Donald Trump’s electoral victory and appointment as the 45th President of the United States triggered a political tsunami across the globe. I still remember the day on which results were announced. Everybody in India, from seasoned journalists to rookie software engineers, expected a Hillary landslide. They had been counting on it for different reasons. India’s mainstream media is heavily Anglocentric, a byproduct of the country’s colonial past and influential Anglo-American diaspora. It took cues from the likes of BBC, CNN, The Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post. That the great majority of corporate czars and media conglomerates had invested themselves in a Hillary win (over not only the Republican Party but also Democrats represented by Bernie Sanders) did not bother them in the least. Only a minority of Indian citizens supported her flamboyant challenger. Why they chose to do so is something I will discuss later.
But Trump won, Hillary was trounced and a whole army of political observers and commentators ate humble pie. Unlike many non-white, non-Americans, I did not feel greatly perturbed by Clinton’s defeat. Her ties to Wall Street, incredibly irresponsible and reckless behaviour in Libya and general enthusiasm for bloody interventions in the Middle East meant that there was little to choose between her and the Republicans. In fact, Trump came off as a dove in comparison to Hillary, with his condemnation of American adventurism and regime change strategies on foreign soil. Having seen a supposedly peace-loving Barack Obama drone and bomb hapless Yemenis and Afghans without mercy, I had little stomach for Hillary (whose cackling celebration of Muammar Gaddafi’s lynching with a pithy “We came, we saw, he died” still sends shivers down the spine). But one also knew that his inauguration would embolden white supremacists within the United States.
Progressive Americans such as Noam Chomsky had warned the world of the dangers posed by a Trump presidency. I must admit that I did not take those warnings as seriously as I should have. The Democratic establishment’s betrayal of Bernie Sanders seemed to destroy all hopes of America turning the corner. It left a bitter after-taste and reduced what looked like an American Spring to a hopeless scenario of choosing between the lesser of two evils. During my social media debates with friends agonizing over Hillary’s loss, I was preoccupied with questioning liberal narratives (Hillary being a progressive candidate, Bernie’s defeat having nothing to do with the conspiracy hatched by the Democratic Party’s establishment, Russia being the primary reason for Clinton’s defeat, and her ties to Wall Street bankers and Gulf Arab monarchs not being problematic).
I still hold on to those observations. But the haze enveloping Trump’s persona has evaporated. He is no longer the unknown entity he was during the Presidential campaign. From half a world away, one can clearly see his dangerous alliance with white supremacist ideology (personified by Stephen Bannon), enthusiasm for war (revealed by the appointment of hawkish US generals to key posts in the administration and a spectacular increment in military expenditure), support for shady business families (exemplified by the elevation to the office of the US Secretary of Education of Betsy DeVos, wife of Dick DeVos of Amway and sister of Erik Prince of Blackwater) and opposition to women’s rights (especially reproductive rights). Trump doesn’t look like he is going to ‘drain the swamp’ any time soon. Rather, his administration seems to be absorbing the worst of the war mongering, crony capitalist specimens in Washington without compunction.
The most obvious manifestation of these developments has been a spurt of hate crimes. The vast majority of Indians had never taken the charge of xenophobia leveled against his followers with great alarm. Many were in fact supportive of his right-leaning politics (especially the small minority who supported his bid for the US presidency from the very beginning). With the exception of a few groups, attacks against religious (Muslim and Jew) and ethnic (African American and Hispanic) minorities by white extremists has rarely stirred the collective conscience of the NRI (Non Resident Indian) community in the United States or their brethren at home. It is only when this brand of violence engulfed their homes or endangered their economic interests that they reacted. The aftermath of Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the US revealed the same dynamic at play.
This can be discussed in detail later. I will also examine different aspects of the Trump phenomenon (including the tragedy suffered by two NRI families, of the Telugu community of South India to which I belong). It reveals not only the ugliness of racism but also the ignorance and folly of those who seek to escape, nay profit from it, by diverting hatred towards others. To begin with, a timeline of Trump’s journey to the White House and decisions made by his administration.
- 12th April, 2015: Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and First Lady, declares her bid for the Presidency from the Democratic side.
- 30th April, 2015: Bernie Sanders, Vermont Senator, announces his intention to contest as Democratic nominee.
- 15th June, 2015: Jeb Bush, the former Florida Governor, and member of the Bush political dynasty, launches his campaign to become the Republican Presidential candidate.
- 16th June, 2015: Donald Trump announces his decision to run for the American Presidency as a candidate for the Republican Party. Speaks of rapists and criminals among the Mexicans creating problems for the US.
