Can America Be United Again?

Donald Trump has lost, but he is not going anywhere and so soon, something that large sections of the mainstream media and half of American voters would want so desperately. He has got massive electoral support, almost 70 million plus votes, half of the American vote bank. He might be openly a racist, an overt and tacit patron of Rightwing fringe groups of white supremacism, a misogynist, sexist and an anti-immigrant, apart from being rather crass in his public conduct.

He might have decisively botched up the Covid emergency in his total denial in public and acceptance in private, as disclosed by a top journalist with whom he shared his views; and by denying masks and the universal danger of this pandemic, he might be singularly responsible for the spread of the epidemic. Almost 250,000 Americans have fallen to the pandemic.

And, yet, Trump is refusing to give way to the new president-elect, Joe Biden and his team, even in carving out an emergency response to the pandemic. On the contrary, he continues to call the poll results a fraud, something even some of his aides in the White House and many Republican leaders are not ready to accept.

Biden, in his victory speech, has emphasised that he stands for not a red or blue America but a United America, which is quite in contrast to the sectarian ‘ultra nationalist’ Trump slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’, which unconsciously reminds of the colonial era of White supremacy, the bloody and genocidal subjugation of the indigenous inhabitants and natives of this vast land by colonisers and missionaries, and the slave trade of Blacks and later their continued brutalisation even in the post-War scenario by the rabid Ku Klux Klan virus of white supremacy.

Biden especially said that he stands for all of America, including those who did not vote for him, acknowledging the tragic and bitter realism of a socially divided and psychology wounded country, which might take years to overcome the fissures and hostilities entrenched after the short Trump era of four years.

Indeed, as the The New Yorker reported, Biden asked for an end to “this grim era of demonization…” “He stressed that, in choosing him, a majority of Americans opted to “marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope”— the forces of everything good, reliable, and familiar that can help us shake the feeling of living in an unstable and unrelentingly dark reality. Biden promised to “restore the soul of America”.

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Surely, America is in a crisis. Despite the upset victory of the Democrats in certain red states like Arizona and Georgia, and the close margin of the final vote count, the vast white countryside, especially the uneducated white working class, both men and women, seemed to have gone along with Trump. So has, surprisingly, a sizeable number of Hispanics, especially Cubans who hate communists and who got sold yet again on the Trump slogan that socialists and the Left are out to take over America. Trump has repeatedly drummed it in the social media that the Left has taken over the Democrats and America is going Left. So much so, some Democrats too have done a kind of campaign that it is because of the progressives led by Bernie Sanders, and others like Rep Alexandria Ocasi0-Cortez and ‘the squad’ of four radical, progressive and emerging women leaders, among others, that the Biden campaign suffered in some states.

Reports from the ground affirm that nothing can be further from the truth, and that it was basically the Sanders, and progressives’ campaign, relentless and dogged, and which went on from the day Trump won the elections in the first instance defeating Hillary Clinton (though she got more votes), and the Black Lives Matter movement, massive and widespread across class, colour and race, apart from the larger rainbow coalition which swung it for Biden and Kamala Harris.

This coalition belongs to educated people, youngsters and students, the millennials, the LGBT collectives, the liberal White, enlightened and feminist women, immigrants and Asians, and almost the entire Black population, who consolidated the huge and unprecedented mass of vote which overwhelmed the support base of Trump, who just did not anticipate the huge ground level work, the door to door outreach, the voters’ enrolment and postal ballot campaign, and the idea of a new, egalitarian and secular America without the racial and sectarian divide. Native Indians campaigned and voted overwhelmingly against Trump. This was against the crass language and conduct displayed in the Trump era, where unbridled capitalism of monopolists, despite the pandemic, mass unemployment, collective uncertainty, depression and anxiety, stalked the American landscape.

The progressives’ agenda will mark the new America in more ways than one. People are desperate for a health sector which is not so shamelessly loaded in favour of the rich, which reaches out to the most ordinary Americans; they want higher education for the vast majority of the working class, across colour, they want social security and financial relief, jobs and homes for the homeless, and a society where the police and law enforcement agencies are not so brazenly biased and partisan. They also want accountability for the rich and super rich, a level-playing field, a new economic order, and an end to the rise and rise of the capitalists who seem to have flourished in an unprecedented manner amidst the despair and distress of the deadly pandemic.

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Surely, amidst the millennials, this is a trend which has been trending since Socialist Bernie Sanders first entered the fray, while being blocked again and again by the big money lobbies, including Barack Obama himself. The Barack-Biden twosome has a bad record on several counts: mass deportations of immigrants, the total insensitivity towards the working class, health and education, and of course, the unbridled killings by the drones in conflict zones across the middle-east and the borders of Afghanistan, and the death and destruction in Syria and Yemen, which continues. At least, in the Trump era, no new wars waged by America in the rest of the world, though his record on Palestine and Iran has been grossly unimaginative and crude.

