Donald Trump may have lost the US presidential election, but his legacy of wild popular politics will continue to haunt the US and other democracies. The main reason behind the failure of all the other presidents who could not be elected for a second term in the history of US politics was failing economy, along with other internal and external factors.
Trump, however, almost defied economic and other key factors like mismanaging the pandemic, leading to a closely fought election. None expected him to put up such a tough fight. Disproving most of the pollsters and psephologists’ predictions of an easy win for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, Trump pocketed almost half of the US’ votes making this race sensational.
The US economy was hit by the biggest economic contraction ever recorded owing to the pandemic. Trump trivialised the challenge posed by Covid-19, advocated unproven prescription drugs and politicised the mask. Known for his whimsical decisions, tacit support for racism, sexual offences, anti-environmental policies and tax evasion, Trump remains a popular US politician.
Despite the pandemic, a large number of voters cast their votes in favour of Trump in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada. He managed to divide the US society vertically on racial, communal and environmental lines. It will be difficult for Biden to undo the damage done to the US society by his predecessor.
Similar Path in India
India under the Narendra Modi regime is also experiencing such a division in society on religious and caste lines. Modi’s handling of the economy — demonetisation, corporate friendliness, official sponsoring of Hindutva, encouraging mining and other environment depleting industries — made both the leaders good friends. This was evident in the ‘Howdy Modi’ show at Texas and reciprocal Trump show in Gujarat. Modi did not even hesitate to campaign for Trump’s presidential candidature in Houston by pushing for ‘Ab ki bar Trump Sarkar’.
India and the US are the two worst pandemic-affected countries in the world. The handling of the Covid situation by them is totally inefficient and unrealistic. Politicisation of the pandemic made the situation worst in both the countries.
In India, the pressure on the judiciary, executive and media is so strong that they started leaning towards the official line throwing away their mandated independent roles. Trump in his own way tried to do the same in the US. He successfully dragged India towards the US in taking a tough stand against China.
Political analysts have stressed five reasons for the downfall of Trump. He mishandled the pandemic, which has claimed over 2,35,000 lives so far; offended women costing him a big chunk of votes; his stoking of racist sentiments sparked the Black Lives Matter movement; his anti-climate change policy enraged the environmentally sensitive younger voters; and his wild charges against critics and his baseless claims, including election fraud, also irked many.
However, Trump’s friend Modi succeeded in snatching power for a second term by an overwhelming majority in spite of his government’s unpopular steps like demonetisation, privatisation, sharp rise in unemployment vis-a-vis non-fulfilment of his promise of creating one crore jobs a year and tanking economy.
High nationalistic sentiments aroused by Pulwama attack and Balakot strike and divisive political factors helped Modi and his party secure a two-thirds majority. Trump, however, is not as lucky or as shrewd a maneuverer as his friend Modi to ascend to power for the second time.
The Bihar Assembly election result that gave the NDA a simple majority, with close contests in many constituencies, again proved the exit polls wrong. It seems Bihar is deeply divided due to politics of polarisation and counter-polarisation of both the ruling and the opposition.
Political observers opine that apart from politics of polarisation, large-scale cash transfer schemes initiated by the State and the Centre just before the elections to woo the voters were also a big factor in garnering votes from the economically vulnerable sections of society.
Similar practices are being implemented in Assam, another State that will go to poll early next year. The cash transfer schemes have now largely been relegated to direct bribe by the ruling parties to the economically backward sections, to buy their votes. It has become a policy of the despots to force people to become hungrier and later on dole out a bit of food as largesse to attract their votes and retain power.
The modus operandi of populist politics has wide implications. Many populist regimes, including democracies with deep societal divide, are reeling under social unrest, economic crisis, violations of human rights, etc.
The President Jair Bolsonaro-led regime in Brazil is hell-bent on destroying the environment, reducing social rights, playing politics with Covid-19 and increasing inequalities. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines are a few such populist leaders who are pursuing far-rightists’ agendas.
Like Modi, Bolsonaro and Duterte also openly campaigned or supported Trump in his bid for the US President. The universal phenomenon of flocking together of birds of same feathers is true to the political sky too.
Roger Eatwell, Emeritus Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Bath, writes that “whilst populism and fascism differ notably ideologically, in practice, the latter has borrowed aspects of populist discourse and style, and populism can degenerate into leader-oriented authoritarian and exclusionary politics.” We can only hope that Trump’s exit will mark the beginning of the end of the era of exclusionary politics in democracies of the world.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)
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