By Brig Anil Gupta (Retd)*
The almost two-year-long process to elect the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) came to a dramatic end on 9/11. September 11 2001(popularly known as 9/11) is synonymous with the date that brought radical changes in the post- Cold War US, while another 9/11 (November 9, 2016) may well turn out to be a watershed date in American politics.
The campaign this time was bitter and at times personal without debating major policy issues. While Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was a seasoned politician with huge experience in government, the Republican candidate — and now President-elect — Donald Trump is a first-time politician, new to Washington and with zero experience in the government.
Mired in one controversy or the other throughout his campaign, Trump had been declared a loser by the media and chair-borne analysts much before the American people exercised their franchise.
Back home in India, one found a lot of similarities in the Indian General Election Campaign 2014 and the US Presidential Campaign 2016. Both the campaigns were expected to lead to a very tight finish electoral battle but in the end turned out to be much beyond the predictions of the poll Pundits.
At the end of both, the ‘outsiders’ emerged victorious. Will the similarities end here itself or continue into the tenure of President-elect Trump, only time will tell.
Going by the statements made by the President-elect, the entire world is waiting anxiously for Trump to assume office so that reality can be chaffed from rhetoric.
Like the “Jumlas” used in Indian election, the world community hopes that Trump did not mean many things he said during his aggressive right-extreme campaign. That the exalted chair of POTUS may calm down otherwise aggressive and xenophobic Trump is the wish of many not only in America but world-wide.
Samuel Huntington in his book “Who Are We?” has elaborated upon the issue of American identity crisis. Millions of Americans today are asking themselves this question and trying to look for an answer. Trump stuck the chord with these Americans and endeared himself to them with the slogan of “America First.” They found in Trump a ray of hope and the silent majority backed him wholeheartedly.
Trumpian slogans like ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Take back your country’ mobilised the Americans who were feeling left out and let down by Obama’s pro-immigrant policies. Now that he has been given the mandate proves that identity and racial politics do exist in the US.
Americans will now expect him to fulfil their dreams thus raising their expectations from his presidency. Trump’s stunning victory is considered an all-out rejection of “establishment politics” of the Obama era by the working class and blue-collar Americans.
Trump also reached out to the Indian American voters acknowledging their strength. For the first time in America surfaced an organisation called Republican Hindu Coalition spearheaded by Chicago-based Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar on the pattern of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He coined the slogan, “Ab Ki Baar, Trump Sarkar”, which Trump proudly gave voice to while addressing the Indian community in a star-studded gathering at New Jersey.
In his brief speech, Trump praised Narendra Modi as a “great man” and said: “The Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in White House. We will together defeat radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump was quick to recognise the potential of the over 3 million strong Indian-American community and the role it can play in his victory in the swing states.
Indian Americans are the highest earning and the most educated ethnic group in the US. The latest figures of the US Census Bureau show a median income of $100,547 for Indian Americans, compared to the national average of $51,939. Though only forming one percent of the population, they are the major financial donors for the campaign.
Kumar’s RHC turned out to be a mega donor for Trump’s campaign. Indian Americans are traditionally supporters of the Democratic Party and to woo them to his camp was a major strategic move by Trump. To allay the fears about his hate for immigrants, he clarified that he would welcome “skilled and educated immigrants” and was against only unskilled illegal and Muslim immigrants.
While the poll pundits had predicted that only 7 per cent Indian Americans will vote for Trump, the actual polling figures are vastly different. This would have a considerable influence on Trump’s mind while working out India-US ties.
The readers would also be keen to know his personal background and traits — more so because he was portrayed as a “Bad Man” during the campaign.
Born in a wealthy American family on June 14, 1946, Donald Trump will be the oldest American to enter the White House. His paternal grandparents had migrated from Germany and his maternal grandparents are from Scotland. He had his schooling from the New York Military Academy and he graduated from the Wharton School of Business with a degree in Economics.
He joined his family business of real estate. He fathered five children from three wives. His present wife, Melania, is also an immigrant from Slovenia and has been a supermodel. His eldest daughter Ivanka is a Jew. Donald Trump and the Trump Family does not drink, smoke or use recreational drugs. Trump is also not a recreational gambler.
Trump has reached the zenith in his careers as a book author, TV entertainer, sports entertainer, real estate developer and currently politician. Donald Trump’s privately held businesses have employed more than 200,000 people. His real time net worth is $3.7 Billion
Why is it that Trump’s unexpected victory has caused tremors not only in the US but across the world?
He plans to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which will have serious ramifications for the Canadian and Mexican economies. He is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade agreement, which was signed only in February 2016 after seven years of negotiation and involving 12 Pacific Rim nations (minus China) and a pet project of outgoing President Barack Obama. Re-writing of other major trade deals is also his promise to the voters.
Building a wall along the US-Mexico border; undoing Obamacare; renewing with vigour the fight against Islamist militants and global jihadi terror organisations; and ending illegal and Muslim migration are the other issues the fulfilment of which the global community will watch keenly.
His vision for America will also be under the lens. His threat to pull out from the Paris Climate Agreement has got environmentalists worried all over the world. His supposed closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin and how it shapes future US-Russia relations will impact the international strategic equations.
Trump’s assertion to confront China will have a significant impact on India as much as his pronouncements against Pakistan dubbing it as “a safe haven for terrorists and an irresponsible nuclear state like North Korea”.
The Republican election manifesto described India as a geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner. India is central to the US “Pivot to Asia” doctrine and Trump’s declared fight against Islamic fundamentalist terror.
However, Trump’s protectionist trade policies with “America First” as his declared policy, ending of H1B visa, promise to reduce corporate tax from 35 per cent to 15 per cent may have an adverse impact on the Indian economy.
India has a lot to gain also from the Trump presidency. Trump wants to woo skilled Indians, Indian entrepreneurs and students to the US. His hard stance against China and terrorism and India’s fast growing economy would ensure heralding of a new India-US era changing the long-term American perception of India being a Moscow ally as a continuation of the Cold War policies.
Most of the American laws are based on this perception thus denying India access to high-end technology and weapons. It is hoped that Trump will bring in changes to help India access high-tech weaponry and remove Pakistan from the status of a “favoured nation”. The US under Trump will also continue to pursue India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) and its permanent representation in the UN Security Council since India enjoys bipartisan support in the American Congress.
An indicator of shape of things to come is a statement of Alexander Gray, a senior military adviser of Trump: “The Trump administration would attempt to strengthen the defence side where it shares so much common ground with India. At a time when India’s foreign policy is changing because of China and Pakistan, because of Islamic terrorism, we need to be there to greet them with open arms. I think, the Trump Administration is ready to do that.”
The American voter — like his Indian counterpart in 2014 — has voted for radical change. To ensure that he does not betray the hopes of millions of Americans, President-elect Trump will have to walk the talk sooner than later.
*Brig Anil Gupta (Retd) is a Jammu-based political commentator and security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]