The recent election results in world’s largest and oldest democracies – USA and India have something in common. In both the nations people gave an overwhelming mandate to leaders who were relentlessly denigrated by their political opponents, self-righteous left-liberals, and a section of media. Both Narendra Modi and Donald Trump were demonised and vehemently attacked for their so-called constricted and conservative views. Regardless, proving all poll pundits and psephologists wrong they not only won, but also obliterated the very bastion of their political opponents. This message needs to be understood. So, while Congress, the main opposition party in India was reduced to mere forty-four seats in the Parliament, Trump emerged heads and shoulders above Hillary in the US elections. Many now see it as the victory of the burgeoning neo-right wing sentiments in the world over the exaggerated, highly intellectualised ideology of the liberals who did not have their ears to the ground.
The American mainstream media including Washington Post and New York Times were relentlessly sending panic signals of a probable doomsday that would follow Trump’s triumph. Washington Post’s editorial on July 22 called Trump a “unique threat to American democracy”. New York Times, which has a tradition of endorsing Presidential candidates and throwing the weight around its favourite also, opposed Trump. Its editorial of September 25 titled “Why Donald Trump Should Not Be President” called him “a man who dwells in bigotry, bluster and false promises”, and hence is unfit for the Presidency. No doubt, Trump’s initial remarks vis-à-vis the migrants, women, Mexicans, Ban on Muslims were rather unpleasant and unconventional both as compared to Hillary’s hallmark balanced and politically correct statements.
However, these two successive elections in India and the US have underscored that popular sentiments can neither be manufactured nor evaded. They live with the people and thus must be addressed even if it requires setting aside political correctness and calling a spade a spade, no matter whether it's about—radical Islam, flawed foreign, domestic or economic policy. To the common man, Trump-like Modi seemed more forthright and candid. Hillary, on the other hand, looked no different from other predictable, conventional politicians who are increasingly being rejected by the people for avoiding real and critical issues just to sound politically correct and appeal to a section of ultra-liberals confined in their ivory tower.
To an extent, both Modi and Trump touched the economic and political aspirations of the silent majority who were pushed to the margins by the politics of opportunism for several years. Both of them had their ears to the ground more than the high-flying media and pretentious liberals. While Modi in his campaign harped on the issue of black money and blamed it for India’s economic woes, Trump as part of his economic agenda promised to bring jobs back to America which it has lost to China and other nations. Over the years due to its flawed policies, America’s engagement with the Islamic world has been exasperating. As a result, it’s facing the threat of Islamic fundamentalist groups and their sympathisers both internally and externally. Trump was able to figure out people’s anxiety and turned it into political rhetoric. However, it’s true in doing so he completely sidestepped political correctness and decency. So, he expressed his views on jihadi terror in such a way that it sounded anti-Islam while his views on illegal immigration made him look like anti-immigrant. No doubt, his initial rhetoric seemed off the mark and hasty as compared to Hillary’s able and balanced ones. But the silent majority sick of the duplicity of conventional politicians and their self-imposed compulsions found the articulation of their sentiments against radical ideology, terrorism, economic and political instability in Trump’s tirades.
Though a section of American and world population are yet to reconcile with his victory, there is a need to look beyond the doom and gloom approach and deconstruct the message of the mandate. Are people looking for an alternative politics that prefers political truism over political correctness? As Mark Mardell, presenter of The World This Weekend on BBC, said, “For years there has been a mounting mood, a disconnect between politicians and people which find expression in a search for politics outside the old norms”. Hence, in a rather quick succession of events defying all liberal ideals, a referendum in the UK goes in favour of Brexit, waves of a new kind of populism in Europe gives a right wing government to Hungary and a left wing government to Greece. Besides, it also gives rise to AfD in Germany—a right-wing Eurosceptic political party whose strong opposition to Angela Markel’s lenient views on mass migration and asylum to the Syrian refugees in Germany echoes Trump’s views about migrants.
Alexander Gauland, the vice-chair of AfD, has criticised Germany’s “hysterical” reaction over Trump’s victory and has called it shameful. He even advised the German Defence Minister to work out a reasonable transatlantic security partnership with the upcoming US government rather than feeling shocked. These are the emerging trends in global politics which reflect similar aspirations and sentiments. So instead of worrying for the phenomenon it’s better to identify and recognise the factors contributing to this shift. Are the liberal democracies of the world unable to manage the emerging moral, political, and intellectual challenges? Are they stretching their commitment to liberty, secularism, human rights, etc. to such an extent that they lose their intended virtue and meaning? No ideology—right or left, liberal, or conservative—is absolute in itself. It’s the context which makes it relevant. Americans generally dislike being either too right or too left of the centre. Despite that if Trump seemingly leant towards the right of centre and yet got elected, then it’s important the read the message of the mandate carefully rather than shouting “Not my President”. It’s time for America and the world to recognise the emerging political realities.
(The writer is a Senior Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies at National Institute of Design. Views expressed are strictly personal.)