on Indian political leaders are also in the last analysis conditioned by such loyalties. Both, Obama and Biden, have redeeming qualities which came out in Biden’s

calm self-possession in complying with Covid protocols in his campaign undaunted by swarming crowds wildly cheering Trump.          

Biden is by no means bound to continuing Obama’s policies. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist senator with a huge following has successfully induced him to accept in his primary agenda genuine pro-poor and pro-people policies like universal health-care on public funds, creation of jobs and unemployment insurance as well as free tuition in public schools and colleges. At the same time, he has allayed fears of corporate-backed those Democratic legislators who dreaded drying-up of their election funds from corporates owing to a ‘socialist’ policy make-over.          

Trump has been strenuously trying to deflect attention from such facts by promoting the politics of resentment and revenge. He has dismissed all serious criticism of his dangerous adventurist policies as ‘fake news’ and attributed widespread unemployment as seizure of jobs by hordes of foreign immigrants. He deliberately concealed the fact that Hispanic migrants largely took up the kind of lowly jobs that Americans no longer cared for and Asian migrants mostly acquired highly specialised skilled jobs in IT industries, business finance management and in some cases even science laboratories at generally lower scales of pay than educated Americans would accept. However, there is no question about their high quality. What deprived ‘native’ Americans actually had been a consequence of policy of the backers of Trump. It also appears that American corporate business since the nineties had been skewed heavily towards management skills, to the neglect of technological innovation and expertise, leaving that field open for gifted migrants recruited by management. It was they who began to depend on out-sourcing jobs in a desperate race for cost-cutting and greater profit.          

The working-class has been kept in the dark about such policy trends, and they have since been fed on the potent concoction of the migrant as enemy. Asians are repeatedly threatened with abuse, like “you go back home to your country” or ” Don’t steal our jobs, you do not belong here”. They as well as the Hispanics come under physical assault sometimes. As for Black people aspiring for advancement, they are simply and sharply called to “keep to their place” and of late are increasingly under the shadow of deadly violence. 

All these provide a convenient vent for letting off simmering resentment, frustration and blind vengeful fury among so-called middle-class of white workers and sales agents. It is worthwhile to recall that there is a vibrant current in American society that has met this trend head-on and resolutely been working at several levels to overcome this threat to the American heritage. The Antifa (anti-fascist) groups come out into the streets to stare down fascist far-right groups and in the campuses, there is no lack of liberal opinion to expose the pretensions of Trumpism.          

It should be clear enough that since the dynamics of reactionary movements are baser negative passions and a romanticised utopia of perpetual dominance, their ideological articulation is also irrational and driven by hankering for naked power rather than just rule. The ‘Tea Party’ lobby in the Republican Party is notoriously drunk on adolescent dreams of unbounded ambition and power invoked in Ayn Rand’s massive times. Certain atavistic religious emotions perpetuated through certain strands of American Evangelism are also drawn upon to propel a headlong dive into the abyss of unreason.          

Now one has only to adapt the terms of this discourse and character of its dynamic to Indian context and the resemblance could not be more striking. There is similar virulent propaganda on established as well social media about the ‘enemy within’, the betrayal by a corrupt gang pictured as ‘the Lutyens gang’, and glowing unreal images of past glory traduced by traitors who must pay for their crime with their blood. The Muslims are supposedly the impure migrants who came a thousand years ago as invaders and remained as oppressors and saboteurs. The pure essence of the defiled nation must be redeemed through transformation of institutions, purging of democratic pollutants and re-making of history and culture. And lower castes who are awakening to a sense of feudal bondage and are stirring for freedom are kept in their place by state-supported terror including mass rapes and murder. 

Fortunately, in this mythology of cultural and political re-birth, Indians have on their side a force that has been working underground from 1920s to bring about this resurrection and it has now broken into the surface as a vast and growing disciplined army adept in all kinds of tactics of open and secret warfare and technologically armed to the teeth. The rest of the population is watching the spectacle with a mixture of awe and dread. This army has stolen a march on genuine democratic forces not yet fully aware of the catastrophe and undecided as yet on need for unshakeable unity and clear effective counter-strategy. Besides, they are hag-ridden with divisions and internal squabbles.          

The people who care and might yet care for democracy have plenty of fight in them. Youths in the right frame of mind are not intimidated or won over. What they need is a united leadership with a far-sighted  plan of action.          

Let us revert to the beginning for a moment; certain signature accomplishments of this American president. He had ordered third-degree like detention and interrogation of immigrants, cruel separation of their young children from them for years together, refused to condemn the criminal misdeeds of far-right groups and the outright murders of black youths by racist police on the slightest pretext. With stark facts like two lakh victims of Covid-19 and threat of more staring at his face he had callously denied the calamity and encouraged defiance of Covid protocols.     

And it is this man for whom an enormous and glittering gathering was assembled in Ahmedabad to hail him as a living god with befitting ovation. Before that there had been the extraordinary spectacle of our Prime Minister expressing unconditonal political support for the head of another country before thousands of Indian migrants there. It is a mercy that he has not wasted time in congratulating Biden on his election though Trump has not conceded defeat.    

How can one in his senses fail to see and draw the lessons? The million-dollar question (what an ironically apt phrase!) is if the opposition will do so without dithering more. Bihar also has been a good lesson positive on the whole. 

(End of Part Two)

Part-1 may be read here: Lessons from American Presidential Elections

*The author is a highly respected Assamese intellectual, a literary critic and social-scientist from Assam. Views expressed are the authors own. 

Other pieces by Dr. Hiren Gohain:

Development as Disaster

Reviving the NRC brawl




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