- July, 2015: Opinion polls show Trump enjoying greater support than his rivals in the Republican Party.
- 8th September, 2015: Hillary Clinton apologizes over her use of a primate email server as Secretary of State following reports in the press.
- 22nd October, 2015: Clinton is questioned for 11 hours by a Senate Committee over her role as Secretary of State in the Benghazi fiasco (in Libya).
- 20th November, 2015: Indian American businessman Shalabh Kumar launches the Republican Hindu Coalition (along the lines of the Republican Jewish Coalition).
- 20th February, 2016: Jeb Bush loses the South Carolina primary and suspends his campaign.
- 7th December, 2015: Trump calls for a ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States following the deadly attacks in Paris, France (claimed by Islamic State).
- 1st March, 2016: Trump wins seven of the eleven states up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Clinton overcomes Sanders with the same margin.
- 3rd March, 2016: Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential candidate denounces Trump as a conman. Has support in the form of prominent Republican leaders and former Presidents.
- 30th March, 2016: Trump makes controversial remarks about abortion, only to withdraw them.
- 19th April, 2016: Hillary Clinton wins the New York primary, almost sealing her nomination.
- 3rd May, 2016: Donald Trump wins Indiana and becomes the presumptive Republican nominee.
- 11th May, 2016: Hindu Sena (Hindu Army), one of the many far right Hindu organizations in India, performs a havan (Hindu religious ritual) in support of Donald Trump in Delhi.
- 26th May, 2016: Trump wins the majority of delegates and secures his nomination (without the need to face a run-off during the Republican Convention).
- 2nd June, 2016: Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan declares his support for Trump.
- 6th June, 2016: Clinton wins 2,383 pledged delegates, the minimum number required to secure the nomination.
- 9th June, 2016: President Barack Obama declares his support for Clinton.
- 5th July, 2016: FBI Director James Comey recommends that no criminal charges be pressed against Clinton over her use of a private email server as Secretary of State.
- 12th July, 2016: Bernie Sanders endorses Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate.
- 15th July, 2016: Trump announces Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his running mate.
- 18th to 21st July, 2016: Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Trump becomes the official Republican Party nominee. Indian American Chicago billionaire Shalabh Kumar donates almost a million dollars to Trump’s campaign.
- 22nd July, 2016: Virginia Governor Tim Kaine declared Vice Presidential running mate by Clinton.
- 23rd July, 2016: Wikileaks releases 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), revealing the Democratic establishment’s hostility to Sanders. The scandal forces DNC Chair Debbie Schultz to resign.
- 25th to 28th July, 2016: Clinton accepts the Democratic nomination for the Presidency (the first woman to do so for the Democratic or Republican parties) at the Philadelphia Convention in Pennsylvania.
- 17th August, 2016: Trump appoints Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News, a right-wing media outlet, as the Chief Executive of his campaign.
- 31st August, 2016: Trump meets Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Follows up with anti-immigration speech in Arizona.
- September & October 2016: Scandal erupts over Trump’s lewd remarks about women in 2005. Wikileaks releases emails from Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta, showing excerpts of her paid speeches to Wall Street firms. Presidential debates between Trump and Clinton in Hempstead (New York), St. Louis (Missouri) and Las Vegas (Nevada). New email controversy emerges with regard to Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. Trump speaks at convention organized by the Repblican Hindu Coalition in Edison, New Jersey to raise funds for a Hindu charity event – ‘Humanity United Against Terror’. Indian movie stars (including a Telugu film actor Akhil Akkineni) and spiritual figures (Sri Sri Ravi Sankar) fly in to entertain the crowds.
- 8th November, 2016: Election Day. Donald Trump goes on to defeat Hillary Clinton in a contest predicted to be in favour of the Democratic nominee.
- 16th December, 2016: US President-elect Donald Trump acknowledges the contribution of Indian-Americans in his electoral triumph, saying his victorious campaign did ‘great with the Hindus’.
- 19th December, 2016: Electoral College declares Trump the winner, with 304 electoral college votes to Clinton’s 227.
- 20th January, 2017: Donald Trump inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. Signs bill enabling appointment of retired US General James Mattis as US Secretary of Defense. General Mattis is known for his unfavourable views of Iran (principal threat to the stability of the Middle East) and Russia (expansionist power aiming to break up NATO). Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, seen as being close to Russia, is made National Security Advisor.
- 21st January, 2017: Protests across the US. Hundreds of thousands of citizens take part in the Women’s March on Washington. Yemen reports its first American drone strikes under the Trump Presidency.