Stacey Abrams, for instance, a prominent black leader of Georgia, who had earlier run for the post of Governor, has been credited for leading a whole-hearted and successful grassroots campaign for Biden, overcoming the formidable Trump support base in Georgia. Writes The Daily Beast: “The Biden campaign placed Georgia as one of just three reach states that they sought to turn blue, hoping to expand the party’s old electoral map to defeat President Donald Trump. The fact that Georgia is narrowly trending in that direction at the top of the ticket is, in part, thanks to the work Abrams put in place during her first governor run in 2018, where voter suppression contributed to her close loss to unseat (Republican) Kemp. She has since escalated her organizing and mobilizing efforts with Fair Fight, the group she founded in the aftermath of that election, and offered a strong closing pitch to voters to “make a plan to vote early” leading up to November 3.”

So will America heal itself and become united in these edgy days to come… The answer, as the Bob Dylan song says, is once again blowin’ in the wind.

The Future Of America

A question that is increasingly being asked in the USA is whether America will survive the Trump presidency. The triple crises now dragging the United States down could break its resilience and unleash a response that could be devastating for the world as well as the USA itself.

America has faced many disasters and lived through many challenges through history such as political and police racism, security crackdowns and economic ravages, external attacks and terrorism. But each time its somewhat asymmetrical democracy has helped it to recover keeping the country on top of the world. This time it may be different. The polarisation, the experiences and the expectations of different communities are deeply entrenched and unprecedent.

The United States has slid into significant internal divisions. It is suffering a pandemic out of control due to Government mishandling. Further it is trying to cope with diminishing authority on the world stage. Compounding this, the country is being led by a narcissist megalomaniac President who has little understanding of the threats let alone skills to manage them.

The situation is not only dangerous for the United States, but for a western world and its allies that have become reliant on USA to maintain a world in their favour. These are extremely unsettling times.

The US health system, not one of the wonders of the world, is showing signs of wearing down under nature’s attack, the Coronavirus Pandemic. The response to the pandemic is under a President who thinks it is a bad dream that will dissipate when everyone wakes up. His stewardship has been childish, immature and sometimes downright dangerous as he addresses the Virus as if it is a rival politician. ‘I won’t wear the mask’ he said early on as if the Virus would retreat against his cowboy defiance. Many in his base followed him. They are obsessed with ‘freedom to do and act as they want’ against scientific advice and putting the rest of the population at risk.

These Americans are confusing political authoritarianism with nature’s indiscriminating force. Nature does not understand ‘freedom’. The Pandemic isn’t going to do a U-turn simply because Jo America ala Captain Freedom doesn’t like nature acting like ‘communists’!  So they defy the virus with no masks, no maintaining social distance and no staying away from crowded beaches. It is bizarre, surrealist and dumbfounding.

It is clear that this President has never dealt with a political or social crises. He of course knows how to deal with personal financial challenges.

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The pandemic has divided Americans state wise, economically and racially. The virus has affected the poor, the blacks and the Hispanics most. There is a sense among them that the Government has deliberately allowed the virus to spread. Moreover different states in USA are approaching the pandemic differently as there is no coherent national plan or a collective Federal attempt to signal ‘we are all in it together’. If the pandemic continues to increase, it won’t be long before some states close their borders and manage their economies. A Pandemic that could have brought a spirit of unity, may lead to fissiparous tendencies.

Added to this is the sudden eruption of race politics on centre stage in America. The Afro-American population of USA has suffered racism from the days when they were brought as slaves to the modern era.

Much has changed for the Afro-American. From days of slavery when they were in chains to now as proud, free and politically strong community. But significant portions of white America has failed to move on with history. Their treatment of black Americans betrays prejudices and attitudes that were once found during slavery.

For many White Americans on the extreme right, the romance and tolerance of equality is now wearing thin as latent prejudices resurface. They want the White America as it once was.

But Afro-Americans are not the subdued population of yesteryear. They have dignity and expect respect. Black America isn’t going to accept intimidation, suppression or marginalisation anymore. For Black America, history cannot go backwards but only forward. Black Lives Matter is a powerful movement showing that the Afro-American isn’t going to take resurgent ‘White supremacy’ lying down. 

In favour of Afro Americans is the fact that the vast majority of White Americans also want to see an end to racism. They have collective shame about slavery and the treatment of Black Americans subsequently. Many White Americans joined in the protests and demonstrations that led to apparent equality. Now most White Americans actually support Black Lives Matter.

Afro-Americans are not the only group suffering racism in USA. The Hispanics, the Asians and the Muslims are also facing different levels of racism from White Supremacist

Unfortunately the constituency of ‘White supremacists’ is not small. Their racism is back on the agenda, given tacit encouragement by the President himself who has fuelled latent dreams of a permanent ‘white Nirvana’ in USA, a dream forged in falsehood.

