Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The clarion call of the trumpet

For the past six months, the US media has often revisited the idea that the Republican Party will and must soul-search. This OP-ED piece in the New York Times is one of many that suggested that the party is reaping the thorny harvest of divisive politics. That the US has way too many blacks, Hispanics, Asians, homosexuals, Muslims and youngsters to appeal predominantly to the "too old, too white, too male" votebank. The fact that a black man with a Muslim middle name was elected and then reelected should have tipped the Republican party to think anew. This was conventional wisdom till yesterday.
In the last 24 hours, the onus of soul searching has shifted to the Democratic party. What happened? At first glance, it appears to be an American version of majoritarianism. In India, Modi won due to an unprecedented aggregation of the Hindu vote. In the UK, Brexit was passed by a silent protectionist majority. And in the US, Trump won due to the backing of a white majority, comprised of a vocal throng and a silent fringe. Three of the most important democracies resoundingly rejected "other" people at a time when none of our leaders question globalization anymore.

Although we'll never really know if Bernie Sanders would have trounced Trump, it can be said with some conviction that, in the end, Hillary Clinton proved to be more unpalatable than the misogynistic, racist, hate-mongering, shallow, ignorant, whining egomaniacal billionaire. Just one of those adjectives would have decimated anybody else's campaign. But the more Trump slipped into the morass of his own character, the closer he inched towards the pedestal his supporters had built for him. When the media threw feces (read: evidence of wrongdoing) at Trump, his supporters thought they were breathing in the unfamiliar aroma of authenticity.
Does that make those supporters misogynistic, racist, shallow, hatemongers? Some of them, yes. But most of them share just one trait with Trump: ignorance. They firmly believe that this man will fix a system that has dismissed their grievances for a long time. Whereas every piece of available evidence shows that Trump has never been concerned about anybody else's welfare. That he can't muster an ounce of empathy even if his life depended on it. That evidence was dangled in front of their eyes. Again, all they saw was the sheen of authenticity.

We are talking about a blackout of the senses. Some reality in their lives motivated them to believe and hope without evidence (Michael Moore's film Trumpland gives us a peek into some parts of their reality).
As a species, we need to address a screaming need: how do we train people to demand evidence for their beliefs?
Here is a minuscule sample of what a great number of Americans have believed or continue to believe since the beginning of the millennium:
  • Iraq had a stockpile of WMDs
  • Global climate change is a myth
  • Evolution is just a theory, probably even a conspiracy against religion
  • Trickle down economics works everywhere, all the time
When people do not demand evidence, they become vulnerable to every charlatan, flimflam artist or demagogue that knocks on their doors. Trump's reptilian brain probably understood this better than anybody else. He said all the right things as far as his supporters are concerned. He sold emotions, underplayed the importance of details in his schemes, repeated nonsense till they sounded like facts, became louder when challenged. He embodied the trinity of message, messenger and saviour without having a shred of evidence. That was the last thing he needed to preach his gospel.

The result: at least 4 years of Trump. That's four years of climate change denial. According to scientists, we do not have the luxury of waiting for 4 years before taking concrete action to stem the tide against global climate change. Trump might go to the extent of rescinding the marginal gains made by the Paris Accord. He will be aided in this by the Republican majority in the House and the Senate. It is foolish to hope that a party that sings hymns in praise of quarterly results will safeguard the next century. Capitalism is founded on greed, which is a HERE and NOW emotion.
And this is where one must question those who believe that the system will self-correct. The Trump supporters got one thing right: the system is broken. It has secret keys, hidden passageways and trapdoors. Even if Trump doesn't fulfill the doomsday prophecy of a nuclear nightmare, escalating violence and systemic discrimination, there is reason to worry.
This man loves negotiations and the "art of the deal." His game of chess resets itself after every move. He has never been interested in being consistent and calculating long-term repercussions. He just wants to win the next move at all costs. He and Paul Ryan will soon appear on our television screens, shoulder to shoulder, their grins extending from cheeks to cheeks. He will coerce, bully, cajole or seduce key people as per the needs of the moment.
His supporters might even benefit from the spillover effects of his actions. But that will not be enough. They will just have to believe that it is.

For the human species to have a long-term orientation, we have to train ourselves to FEEL a little less and to THINK a little more. We need to question, analyze, evaluate so that we can create better realities. At this moment, one hopes that we have enough time to do that.
Sigh! At a time when we are betrayed by our collective emotions, all we have to hold on to is an emotion.


  1. Excellent articulation Eshwar!! In my opinion, the disgruntlement of the majority needs to be addressed and just scaremongering will not help. Be it in the USA or in India. As for Trump and his policies, let's hope the internal politics in the Republican party takes care of it. He already has lot of enemies in his party and is likely to find it difficult to push his agenda though.

    1. I also hope that enough checks and balances exist, Sridhar. I really, really hope so.

  2. Great read, but there is, I am afraid, a grammatical error: "But most of them share just one adjective with Trump: ignorance." Shouldn't it be "ignorant"?

    1. You are right. I apologize for the error and thank you for bringing it to my attention.