- 23rd January, 2017: President Trump pulls the USA out of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Claims that 3-5 million ‘illegal’ ballots cost him the popular vote.
- 24th January, 2017: Trump reverses the Obama administration’s decision to halt pipeline (Keystone XL and Dakota Access) construction through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation (of the Native American Dakota tribe) citing jobs. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi receives a phone call from the White House, one of the first world leaders to do so. Indian dailies claim it to be on account of PM Modi being one of the first to congratulate Donald Trump over his electoral victory. South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley (of Indian American descent) appointed Ambassador to the United Nations by the US President. A new bill (High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017) introduced in the US House of Representatives to double wage limits for H1B visas triggers concerns among Indian software firms and sends Indian stocks tumbling.
- 25th January, 2017: Executive order issued by the President for the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border.
- 26th January, 2017: Controversy erupts over White House’s suggestions to fund the construction of the border wall by taxing Mexican imports. Mexican President Nieto cancels his meeting with Trump.
- 27th January, 2017: White House issues orders suspending Refugees Admissions Program for 120 days and banning entry of people from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Iran for 90 days.
- 29th January, 2017: The Yakla Raid carried out by US Special Forces (on behalf of the Saudi faction) in Yemen and authorized by President Trump leads to the death of one US Navy SEAL officer, three Al Qaeda operatives and fifteen to twenty five civilians (including children and women). Republican Hindu Coalition declares its support for President Trump’s travel restrictions, calling it a “decisive move to protect our citizens from Islamic terror”.
- 31st January, 2017: Neil Gorsuch appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by the demise of Antonin Scalia.
- 1st February: Senate confirms Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil and long time Republican supporter as Secretary of State. He is perceived as being friendly to Russia on account of his business interests.
- 3rd February, 2017: White House slaps sanctions against Iran accusing it of hostile and belligerent actions (a reference to Iranian missile tests). Federal Judge James Robart blocks the Presidential order restricting entry of citizens from seven Muslim countries.
- 7th February, 2017: Betsy DeVos is confirmed as the US Secretary of Education with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.
- 8th February, 2017: Jeff Sessions confirmed as US Attorney General by the Senate.
- 9th February, 2017: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley expresses support for the two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict while defending the White House’s exploration of ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas.
- 13th February, 2017: Michael Flynn resigns as National Security Advisor, over his interactions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
- 21st February, 2017: Trump visits the National Museum of African American History and Culture. White House declares the creation of a large immigration enforcement authority to handle illegal migrants.
- 22nd February, 2017: Adam Purinton, a US Navy veteran shoots dead an Indian citizen, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injures another, Alok Madasani in Olathe, Kansas. Both are software engineers of Telugu ethnicity (from South India) working for the US firm Garmin.
- 23rd February, 2017: Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinds an Obama administration measure to phase out private US prisons.
- 24th February, 2017: A Hindu Samhati (a Hindu right wing group) leader suggests that Indians in the US adorn their foreheads with dot-like vermilion marks (a Hindu practice) to avoid hate crime. Similar proposals circulate on social media (including calls to avoid speaking in South Asian languages like Telugu and avoiding confrontations).
- 27th February, 2017: President Donald Trump proposes a 10% hike in military expenditure (amounting to 54 billion dollars) by diverting funds from the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency.
- 28th February, 2017: President condemns the Olathe shootings in his address to a joint session of the Conress.
- 1st March, 2017: Justice Department confirms Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Presidential campaign on behalf of Donald Trump.
- 3rd March, 2017: US Citizenship and Immigration Services announce decision to put premium processing facility for H1B visas on hold, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the Indian software industry.
- 6th March, 2017: A revised executive order is issued by the White House, excluding Iraq from the group of Muslim majority nations subjected to a 90-day entry ban, and lawful permanent residents.
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons shows tilaks (sectarian marks of different Hindu groups). It is based on an illustration from the ethnographic works published by Robert Vane Russell, a British civil servant (1873-1915) , who was Superintendent of Ethnography in the Central Provinces of British India. He played a key role in the publication of ethnographic accounts of the people of this vast region. He also worked as Superintendent of Census Operations for the 1901 Census of India. Along with Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Russell compiled ‘The Castes and Tribes of the Central Provinces’, which was published in 1916. The reference to tilaks is on account of the Hindu Samhati leader’s appeal to Non Resident Indians (following Trump’s victory and the spurt of hate crimes in the US). Right wing Hindus have often portrayed their co-religionists as ‘exceptional immigrants’ while directing the hatred of white, Christian supremacists towards Muslims and African Americans.