Today when the USA, the most powerful democracy in the world, is facing an existential crisis, it becomes even more important for a country like India to stand up and uphold democratic principles and practices guided by wise leadership to set an example for the world to follow, said renowned Prof. Stephen Golub while speaking on ‘A Grave New World? The Politics behind Donald Trump’s Presidency and its Potential Implications for the United States, India and the International Community’ at Observer Research Foundation on February 14, 2017.
Painting a bleak picture of the new Trump administration and what lies ahead for America, Prof. Golub, who teaches courses relating to international development at the University of California at Berkeley and Central European University in Budapest, suggested that though Trump’s views on various issues, like terrorism and religious extremism, may not be bad when it comes to India, we must be careful what we wish for. The alienation of a particular community and alienating China on the global front may lead to many countries considering the move to recalibrate and reassess their relation with America or an all-out Trade War.
Prof. Golub said he does not see Trump fit for making decisions on crucial matters affecting the World, being short tempered, ill informed and uncurious person with a short attention span. He felt the world has become a more dangerous place than it was six months ago with Trump in charge of the country’s vast nuclear arsenal.
Prof. Golub started his talk by describing how in the current scenario the US looks like a small Central American Republic following the chaos and confusion unleashed by Donald Trump’s Presidency. Expressing his concerns around the Trump Presidency the talk focussed on three broad questions; How Donald Trump is different from his predecessors? ; How he won? ; And what are the implications for US, India and the World at large?
He explained why any analysis about Trump has to start by first understanding Trump’s personality. He described Trump as a short tempered person who has the ‘lowest absorptive capacity when it comes to sensitive issues than any President who has held office’. However what sets him apart from his predecessors are his alleged links to Russia and his praise for Vladimir Putin. His very top advisor has promoted what is called Alt-Right, a vocal denial of the history of US as a ‘Nation of Immigrants’, promoting the notion of white nationalism excluding not only Muslims or Mexicans but any person who detracts from the American way of life. Promotion of the idea ‘America First’ and restriction of immigrants are just a few things that have set Trump apart from not only his Democrat but Republican Predecessors as well.
Speaking about ‘how Trump won?’, Prof. Golub called Trump an ‘accidental President ‘who run initially to promote his business and brand name despite losing the popular vote, losing support from his own party members and a large section of the American population. Another reason which according to Prof. Golub has not been given much attention that might have helped Trump win is the phenomenon in the US of ‘voter suppression’, which makes it tougher for disadvantaged groups, poor households, poorly educated groups or individuals to cast their votes.
He then shifted the attention to the media coverage of Trump’s election campaign, and how major media outlets like Fox News, MSNBC and CNN helped Trump’s election bid by providing his election rallies maximum coverage while important policy issues were given less than half hour coverage. What helped Trump win was very importantly the reopening of the investigation into the Hillary Clinton’s email leak, which swayed the elections in favour of Trump as a large proportion of the ‘low information voters’ started questioning Hillary’s capabilities to lead the country. Prof. Golub added that the US Election 2017 was about change. And Hillary Clinton was seen as representing the status quo and Trump the change.
Moving on to the question of what Trump’s election means for the US, Prof. Golub presented a few scenarios that we may witness in the future. Trump, according to him, may become moderate realising the responsibility that rests on his shoulders and cutback on his harsh statements. Trump is already delivering on his promises, including the unpopular Muslim ban which has worked very well for his approval ratings. Throughout the transition, Trump’s style hasn’t changed at all, especially his habit of speaking his mind on social media platform like Twitter. He warned that given the rocky relation that Trump has had with the judiciary, he may use his powers and position to manipulate public opinion to get the necessary popular support to override the authority of the courts and compromise institutions and rule of law. The Trump administration might as well collapse in the near future due to bitter infighting or other political fissures or Trump might be impeached by his own Republican Party members.
The event was chaired by Mihir Swarup Sharma, Senior Fellow and Head, Economy and Growth Programme at Observer Research Foundation.
This report is prepared by Maleeha Mukhtar, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi