Voters’ Verdict: An American Anguish

Fiji’s leading writer Satendra Nandan’s book of essays, Brief Encounters: Literature and Beyond, was published last year.     Seldom, if ever, the political pundits, pollsters, professors, publishers, ideological philosophers
12 Nov 2016 11:04
Voters’ Verdict: An  American Anguish
US President-elect Donald Trump with US President Barack Obama.

Fiji’s leading writer Satendra Nandan’s book of essays, Brief Encounters: Literature and Beyond, was published last year.



Seldom, if ever, the political pundits, pollsters, professors, publishers, ideological philosophers and not a few poets (alas) have been so dramatically trumped. And if you play cards, in Fijian parlance, you know a ‘duggi’- two of clubs or a ‘tiggi’- a three of diamonds – can trump a king, a queen or an ace!

But you also learn to play with the cards dealt to you and always hope to do better the next time around.

In a bruising presidential election of the United States, Donald J Trump has emerged as the president-elect. He’ll be the 45th president of the most powerful nation in the world on January 20, 2017. Hillary Clinton got more popular votes but lost on the electoral college vote distribution, state-wise.

Normally this would be a cause of celebration for wherever democracy flourishes, other freedoms are bound to grow and prosper, despite its discontents. But these results have stunned more than a nation.

After eight years of the subtle and creative thinking of the present president, Barack Obama, Mr Trump is a crude and crass contrast. The void President Obama leaves behind is vast: even on the eve of this election his popularity was 57 per cent, compared to Mr Trump’s 43 per cent. His speech congratulating Mr Trump’s surreal victory was full of a special quality of sadness, the passing of an era.

So a President will be missed. And many of his legacies presumably dismissed or dismantled.

This is regarded as the most historic upset in US presidential elections ever. Everyone is talking only in hyperbole, forgetting that history is no respecter of individual destinies.

Great tomes of analysis will now be written to analyze this seismic change ushered in by a billionaire who has never held an elected political office: one who defeated the best qualified candidate for the presidency.

Often we saw Hillary between two presidents, Bill and Barrack: She exuded a warmth and humanity rarely seen or heard in Mr Trump’s utterances.

Mr Trump’s best speech, though, has been his victory speech given around 3 am after a call from Hillary Clinton conceding defeat. A real estate mogul, a reality TV celebrity, had won an extraordinary election victory over a woman who dared to be the first female President.

Gender, like race, must have played its role but this is only one of the staggering realities in the USA. It’s a profoundly complex society of colonial and imperial inheritance. It’s also an immigrant and innovative nation and has been capable of reinventing itself.

It has welcomed migrants from every part of the world. It began as a colony created through genocide, slavery and segregation but it also fought against the British and gained its independence; it fought a Civil War to free slaves and their masters and give equality to all its citizens; its civil rights movements continue even today. All lives matter but not always equally.

Many of the most powerful technological inventions of the last century have been invented in this nation with its military-industrial complex and centres of immense excellence and creativity. Among them it’s many universities, think-tanks, quality journalism and writing.

Australia, for example, established its 44 universities only in the 1990s. In the US, the decades after 1840s, gave birth to many great institutions. In India it was a century later.

Ideas and ideals, visions and values, do make a difference in the endless journeys of national pursuits, self-images and narratives. Of course not everything a nation does is always for the benefit of humankind or our wounded planet. History is replete with horrendous examples of inhumanity.

In my own life-time there has been a World War, several terrible assassinations, partitions, nuclear bombs dropped, and too many killings for ideological reasons. But somehow we’ve survived, so far.

This then is my major criticism of Mr Trump: does he have the character and integrity of a leader who has suddenly, unexpectedly acquired so much lethal power in a deeply troubled world? Does he possess the depth of character to exercise this power for the good of the world from a divided nation?