White supremacist Americans have some choices to make for the future of USA. They can either continue to create tensions until they retreat into segregated white only areas or create de facto apartheid making life hell for any Black or Asian living in their area. They can come to terms with history and start to accept Afro-Americans as equals or they can start to fragment America creating a breakaway country where they can bask in whiteness.  Either way, they are likely to precipitate bloody Balkanisation of American society if they continue to live in a time warp.

Unless a remarkable leader pushes the genie back into the bottle, the future of America is bleak and facing fragmentation. A democratic President can only buy time but not bury the recurring past.

It will be an irony of history that where white Americans created reservations for Native Americans, the white supremacists will end up in a smaller country which effectively becomes a ‘White reservation’ in North America.

Thirdly the external international challenge is equally daunting. The United States has lost significant status in the world. Instead of leading, it often walks away from major international treaties and conferences. It walked away from the United Nations Human Rights Council as it did from the Climate Change Agreement and the Iran deal to name a few. It has even walked away from WHO. Usually it is when people are losing that they walk away from further humiliation.

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The USA no longer has the power to influence even its friendly countries to its bidding. Much has changed in the last two decades. It hasn’t quite adjusted to a world of multilateral powers. It is increasingly being challenged by China and appears to be at a loss for an effective response.

China is testing it in South China Sea, in South East Asia and lately in South Asia as it intrudes into Indian Territory. The USA almost feels obliged to come to the aid of India, but in what form? China is almost provoking the United States to wage a direct war. This is a dangerous game. Unlike the cold war when USSR and USA waged proxy wars, this one seems to be getting close to a direct confrontation.

Trump has so far avoided foreign wars. In an election year where his ratings are going down he may well be tempted and encouraged by his advisors to rise to the bait to look tough as his handling of Coronavirus pandemic has cost him his popularity. A foreign war to gain domestic votes is a frequent risk from democracies with internal crises.

However Trump has avoided an international war and is unlikely to engage in a conflict with China. Even he can see that the personal and general costs are too high. Chinese history has shown that China can sacrifice millions to survive. Although Opulent China has not been tested in a war yet. Americans do not have that sort of appetite for unending body bags. A USA ducking a war might make China look tougher than it is. This won’t go down well with many of the armchair warriors from neo con and American Supremacist tribes who have been keen to restore American power again in the world through a bloody war.

A new President in November is not going to be able to reverse America’s status. He will have to accept a multilateral powered world and re-engage in international institutions as well as treaty arrangements from a position of weakness. Whether he will be able to heal the divisions within is another matter. He is likely to face persistent criticism from American ‘Supremacists’ who feel betrayed by loss of American dominance in the world. They, like ‘white supremacists’ won’t accept the march of history. And when crises ridden democracies can’t unite by fighting abroad, they start to self-combust.

A superpower, facing internal unrest, an uncontrollable pandemic and a fall in international status, does not bode well for the world or the world order. The Trump presidency will be seen in history as a sort of hubris of the American power and American unity. Will the next President be able to slow it?  First the incumbent Trump has to be defeated and then hope restored. Yet it may be all too late. Trump has stayed in power two years more than was safe. He wasn’t removed when the threat was crossing the threshold of no return. A lot will depend on whether militant White Supremacist Americans will accept change or not. It may be too late now and it may be a case of not whether the USA will break up but when will it break up.

From Howdy Modi To ‘Kem Chho’ Trump

Much water has flown down the Potomac and the Jamuna since Indian-Americans organised an enthusiastic “Howdy Modi” event last September. The Indian premier had then extended full political support to President Donald Trump who is eyeing re-election in November. The Indo-US ties have not changed radically, but are getting ready to be cemented, while domestic conditions and electoral prospects in the ‘largest’ and the ‘greatest’ of democracies definitely are altering. This lends diplomatic and domestic weight to Trump’s India visit, scheduled for February 24-25. 

Now, it is Modi’s turn to host a “Kem Chho”, equivalent to “howdy” in Gujarati. Like he had hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and later, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Modi will begin Trump’s sojourn with home state Gujarat, where he remains wildly popular. Many Indian-Americans prospering as academics and entrepreneurs are from this western Indian state. Visiting Gujarat could thus help Trump politically, like it helped Britain’s Boris Johnson. A hark-back to ‘howdy’ will certainly be attempted.

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A more aggressive and triumphant Trump may be visiting India. Compared to 50,000 Indian Americans at the Texas event, Trump says Modi has promised him welcome by “millions and millions” of Indians at the just-built cricket stadium touted as the world’s biggest. “Donald Bhai” should be happy. 

Taking that the Trump visit is a quid pro quo exercise, what will Trump bring to India to ‘deserve’ the three million Indian-Americans’ support? India has a long wish list, and presumably, Modi, too, would have one, a private one, that enables him to ride his current woes.  

