Why should we bother at all about American elections?
Well. At one level, the question is just. In international relations, No one is another one’s loyal friend. Every friendship is only strategic. Trump or Biden, the relationship between India and the US is going to be largely based on pure strategic concerns, shorn of emotions.
But, Let me confess. I don’t like Trump. Neither as a person nor as a president of the most powerful yet democratic country in the world. Why not?
- The good old art of divisiveness:
We know that politicians sometimes thrive by dividing people into us and them. It is one of the oldest tricks in the book. We have seen that it is dangerous. It can justify killings, torture, rape and genocide on an astronomical scale. Jews in Germany during the Reich, Armenian Christians in Turkey, Tutsies in Rwanda, and Bosnian Muslims in Serbia are a few recent examples.
Trump planted himself, and thrives on, racism- pure and simple. The white lower classes are his base. The evangelical Christians all over the world love him, for he has thrown religion too into the mix. Dangerous. Something we don’t want. Normalization of out-group hate by the most influential society in the world is something the world can clearly do without.
- Contempt for Democracy:
After war and out-group hate, the single most important cause of evil and violence in history is those perpetrated by autocratic dictators and authority that is authoritarian. Think Stalin, think Mao. Think former Afghanistan.
Democracy is nothing but a system of checks and balances that has evolved to prevent this. Any leader who tries to endanger the system is dangerous.
The political scientist Juan Linz gives four important pointers, that serve as a ‘Litmus test’ to identify anti-democratic leaders.
- Rejects democratic rules of the game. Doesn’t follow norms. Casts doubts on the election process. Refuses to accept election defeats. Instead of seeing it as a game, sees democracy as a fight to the death. Attacks media, refuses to engage with them.
- Attacks opponents as enemies. Paints them as agents of rival nations. Condemns them as criminals, and even espouses violence against them.
- Tolerates or encourages violence and violent groups. Encourages mob attacks on opponents. Thrives on vigilante violence. Uses dog whistles.
- Tries to curtail rights of opponents by selective use of state machinery. Uses tax or security agencies to hound politicians, media and celebrities who don’t tow the line.
Look at all these. Trump fits the description for all of these. Don’t we want democracy to flourish in crucial places like America and India?
We do; we do.
- Lies! More lies.
We know that politicians lie. It is a cliché. But usually, they do it in a democracy, as they try and please everybody. But here, Trump has used it for blatant false propaganda, usually racist and divisive, again and again. And again. Some have put the number of clear, blatant lies at twenty thousand or more during his regime. He started out in politics by repeating the lie that Obama was born in another country, and that he was a Muslim. He did this many times, even after it was well established as a lie.
We know who manufactures this kind of propaganda and what it can lead to. We also know that people can believe this propaganda, and only a conscience and a value system can protect us against it.
- Selfishness and a rejection of universalism.
The world is rapidly becoming one. Today, we know that human lives matter, no matter what their colour, hue and nationality is. We agree that, at least in principle, all human suffering is bad. It took us a long time to get here. There is no greatness to America or India alone, if the rest of the world descends into chaos. A certain level of multilateralism and international governance is required.
Our planet burns, and an American burns ten times the energy that an Indian does. Who loses if America doesn’t want anything to be done against global warming? We all.
The Covid might slowly cease to be a threat. But Novel Influenza, Ebola, MERS, SARS and a host of diseases are waiting backstage; twiddling their thumbs. We want rich nations to put in money into, and engage more with international agencies like WHO. Who loses if the US refuses to play ball? We all.
Utopia doesn’t exist. But it is only in the last few decades of human history that as a species, we have grown kinder and slightly tolerable. Don’t we need some minimum values?
We do; we do. (Jimmy Mathew)