I’m reminded of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962— virtually all the hawkish generals wanted to attack the Russian ships sailing towards Cuba loaded with nuclear weapons: it was only President John Kennedy and a diplomat who said ‘No’—let’s give the Russian leaders a bit more time and space to think of the consequences of their menacing intentions during the Cold War. And those five hundred extra miles and a few hours, I feel, prevented our world’s first nuclear holocaust.

It’s really in a crisis that real leadership emerges and the judgment of one man or woman can outweigh the judgment of the whole world.

Here the world may be nervous of Mr Trump’s capacities. His policies, his cheap jibes, his personal attacks show that nothing has been thought through; and he changed his utterances as a chameleon changes its colours. But will the leopard change its spots?

His victory speech, however, was  gracious: to reach out to ALL Americans and to bind the wounds. A wounded America can be a dangerous one. Last time such words were uttered by Abe Lincoln after the Civil War, 150 years ago. The great president was assassinated. He was a Republican too.

I don’t think President Trump should fear such a fate: only the great are killed in politics and the good die young! Mr Trump is 70 years old. Wisdom may yet prevail. After all, his youngest son is only 10 years old. And he has a few grandkids too.

For the past four decades, I’ve been taking interest in the politics of at least six countries: Fiji, India, England, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, mainly because of my Pacific connections, family ties, education and passion for parliamentary democracy from which all other freedoms come to us, individually and collectively.

I’ve been wrong twice in my predictions: once when the  local colonel staged the coup 30 years ago; I’d said that we were the Government of RFMF too; within three weeks I was proved wrong on May 14, 1987.

Last week I predicted instinctively, and from a distance, that Mrs Clinton will win a handsome victory and shatter the glass ceiling and become the first Woman President of the great Republic. Once again I was wrong. But I’m no prophet nor was meant to be.

But in the long run of political interests, my faith in democracy has not declined. Indeed it’s been enhanced. And being wrong for a while doesn’t mean the end of things: you’ve to survive today to change tomorrow.

Mr Trump has indulged in a volatile and vulgar political campaign, unheard of in recent times. He even hinted at violent consequences, if he lost, but to the great credit of the Americans, as far as I’m aware, not a single person was killed during this election campaign.

Was this a vote against elites and the political establishment? Will it create a greater economic crisis than GFC in 2008? Was this the most divisive American experience since the Civil War, 151 years ago?

When Mr Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the USA on January 20, 2017, the Republican Party that rejected him, will be in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate also.

Therein lies our hope. It’s possible that there are many decent Republicans who will not allow him to pursue some of his most outlandish policies like building a wall; Islamicphobia; the easy distribution of nuclear weapons; destroying free trade agreements; climate change issues, the treatment of minorities, etc.

The world is what it is. The realities are massive and stubborn and he’s likely to learn his lessons fast. China will be Mr Trump’s greatest challenge. It’ll be an ideological confrontation more powerful than the Cold War, followed by military and economic domination that is part of the two countries’ agenda. Our region, Asia-Pacific, could be particularly vulnerable.

An ancient, imperial civilization will be pitted against the most modern.

Meanwhile, the highly aggrieved white working class in small towns and rural areas have sent a salutary message to the rulers of the world who dwell in Wall Street.

Many like me will be deeply disappointed that Hillary Rodham Clinton lost this race, in what some have termed as a ‘racist’ election. But in more than a sense she has won as a woman of great character and substance.

I console myself by the fact that four years is not too long in politics; and, as Mr Trump said, the election was really rigged! Or again the people deserve the government they elect. And there’s always the easy consolation of karmic justice!

My final consolation, however, is that the 2016 Booker Prize for Fiction went to an American book titled The Sellout by Paul Beatty. It’s a lacerating satire on the American way of life. I’ve just begun reading it.

But in any case, I feel we, who believe in the democratic forms of governance, have really not lost. Indeed, Fiji has, over the years, emerged out of a nightmare into a brighter sun. And as Barack Obama put it: no matter who wins, who loses, the sun will come up tomorrow.

And we all know: the sun rises first in Fiji.


Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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