Basab Dasgupta, in the Statesman, kolkata, December 28, 2016
(Note: For years I have been looking to and pointing to America as the oldest ideal and India as the largest democracy. It was the study of American election through electoral college vote and not popular vote months ago that shook me out of my fool’s paradise to realize theirs is an antediluvian system. So I had to write, this system must be dumped in the dustbin. Then I started seeing many more knowledgeable persons than me, saying the same — with New York Times leading the battalion to dump the electoral college system for good . Everywhere now I hear the same plea, even in this article, but Trump and battalion goes on arguing “my county right or wrong” their system is the best.
Now even this columnist writes: “Americans really do not have a true democracy.” “Everything there is driven by the greed and ego of this elite group” or profit motive, with the result I have heard people saying “Americans have more dollars than brains in their heads. Just look at what Trump is doing and what others say of his business empire. Trump’s repeated plea to make America great is an open admission, America isn’t great and has slided down to the bottom.
As one who studied also in the US and visited over a dozen times for short periods to stay, I feel the writer Dasgupta cites a string of home truths about American Indians – their hard work, frugal living to save, passion for study and excellence, concern for spiritual values and moral sexual code which make free floating Americans feel out of pace in Indian company, vegetarian food habits, good Samaritan instinct to help some one in distress, close-knit family ties, of late their eagerness to enter politics, following the lead given by Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley to play a constructive role etc — which are basics to make America great.
Why everyone speaks of the dominant role played by the Jewish community in US and why Israel is called the 51th state of US?. The Indian community, by their stellar performance can and should excel them. That is the solid contribution they can make for themselves, for US and also for India. The Donald Trump years of troubled times opens golden years to get in or to fish in troubled waters, and outshine where talent and hard work are needed and appreciated. They are not appreciated in India. Let them make hay when the sun(Trump) shines. james kottoor, editor).
There is no question that the American society has gone through a decline during the past 40 years or so in terms of living standards of the middle class, moral values, educational level of students, family cohesion not to mention the pride associated with being the best nation in the world. Being a physicist by training I like to look at complex situations and analyze them it in terms of some root causes. This is similar to what physicists do when they explain a new phenomenon in terms of the laws of physics.
After considerable thought I established four fundamental "laws” behind this decline. I do not know why these statements are true but they are and we have to simply accept them just like the laws of physics. Here they are:
1) It does not matter which political party is in charge of the government; the country is effectively run by an elite group consisting of bankers, corporations and super rich people. 2) College education is too expensive. 3) The basic attitude of people is litigious. 4) The urge for instant gratification is very strong.
The first law implies that Americans really do not have a true democracy. So common people do not seriously engage in politics and their concerns are not adequately addressed. All political candidates act like robots and say and do whatever they are told. Everything is driven by the greed and ego of this elite group.
Unnecessarily high college tuition keeps a large fraction of the population, especially the minorities, away from higher education leading to all kinds of social problems from unemployment to criminal activities. It is a key reason for economic and racial divide in the society.
Americans spend billions of dollars in frivolous lawsuits and tie up the court system. It seems that it has only gone worse with the wide scale spread of political correctness. Whenever any group of people feels that it cannot live exactly the lifestyle it wants someone must be sued. One corollary is the high cost of medical care. Two main reasons for high medical cost are the malpractice insurance to cover lawsuits from patients and expensive latest medical equipment (resulting from the legal fear that patients might sue the hospitals for lack of the best possible treatment).
Finally the trait described in the last law is not unique to the USA, but the fact is that the means for satisfying all kinds of urges (for money, food, sex, alcohol and drugs just to name a few) are easily available. It is no wonder that obesity, divorce rates, number of bankruptcies and instances of substance abuse have dramatically increased in recent decades.
Now if we look at events beyond our control such as end of the cold war, globalisation of trade, 9/11 etc and combine them with these four laws it is not difficult to explain what has happened. With Donald Trump's election there is a lot of talk about making America great again. In my opinion the only way to achieve this is to address the four root causes.
The Indian immigrant community can play a pivotal role in this transformation. The reason is that the four laws really do not apply to the Indians because they are not yet completely assimilated into American society; therefore they can do something about them. It is similar to saying that aliens (no pun intended) from some distant strange planet where laws of physics do not apply might succeed in redirecting courses of phenomena which are otherwise dictated by the laws of physics. This is how the Indians can do it.
Indians had stayed away from American politics for a long time but it seems that second generation Indians are now entering the political arena. In addition to the obvious successes of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley there are a large number of Indians working behind the scene in both main parties. I expect to see more Indians running for political office. I believe that our inherent values will make us better candidates for running a government, more geared to the needs of common people. It is not just pure politics that many Indians have advanced to very prominent corporate positions.
CEOs of two technology giants, Microsoft and Google are first generation Indians: Satya Nadela and Sundar Pichai. There are several Indian-origin CEOs in other major companies including Pepsi, CitiBank, Adobe Systems and MasterCard. They should be able to exert influence on key strategic government decisions affecting lives.
All Indians are passionate about higher education because it was this education that opened the door to the first generation immigrants to the prosperous life in America. One of the priorities of all Indians is to save money for children's college education. When they look for a house to buy or rent the first criterion is to be in a good school district. I have always been shocked by the low expectation American parents put on their children's college aspirations. Both the Indian students and their parents can transfer this zeal about higher education to their American friends and neighbours. Even though college education is expensive there are all kinds of avenues to find a way if there is a strong determination.
I also hope that educators of Indian origin would be able to do something to bring down the college tuition fees and/or introduce alternative college education programmes either online or through independent institutions. Salman Khan of Khan academy has been a pioneer in this regard. Indian scientists and engineers are already leading the innovations for the next decades in technology companies like Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel and others.
While Indians may not be able to change the litigious attitude of American society overnight they can set examples using their tolerance and negotiation skills on how to settle disputes without going through expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. Indian lawyers are emerging who are dedicated to prosecute real criminals. The name of Preet Bharara of New York city comes to mind. With the large number of Indian children opting for a medical profession they would also be in a position to make dramatic impact on how the medical industry is run and perhaps bring down medical costs.
Making any kind of effort to change the aspect of the American culture described in my fourth law is probably the most challenging task. This can happen by a full-scale assimilation of the Indian immigrant community into American society and perhaps mostly by interracial marriages and formation of racially diverse social groups.
I am sure that some of the practices which we take for granted such as frugal financial management based on a socialistic mindset, somewhat puritanical attitude about sexual activities, commitment to take care of elderly parents and exercise of restraint in dealing with any kind of temptation would be not only impressive but also considered as worthy of emulation by the society at large. Large scale introductions of Indian food, especially vegetarian dishes would go a long way towards keeping a healthy body. Hindu philosophy and spiritualism can teach a way to avoid addiction to materialistic and physical pleasures. The Self Realization Fellowship established by Paramhansa Yogananda has already been very popular in this regard.
While the first generation Indian immigrants suffer from heavy accents and typical “Desi” mannerisms our children do not have those problems and they will be automatically accepted as other Americans. One of my friends once commented that there is a possibility that someday the Indian community will bypass the Jewish community as the most influential minority with major impacts on all aspects of American society. I am very optimistic that his prediction would come true.
The writer, a physicist who worked in academia and industry, is from West Bengal, settled in America.