What should Indians make of Donald Trump? In manner and speech, he’s everything we haven’t seen in an American president in eight years of Obama Raj. If we were honest, we’d concede that we’re somewhat grateful to Trump. At least he’s slapped a dollop of excitement onto brooding, wilting America.
After two terms in office, Barack Obama has become a crashing bore — and also a pushover, on the defensive against every country or radical group with which America has conflict. He has presided over a period in which American authority has eroded to startling levels of weakness. China and Russia behave as though Obama doesn’t exist. Iran has bilked him for billions, and ISIS wakes up every morning thanking Allah for Obama. “Alhamdulillah, we love the red lines of which he speaks, which evaporate even as we march forward against the infidel.”
Even Jimmy Carter, the previous gold standard for fecklessness, was more muscular in his foreign actions than Obama. Carter is often remembered with derision for that raid-gone-wrong, in 1979, to rescue American hostages in Iran; but at least he undertook that mission. One cannot imagine Obama doing so.
Trump is an organic reaction to Obama. He’s also an ugly political force, both in terms of what he says aloud and in the reactions he provokes in his largely blue-collar white supporters. There is a racial current in Trumpism. His refrain, “Make America Great Again”, could easily take the subtitle, Make America White Again.
Much criticism of Obama is explained, and warranted, on policy grounds; but a startling amount of the political opposition to him is driven by race, and by the inability of sections of America to be at peace with the idea of a black president. There is a sense of emasculation in the white working class, brought on by America’s seemingly unstoppable economic, moral and military decline; but this sense is compounded in certain quarters by a hatred for Obama that is so vicious that it can only be ascribed to racism. He’s not just an arrogant man: he’s an arrogant BLACK man.
Trump isn’t going to win the presidential election, but he will succeed in grievously damaging the Republican Party for at least a couple of election cycles. Indians are familiar with the concept of a great political party suffering calamitous breakdown. Witness what has happened to the Indian National Congress, now at death’s door because its ruling family has such a lock on leadership that there is no alternative to run the party even when the family’s own princeling is a political dwarf.
The American Republicans’ own leadership crisis has an altogether different cause. Eight years of Obama have caused the party to self-destruct: so maddened by Obama has the party become that it has lost its bearings; a culture of vitriolic non-cooperation with Obama has morphed into one of internal warfare. Factionalism is tearing the Republicans apart.
As a result, Hillary Clinton looks set to be the next US president, which will constitute a moral and political victory for Obama. Trump’s support does not have the demographic breadth that a modern American presidential candidate needs to win. The white vote will fracture between him and Hillary, with women, one presumes, skewing strongly in her favour; but she will steamroll Trump among Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, groups that he has offended in his campaign.
Let’s just say that Trump will make history in November: He will ensure the election of the first woman in the White House.
The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.