I write these words, still reeling from the US election results. Over the next couple of weeks, pundits will try to explain the result, to find a silver lining. But, let us make no mistake, the US election is a catastrophe for all those that believe in a free, democratic, multi-cultural, value driven, society. A Trump presidency is now a fact. And over the next four years, we will see what happens when the anchor of the “free world” turns illiberal.
For us in India, already torn between gloating and fearing the forces unleashed by Brexit, the Trump win is a tsunami. Let us all admit, at some deep level, it might feel nice to see America humbled. There is schadenfreude in seeing their paeans to democracy and lectures on values exposed as hypocritical. In the fact that they have now elected a man so vile that he has called for a total ban on Muslims entering the USA, for just that fleeting moment, it feels good to see America laid low.
But that moment passes, and then the momentousness of what has happened sinks in. The foundation rock of the post-world war, post colonial democratic world order has cracked, releasing an earthquake across the free world. If America can elect an openly authoritarian, proudly ignorant, vocally racist man to its Presidency, then what is the future for the rest of human democracy?
In the leadership of China, Russia, and the Islamic autocracies one can imagine jubilation. They will rightly feel vindicated in their repression of democracy, they will point to Trump, and to the divisiveness of the election, as the example of the fatal flaws of democracy. They will point to the liberal order and to multiculturalism as weaknesses that got “trumped”.
There are, however, a few rays of hope. Continental Europe still stands for deeper integration. Even though there is popular discontent, Germany showed an example in accepting Syrian refugees. The leadership of Europe seems not to have forgotten the lessons of the Second World War and the horrors of intolerance. Europe, though besieged, still stands as a bastion of freedom.
And then there is the matter of the greatest and largest democracy, India. It was poetic that PM Modi chose the same day to announce a breathtakingly bold attack on black money by removing high denomination notes from Indian circulation. While the world slips into despondency, Indians feel a sense of renewed hope. As I have long argued, India is the most religiously, ethnically, and linguistically diverse nation on earth. Our democracy holds strong, and today we remain the last firewall against the forces of hate and isolation.
But, here too, the risks are real, and it is important that we learn some very important lessons from the American debacle:
First, beware choosing party over policies – America has become so tribal, so divided, that people vote for their party above all common sense.
Second, beware of echo chambers – social media feeds us with only what we want to hear. We believe everyone thinks like us. Make an effort to “like” comments that are intelligent, but opposed to your beliefs. Cultivate friends that you differ with politically, read a newspaper you don’t agree with.
Third, we must redouble our battle against our own far right. This applies especially to people like me who identify as centre-right. There is a lot of false noise about intolerance, but there is some truth too. We are the best defence against our party being taken over by the extremists the way the American Republicans have been.
Finally – THINK, and VOTE! A large number of millennials stayed out of this election. A lot of people voted for protest candidates. Without this, Hillary might still have won. They have a lot to answer for.
For all its flaws and hypocrisy, the West has given us a lot to inspire our remarkable constitutional democracy. It is now our turn to be the great firewall against the madness sweeping humanity.