Digesting the Trump win

November 21, 2016,  Santosh Desai in Times of  India

James Kottor(Note: The whole world is asking questions to unravel the riddle of Trump win. None has come up with convincing answers. The hitherto presumed consensus on what the world should like and what our beliefs should dictate,  seem to have gone burst.

The presumption was democracy is the best form of government nations have come up with and much has been discussed and written on how it should operate, each country developing its own modus operandi. US always claimed its was the best form and it was always in the business of exporting its version using even aggressive means, for which it has been called hypocritical  — using aggression where it suites them.

Now the latest US election seems to have proved counterproductive to its declared claims. At least it has put them in a bind. It has produced a “monster”,  something they themselves are not able to digest by their own admission, even by the winning republican party’s admission, due to the final say given to the  number of electoral votes and not  popular ones, by which they have   always defined democracy as “the government of the people, by the people, for the people” while the rival candidate Hilary has ran away with millions more popular votes – not a few — more than what Trump could collect.

This popular vote still remains to be counted. It is expected to complete only by the end of November. According results announced last week Hilary was ahead of Trump with more than one million votes and more than 4 million remained to be counted. This great conflict in their own voting system has to be convincingly reconciled to win world opinion in American democracy, which claims to rule by majority support. Of course Indian democracy also is not  supported by the majority due to  “the-first-past-post” system followed, which we explained last time.  james kottoor, editor)

As the world comes to terms with the Trump win, explanations abound, but the underlying incomprehension remains intact. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter what made him win, for his win is nothing more than a statistical detail. Not in the sense that his win is not a significant event, for it clearly is a momentous era-defining victory, but in that the Trump phenomenon would be just as significant even if he had lost. The victory was a function of the way in which the rules of this particular game operated, but the fact that he appealed to so many at such a visceral level is the development that needs to be better understood.

While there are without doubt many variables unique to the United States that would explain the Trump phenomenon, it is clearly a part of a larger shift in the world. The liberal intellectual establishment is under attack, and the values it has espoused for so long are being challenged. Perhaps the problem lies with the fact that the liberal establishment declared a premature victory. Over the last few decades, what were ideals to be striven for have become standards against which people are judged. The mental model is that of a presumed consensus on what the world should like and what our beliefs should be.

Those not conforming to these standards are called a variety of names. What is striking is that the standards have become progressively more stringent without always keeping ground realities in mind. A fashionable parlour game is to spot flaws in anything that is held up as progressive, by finding structural reasons why it is deep down still discriminatory in some form. Labels have hardened- sexist, racist, homophobic, bigot, casteist- these are descriptions that are used quite freely.

To be told constantly that many of one’s natural instincts are not only flawed, but are arrayed against the principles of humanity, can be a deeply dispiriting experience. That is not to say that the labels are always used incorrectly, but that the framework itself does not adequately factor in how transitions in cultural norms take place. This is quite paradoxical for liberalism is a credo that is hinged on humanity being in a state of constant transition- being liberal is not a station one has arrived at, it is a journey that is never quite complete.

In some way or the other, whether on the surface or really deep down, most people would find it difficult to measure up to the very values that they espouse in the way they lead their own lives. This is not a failure on their part or a sign of their hypocrisy; it is how change occurs. We let go of the past gradually, and our actions lag behind our ideals. Equally, there is nothing unnatural about people who have lived in a certain way feeling threatened when that way changes dramatically in a short period of time. Race, gender, sexuality, caste- these are constructs that represent common currencies of meaning. Simply because one group has changed its view on these meanings, does not mean that everyone else will immediately and unhesitatingly fall in line.

And things have changed, and have done so voluntarily. Perhaps not at the speed at which they could have, nor with the fullness that is desired by some, but the change we have seen over the last few decades has been substantial. Those that are invested in this change needed to have taken the responsibility not merely to fight for change, something that is crucial but not sufficient, but to also evangelise it, with empathy and patience, rather than with dismissive scorn.

There is no excuse for Donald Trump. There is also no excuse for the most extreme part of his support base. But there is a large section, not just in the US, but elsewhere in the world, including in India, who feel disrespected and rendered illegitimate by the constant evaluation that they have been subjected to. Now that they have the means to be heard more directly thanks to new forms of media, there is a new aggression in their manner. On social media, they can also hear other voices that echo their own feelings and the sense that far from being alone, they constitute a sizeable number is adding weight to their feelings.

There is a new energy in democracy, and this threatens those who championed democracy the most. Trump succeeds because of the very reasons that makes him so obnoxious. He has no respect for any institutions, little knowledge of how to govern, no personal scruples that can be readily identified, but what he has is a seemingly unstoppable desire to tear down existing structures without caring for the consequences. It is the blindness of his rage, the rampagingly impractical nature of his tantrum/plan, that signifies that finally, something drastic will be done to push back against the smugness of what exists.

Without the possibility of some dialogue based on a certain minimum amount of empathy, the divide will only get sharper. The right is rapidly manufacturing its own set of labels, and these are potentially even more frightening than the ones used by the liberal establishment. Trump needs to be fought, but the phenomenon that created him needs to be spoken to and engaged with.

There is a strong feeling in some quarters that this is not to time to go soft on Trump and what he signifies, that any time attempt to empathise makes excuses on behalf of Trump and normalizes what should be abhorrent. This might appear to be a strong and uncompromising view, but it ignores the fact that today it is democracy that is increasingly throwing up popular demagogues, and by doing more of what of has created this phenomenon in the first place, is the surest way of ensuring that Donald Trump is not an aberration, but the norm.

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