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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 47 New Delhi November 12, 2016

From Donald Trump to Demonetisation

Thursday 17 November 2016, by SC


Eight years ago when Barack Obama won the US presidential election in a historic victory over the Republican candidate, John McCain, he captured the whole world’s attention in an unprecedentedly eloquent acceptance speech at Chicago on November 4, 2008. That speech remains etched in one’s memory not only because of the exceptionally brilliant address but also due to the emotions it evoked: tears streaming down the face of Reverend Jesse Jackson while listening to Obama with rapt attention. All this led one to write an editorial in these columns under the heading: “November Revolution in United States”. After eight years the shocking news from the US—of Donald Trump’s decisive triumph in the 2016 US presidential poll defeating Hillary Clinton (who secured 228 electoral votes against Trump’s 290 even if she received 47.7 per cent popular votes against Trump’s 47.5 per cent; Obama’s was a far more resounding victory: 365 electoral votes against 173 of McCain while he received as many as 52.9 per cent popular votes leaving McCain far behind as the latter could muster just 45.6 per cent)—is tempting one to describe the latest election result as a clear-cut “counter-revolution” in the world’s most powerful country. However, one would desist from making that kind of characterisation as that would imply that Hillary would have brought about an Obama-type revolution which by any yardstick would be a travesty of truth.

Yet one must in the same breath demarcate oneself from those self-styled ultra-Left armchair intellectuals who infer that the choice between Hillary and Donald was one between Tweedledom and Tweedledee. Any such conclusion would not only be wide of the mark but actually a complete misundersanding of the ground reality. That ground reality was excellently exemplified in the words of political commentator and author Van Jones on CNN as reported in The Indian Express: “You tell your kids don’t be a bully. You tell your kids don’t be a bigot. You tell your kids do your homework and be prepared. Then you have this outcome... What do I tell my children?”

Not just that. While actor Cheyenne Jackson thinks that “a true American Horror Story” has unfolded before our very eyes, filmmaker Seth MacFarlane has indeed been more specific: “Some didn’t like Bush. Some didn’t like Obama. But this is different. Forget dislike. Many are genuinely fearful now. This is new.”

And what did the young Black driver of the Uber car which US-based Indian journalist Ruchira Gupta had hired in Philadelphia on November 8 tell her? She has quoted what he said in her report in the Hindustan Times: “It is the most critical election of our time. Gun control and social security are the two things that can protect Blacks. If Donald Trump wins he will reverse both. Do you know that the Ku Klux Klan has endorsed him? Black lives will not matter.”

The atmosphere of hope and optimism generated by Obama’s victory in November 2008 has given place to a deep sense of despondency and frustration today with Trump’s triumph.

Why did Trump succeed electorally? As The Indian Express has explained,

The economic crisis of 2008, arriving on the back of neoliberal reforms that eroded the certainty that this generation’s future would be better than the last, created a paranoiac, angry society, where racism, xenophobia, and sexism flourished. Those who warn Trump has no real agenda to address the inchoate rage of voters are right, but they also miss the point. His authoritarian populism at least offers the illusion of dismantling a hated establishment. How the US now addresses the deep fractures of race and class that a Trump Presidency will open up remains to be seen. But the coming years will, more likely than not, be the most tumultuous since the 1960s. 

Writing in The New Yorker well-known journalist David Remnick notes:  

Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin. (Emphasis ours)

Of course, these are preliminary assessments. More elucidation is bound to follow. One point, however, has come to the fore. As has been written, “feminism after Donald Trump’s election needs a new discourse”. But as of now Donald Trump’s victory is attributed to what is reportedly a revolt of working class White Americans marginalised by coastal elites, globalisers and immigrants. It could further fracture and divide an already fractured and divided America and, as Remnick apprehends, lead to fascism. Yet another point must be brought into focus for our foreign policy experts: Trump cannot be good for India if he is bad for the US.

Meanwhile, the decision of the Modi Government to immediately dispense with Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes and replace those with new Rs 500 and Rs 2000 notes has caused considerable problem for the public at large at least for the present, even if many have called this a bold move. And the PM has said that this was part of his government’s effort to fight corruption, black money and fake currency. But already there are dissenting notes: people have started pointing out that this measure will adversely hurt the BJP’s base of small traders. Moreover, it will hardly affect black money because, according to experts, the step taken would be able to tackle only three to four per cent of the black economy. And noted economist Prabhat Patnaik has observed in The Citizen in an article, “Demonetisation: Witless and Anti-People”:

What the Modi Government has done is unprecedented in the history of modern India. Even the colonial government had shown greater sensitivity to the convenience of the people than the Modi Government has done by demonetising only those notes which were possessed by the super-rich and not those possessed by the people at large. This “emergency measure”, however, is in line with the numerous other measures being currently pursued by the Modi Government which has embarked on an undeclared “Emergency”: it is as fatuous as it is against the people.

Overall therefore the national scene is not in the least less bleak than the scenario Trump‘s victory has unveiled in the US as well as the wide world. And this regardless of the extent to which Modi would try to further deepen New Delhi’s already close relations with the White House once Trump occupies it in January next year.

November 10 S.C.   

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