Tens of thousands of Indian-Americans gathered at the ‘howdy’ event had cheered on the two populist leaders, unmindful of the critics’ accusations of them both of having polarized their own people.

It is not clear if Sabarmati Ashram is on Trump’s itinerary. From his track record, however, the irony of his seeking solace at what India’s apostle of peace, truth and nonviolence would call his ‘home’ can’t be ignored.

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It would be a welcome distraction for both nationalistic leaders, who face deepening political troubles at home. Trump has weathered the impeachment storm since a majority of American lawmakers seemed to agree that it is okay for Trump to do just about anything if it is in “public interest.” This removes any doubts about his Republican re-nomination and helps take on the Democrats, as of now divided and confused. And looking at his berating the opposition in parliament this week, Modi, too, seems to be in a similar mood, despite a dismal debacle in Delhi’s Assembly polls.      

Trump has eight months to chart his political/electoral course, while Narendra Modi has over four years – more than Trump’s entire tenure. He may hope that the “Kem Chho” event may undo the damage to his standing at home and his image in the Western world, caused by his divisive political agenda and an economy in dire slowdown.

Run-up to the tiny but politically significant Delhi Assembly polls saw angry, but largely peaceful, protests, having women and children in the forefront. In what analysts say is accumulated discontent, Indians from all walks of life have railed against a new citizenship law that is widely seen as discriminatory toward Muslim minority and a blow to India’s roots as a secular democracy.

Protests are being replicated in several Indian cities and reportedly, in 30 North American and British cities. Although he is himself known for adopting such postures at home, Trump could come fully-briefed about all this to assess his hosts well.

The Trump visit, said to be born out of their New Year greetings on telephone, could well be Modi’s attempt at a bounce-back. It is a coup of sorts. An American president’s India visit – like it had happened when Bill Clinton, George W. Bush Jr. and Barack Obama visited in the recent years — carries political endorsement and definite economic benefits. With a warm hug to “Donald Bhai”, Modi hopes for both. And since both espouse similar ideologies, unlike Obama who criticized Modi a week after he was feted, Trump could be fully accommodating. Modi can hope to offset some of the Congressional and media criticism in the US.

Pending the visit, officials in two countries have made feverish preparations, including a much-anticipated trade deal. Both are eager for more business and looking to find a counterweight to the rise of China.

The brass tacks would begin in New Delhi. Trump and Modi will have to navigate some tricky geopolitics. Americans have for long been trying to woo India into a closer strategic partnership to contain China, but New Delhi has remained lukewarm. This is unlikely to change. India wants to retain its strategic autonomy while dealing with neighbours. And, truth be told, it’s not easy to deal with Trump’s America.

Both sides are also eager to ink a trade deal. Snags remain and only a partial deal of a modest $10 billion is likely. Although a much smaller economy, India with 1.3 billion people is a huge market. The Trump administration, with eye on the November elections, seems obsessed with the overall American trade deficit and wants India to buy more American goods.

India has tentatively agreed to end price caps on imported medical devices like heart stents and artificial knees, which had been a key sticking point in the talks. But that’s not enough. Trump himself has attacked India’s high tariffs, particularly on Harley-Davidson. The motorcycle, incidentally, is but a speck in the overall bilateral trade. But, it’s like the Rajiv Gandhi Government was forced to buy almond, a low-priority import, from Californian farmers who supported then President Reagan.

Thus, before granting any concessions on that front, the US wants India to promise to purchase billions of dollars of American turkeys, blueberries, apples, pecans and other agricultural products to help reduce a $25 billion trade deficit with India. The Modi government, for its part, is insisting that the Trump administration restore a preferential trade status for India that lowers tariffs on goods like textiles. Let’s see.

Seeking and securing American waivers to its purchases, like oil and defence equipment, from other counties has been painful for India. It has all but surrendered on Iran’s oil. After several decades, four major weapons systems purchased from the US were show-cased at the Republic Day Parade last month.

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Trump and Modi have been keyed-in on Afghanistan in the past. The former wants a role for India. But India would be the last thing on Trump’s mind when pushing the “peace plan”, which is actually a victory-less withdrawal facilitated by Pakistan. Hence question arises: Can the Americans overcome the Pakistanis who want to block India? Or, would they want to?  

With that is connected Kashmir since the Modi Government’s annulment of its special status and break-up of India’s only Muslim majority state, howsoever controversial, is aimed as a bulwark against preventing the Jihadi repeat of the 1990s.

Trump continues to propose to ‘help’ (a shift from ‘mediation’ and ‘facilitation’) its resolution. But knowing well India’s sensitivities, any whispers of the ‘K’ word will surely be in play-safe privacy when he meets Modi without aides.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com