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Trump and the US Elections

June 19, 2016

I must say that like many others I have watched the rise of Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential primaries with a bit of bewilderment and surprise.

Since he entered the presidential race in June last year, Trump has made remarks after remarks insulting various sections of American population (and the world). Sometimes he has directed his rhetoric at the Mexicans and Muslims, but on other occasions he has gone after everyone who has disagreed with him or criticized his policies publically.  His diatribe against the Fox news anchor Meghan Kelly is well known; and a few days ago he ejected Washington Post from his press core, accusing the Post of “misleading journalism”. Trump believes in the profiling of Muslims as a matter of state policy and, if elected President, he favors adoption of stronger measures than waterboarding to protect American security interests.

Despite all this, Trump continues to command considerable support in all polling surveys that have been conducted lately, forcing us to think what is really driving his popularity in this election season.  A popular explanation seems to be that Trump relies on fear and that he is the master of constructing political narratives that stoke worst fears among the US electorates, particularly among Republicans.

I think that there are two aspects to the above narratives. First, Trump started his presidential campaign claiming that the US economy and dollar were tanking and that the Chinese were beating the US, not because they produced goods in a cost effective manner (never mind the poor working conditions in Chinese factories), but because they cheated too much.  Strangely enough, in the same vein Trump also suggested that he was friends with many Chinese, that they were tough negotiators, and that the US government under Barak Obama was a complete pushover.  

In adverse economic times, when a political candidate makes a confident appeal to change the economic and political course of his country, he gets noticed.

Secondly, Trump has also used, almost ferociously, minorities (Mexicans and Muslims in particular) as pawns in his political discourse.

In a post 9/11 world, the US electorates have been deeply occupied with the issues of national security and terrorism. Both are genuine concerns, keeping in mind recent Orlando massacre at the Pulse and other attacks on the US establishment in various parts of the world. However serious these concerns may be (and these are serious concerns), Trump has not till date proposed a viable proposal to encounter them.

Trump’s routine response to most policy questions has been that he is awesome: He knows how to negotiate and how to make deals. That might be true but still does not answer the raised questions regarding his policies and programs.

Answering policy questions would require a sophisticated understanding and analysis of the reasons responsible for contemporary global challenges, including national security, terrorism, religious violence, xenophobia, and settling on a mechanism to stop them where they begin i.e. in the minds of men/women. Trump is not interested in this kind of deliberation and politics. They are too cumbersome to communicate to enraged voters.

So, I do not disagree with the claims that Trump has simplified political debates in the US but my feeling is that they exaggerate the importance of Trump’s personality and his ability to control political narratives without paying sufficient attention to the US electorates. 

When electorates are asked why do they like Trump, their favorite response seems to be that “he tells it like it is”.  In other words, he calls a spade a spade without sugar coating it. If this is the reason behind Trump’s popularity then his mischaracterization of his opponents, minorities, Mexicans and Muslims acquires a new significance in the sense that there seems to be an awful connection between Trump’s political appropriation and the perception of his supporters.

Calling a community of people rapist or terrorist may not capture their truth, but can surely malign it; and there is something comforting about simple answers in an otherwise complex world. They tell us that the mischief has been identified, the blame has been laid and that we do not need to think about our problems anymore.

And yet there is something morally indigent about the above conclusion. Do you not see it? 

# Dear Reader: Your comments on my blog post are very welcome. I will respond to them as soon as I can. I thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts and ideas with me ----Dr. Rajesh C. Shukla


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Dr. Rajesh C. Shukla      June 22, 2016 at 12:36
Hello Abhimanyu Tiwari:

Many thanks for your comments and also for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

In liberal democracies all over the world a new kind of political culture is emerging: Politicians are getting louder and aggressive, using nationalism as a tool to win over voters. You have rightly cited many examples.

What can be done to respond to this kind of politics is the question? I am not sure. In Europe issues are much different in comparison to South Asia. Unlike Europe, in North America we have not yet seriously faced problems pertaining to migration and refugee crisis.

I think that Canadian elections some months ago were a refreshing. Canadians totally rejected the politics of fear and voted for a political philosophy of tolerance and peace, supporting the rise of a very young Prime Minister. May be we need young & optimistic leaders in other parts of the world too!
Dr. Rajesh C. Shukla      June 22, 2016 at 12:20
Hello Anne-Marie:

Many thanks for your comments on my blog post.

I think that we are on the same page as far as the understanding of Trump's rhetoric is concerned. He uses provocative language to attract voters and get noticed. It has worked so far but still a long way to go. I am not sure if he will be able to persuade the US electorates in the general election in November 2016. We will see.

I might have been a little unclear in the post regarding the implications of Trump's appeal. I do not blame democracy. Despite all its flaws, democracy is the best system of governance available to us. Moreover, I am not a fan of elitist electorates.

That said, you would agree that democracy requires open press, free deliberation, dignity of individual and respect for citizenship. Trump has been very hostile to all of them, begging the question if he has the right temperament to govern. We may want to think about it?

Anne-Marie      June 22, 2016 at 09:40
Trump is certainly fascinating.
Simplified solutions, such as those proposed by Trump, fail to address the underlying issues. They are therefor ineffective and worsen the problems. The fact that some minorities are pointed as the cause of the problems is concerning.
I think you are questionning democacy. Should voters have a minimum knowledge requirements? But by questionning voters judgement and ability to vote, one assumes a voter with greater general knowledge would vote against Trump.
Abhimanyu Tiwary      June 22, 2016 at 03:06
In recent years, a new methodology is being adopted to arouse people's emotions for immediate or short term gain. The methodology is Virulent Campaigning. One can notice the same pathology being tried in India, Britain, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere. Totally political in nature, the methodology has immediate impact rather long term impact and may not be always used towards a community but to a person or place as well. One can not expect morality in this case as I mentioned it's being used for political swing.