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View from a New York loft

 Saeed Naqvi |  2016-11-14 22:05:30.0  |  New Delhi

View from a New York loft

The certainty of a Hillary Clinton victory had given way to anxiety as soon as the TV anchors began to concede that Donald Trump had taken Florida.

A dozen or so friends, who had assembled in Lucknow boy-turned-New Yorker, Nusrat Durrani's trendy DUMBO loft under the Brooklyn Bridge, did not have the heart to uncork champagne bottles. We were not sure which one of the Clinton supporters in the party might be offended, so shocking had been the trends somewhat early.

Our adorable Jewish World Banker friend couldn't bear to look at the screen. "I feel faint; I must leave." Another from the State Department was on frantic long-distance calls advising her family to prepare for the worst.

Trust a journalist, an honest senior backroom boy with Fox News, to be in total control of his nerves. Outside his 48th street and 6th Avenue office, multimillion dollar arrangements had been made for victory celebrations. Fox News was supporting Trump. They were, therefore, unlikely to waste their wealth in preparation for a Clinton victory. The implication was that Fox, their tentacles deep in the Trump establishment, had a better sense of which way the electoral cookie was crumbling. They had prepared for a Trump victory well in advance.

Our host, with his Lucknow versatility, a Kashmiri wife, and a committed New Yorker's (he is an art impresario) serious contemplation of the shock results, looked calm. But the way he consoled his wife, made his anxieties transparent. His white neighbour banged frantically on the door, and barged in, beads of perspiration on her brow. She could not bear to watch the results alone. She needed to hold her neighbour's hand. It was all too unnerving; the earth was moving from beneath people's feet.

Even though everyone in that volatile Assembly saw the results according to their own lights, pockets of consensus were discernable among a group huddled in this corner, or another, speaking in whispers there.

One consensus is now a universal cliche: of the two bad choices, Clinton was more acceptable to folks raised on a daily diet of New York Times and CNN. The establishment, in other words.

Conversation zigged-zagged to another point of agreement: the lasting contribution of Hillary Clinton to American public life, quite ironically, is Donald John Trump. Indeed, this has been the singular contribution of the entire US establishment. The sheer cockiness of it leaves one quite breathless.

Establishments and two-party systems, linked to corporates, were under siege universally, from the Left or the Right -- Britain, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Canada, Indonesia, The Nordic North, and Eastern Europe, are prominent examples.

By eliminating Bernie Sanders, the American establishment shifted the centre of gravity of electoral politics, way to the Right. In this arena, Trump exuded the aura of being the anti-establishment outsider. On Hillary Clinton's shoulders was placed the heavy yoke of being the establishment. Indeed, she became the epitome of a double distilled establishment with Republicans and Democrats looking at her with cow eyes.

If people worldwide, on an almost revolutionary scale, were tearing down establishments, by what logic could a plausible case be built for a Clinton victory?

With confidence derived from convoluted logic, friend Surjit Bhalla, came out as his own town crier: Trump's victory would be the end of Western civilisation. By contrast, Dinesh Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology echoed Mohammed Ali's refusal of the draft during the Vietnam war. "I've got nothing against them Vietcong."

Asked why he preferred Trump, Mohan was sharp and succinct: Trump never killed anybody. He was setting up the tycoon President-elect against Hillary's callous hawkishness.

Americans are paying the price for keeping their focus wilfully away from that frame etched indelibly in my mind. Half the split TV screen has a yelling Qaddafi being sodomised by a knife; the other half has Hillary's astonishing triumphalism, "I came, I saw, and he died."

McCarthyism was improved when hysteria was generated about Russian interference in US elections. Never was American democracy projected as being more vulnerable.

Yes, with Trump, the world enters a dangerous new phase. Strategists the world over may have to pore over new drawing boards. But is that such a hopeless prospect after the dismal and shoddy record of the past 25 years which have seen more war and mayhem than ever before? 

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. The views expressed are personal.)

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