Power induces responsibility and moderation. This phenomenon has been seen in India where, as Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said, Narendra Modi has been transformed from a hate figure to an “avatar of progress and modernity”.
Arguably, it is now being seen in the US where some of Donald Trump’s recent statements belie his earlier image of being abrasive and uncompromising.
For instance, almost immediately after his victory, he said that Hillary Clinton had been a doughty fighter and that the nation owed her a “debt of gratitude” for her contributions.
This gracious acknowledgement of his opponent’s calibre was in sharp contrast to what he had said about Hillary earlier, including the possibility of jailing her if he won.
It is Trump’s relentless criticism of the Democratic Party’s challenger which made his supporters chant, “lock her up”, during his campaign rallies and fostered the impression of Hillary being “crooked” and a “criminal”. It is not improbable that this calumnious allegation, compounded by the FBI’s probes into her emails, contributed to her defeat.
Trump’s change of attitude towards Hillary is not the only example of how he may be revising his views. He had earlier described the Affordable Care Act or the so-called “Obamacare” as a “disaster” and a “catastrophe”. Now, he has said that he would like to retain some of its provisions.
It is noteworthy that within a day of his victory, his earlier threat to keep Muslim immigrants out by a “total and complete shutdown” of their entry into the US disappeared from his website.
Even if Trump had subsequently moderated his threat from complete shutdown to stringent vetting at the points of entry, his latest stance once again shows how assuming a position of authority can influence a person’s outlook.
The problem, however, with “retreats” of this kind from what is regarded as key positions are that they may not go down well with hardline supporters.
One can see this resentment in India, too, where Modi’s castigation of gau rakshaks or cow vigilantes led extremist Hindutva groups to say that they will work against him in the next general election.
A saffron netizen has also wanted to know if Modi is proving to be an obstacle to Hindu revival. Pointing out that there was a “massive aspiration” at the time of Modi’s victory that his government would be “sympathetic and proactive towards Hindu causes”, the writer, Shrinidhi Rao, has lamented that the “hopes were ill-founded” because many are asking “whether the BJP is hampering Hindu revival”.
The saffron hawks have reasons to be disenchanted with their former Hindu hriday samrat because of the way Modi has silenced the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj and stopped their ghar wapsi and love jihad antics.
It remains to be seen how far Trump will go to implement his provocative plans to build a wall on the US-Mexico border to keep out immigrants or trash the Paris climate agreement and the nuclear deal with Iran.
But from the few signs that are already available, it is possible that the earlier fears among the liberals that Trump’s ascension will mark the end of the world for them may not come true if he keeps his word about putting “partnership” over “conflict” with his detractors.
Such a benign outlook will not only be disconcerting for his angry white supporters in the US, but also the far-right parties of Europe like the National Front of France, the Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands – not to mention the pro-Brexit group in Britain – who have seen in Trump’s rise a widespread endorsement of their Right-wing, pro-white, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies.
Any resultant diminution of racism and xenophobia cannot but be welcomed, for it will mean a return to the middle ground of politics away from either the extreme Right or the extreme Left.
It is a truism that a majority of the people shun extremism and prefer decency over aggression and accommodation over exclusion even where the so-called other or the individuals with a different skin colour or religion or cultural practices are concerned.
India’s multicultural polity – it is a country with 17 official languages, a birthplace of four religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism), and home to the followers of Islam and Zoroastrianism among other faiths – has left all the parties with no alternative but to adhere to the path of pluralism.
The US is less heterogeneous, but as a nation of immigrants, it has had to accept not only whites as before but also the blacks and browns.
The consequent Hispanisation of the country has led to the erosion of the American way of life, according to Samuel Huntington of the “clash of civilisations” fame, because of the dilution of the traditional WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) factor by the Hispanic “culture of Catholicism” introduced by the brown Latin American immigrants.
Trump, however, wants to “bind the wounds of division” and says that “it is time for us to come together as one united people”. His supporters in the Rust Belt of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the television studios of Fox News will be disappointed. IPA
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)