Trump legacy: Making racism, xenophobia chic
In a 2008 interview with Barack Obama, two weeks before he was elected America's President, I had asked him why a democracy over 200 years old was fixated on issues like its "first black President".
Obama was then a Senator, but his response was more ideological than political. He referred to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 following years of racial inequity, adding: "We are running on inclusiveness, optimism, and hope, and that will translate into a progressive Presidency on issues of diversity and inclusion."
As Obama prepares to leave the White House, America is increasingly, and in the estimation of many, irreparably divided by race, class, and religion. What Republican candidate Donald Trump's Presidential campaign has done is to make targeting people of a different skin colour not just acceptable, but chic.
The devastating effects could linger for a while, even if he loses. In New York, which like California, was once considered a bastion of pluralism, Mexican school students have been told to "go home". In Georgia a militia of gun owners prepares to withstand the anticipated onslaught on their way of life should Hillary Clinton become President. The group welcomes immigrants, but only from Europe.
The possibility of Donald Trump becoming the next US President is dire enough to have sent many to psychiatrists. Other Americans have contemplated moving to Canada or New Zealand.
The unspoken apprehension of impending doom seems pervasive among all but the faithful. In Chicago, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev was asked as to how Americans should deal with the voter's moral dilemma in the most contentious Presidential campaign in recent American history. His answer was that what the country needed was a considered vote, not a "committed" one.
Bertrand Russell once said that one of the problems in the world is that fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves while the wise are full of doubt. Like the far right elsewhere, Indian Americans supporting Trump are absolute -- both in their certitude and their manifestations of ferocious piety.
At the Hindus for Trump event organised in New Jersey recently, Bollywood actress Malaika Arora revved up the audience before Trump made his appearance to declare that "I am a big fan of Hindu". By many accounts, well over 90 percent of the three million Indian Americans are anti-Trump. (Indians like many immigrants tend to vote for the Democrats.)
Hindu Americans appeared to gravitate to Trump for his relentless anti-Muslim rhetoric and his professed admiration for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the euphoria of a new found saviour, history was the first casualty. New Jersey is no stranger to bigotry. As recently as the early 1990s, the state was infamous for the “dot busters” gangs which targeted “bindi” wearing Hindu women. In the post 9/11 America, there have also been instances of Hindus and Sikhs being targeted because they were perceived as being Muslims. How would Donald Trump isolate Muslims while preventing the targeting of other South Asians? Neither the organisers nor the audience appeared perturbed by such subtleties.
Analysts have said that with Donald Trump, the Republicans -- the party of Abraham Lincoln -- has become one for those without college degrees. Like right-wing politicians in Europe and elsewhere, he has tapped into the fear of free trade and immigration among blue collar workers in parts of America known as the rust belt.
He has obliterated election traditions -- not releasing his tax returns and even refusing to accept the election results unless he is declared the victor.
At his campaign events, journalists are corralled, and the audience encouraged to boo at them. It has reinforced Trump's image as a martyr against the establishment and the “rigged" media.
Trump has become such an effective parody of himself that the staff of the satirical magazine The Onion found themselves creatively bankrupt trying to caricature him.
Trump's affairs of the heart are famously ephemeral. It was not long ago when, railing against outsourcing of American jobs, he put on a fake Indian accent to mimic a call centre worker.
Indian Americans basking in his affection today may discover rather quickly that Trump's infatuation can shift in a heartbeat. And it was Napoleon Bonaparte who warned that one who knows how to flatter is equally adept at slander.
(Ashok Easwaran is a senior journalist of Indian origin. The views expressed are personal.)