Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump A Turning Point Or Stopgap As Centre Crumbles Everywhere?

Trump A Turning Point Or Stopgap As Centre Crumbles Everywhere?
                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

After a convivial evening at King’s College on the Strand, when he boarded the Victoria Line to Earl’s Court, Prof. Ron Geaves experienced the first public reaction to a Donald Trump victory.

At one of the stations, two Polish jazz singers entered the compartment. They were busking, an established tradition on the London underground.

“Let me travel in peace”, a woman at the far end shouted. It was clear from her accent that she was American. The authority in her tone invited a riposte from an English woman. “We are used to buskers in this country.”

“You tolerate too much from outsiders” the American persisted. “We now have a President who will straighten things up in our country.”

“Not here, though” said the English woman.

Two attitudes in conflict. When Prof. Geaves told me the story, I found it refreshingly down to earth.

How far removed from real life had I been in the groves of academe on the East Coast of the US. Conversations with US diplomats, bankers, media led to the same conclusion: the US electorate was being asked to choose between candidates they did not like. But all were inclined towards Clinton.

Trump was inelegant, even boorish; Hillary Clinton was untrustworthy, indeed a liar. And yet all these fine minds gave the balance of advantage to Clinton. This relatively higher comfort level with a candidate surrounded by all manner of scandal was for a simple reason: she was the known devil, to whom direct or indirect links could be found by all the interests listed above.

The Trump victory was explained most succinctly by placards carried by protesters in Philadelphia: “If you make Bernie Sanders impossible, you make Trump inevitable.”

Bernie Sanders and Trump, both, challenged the Establishment from two diametrically opposite ideological ends. Socialism is anathema to the Establishment; it stokes McCarthyism. So, Bernie, even though on a roll during the primaries, had to be set aside.

Once Bernie was stopped in his tracks, Hillary would look like a natural commander-in-chief with her vast experience in diplomacy and the Congress. This assessment overlooked the essential detail: the electorate was fiercely averse to the Washington-centred establishment. And this, alas, was all that Clinton represented – the Establishment.

For prescience on these elections, the trophy must go to film maker, Michael Moore. Three months before polling day he wrote:

“This election is only about who gets who out to vote, who gets the most rabid supporters, the kind of candidate who inspires people to get out of bed at 5.00 am on Election Day because a Wall needs to be built. Muslims are killing us! Women are taking over! USA! USA! Make my Penis Great Again! Hillary is the devil! America first! First in line with the polls.”

Moore emphasized that those who felt obliged to vote for Hillary to keep Trump out had no “positive” urge to vote for her. Therefore personal persuasion on a wide scale was required. Those depressed at Bernie having been grounded would need extraordinary persuasion to walk to polling booths to vote for Hillary.

“So many people have given up on our system and that’s because the system has given up on them. They know its all bullshit: politics, politicians, elections. The middle class in tatters, the American Dream a nightmare for the 47 million living in poverty.” People wanted to tear down establishments. A Clinton victory would have endorsed the continuity of exactly the state of affairs Moore laments.

Some maintain that Bernie Sanders would have carried the day in a hypothetical Bernie-Trump fight. They speculate that a Trump victory is therefore only the semi final in the country’s political evolution.

Place him against a global backdrop, and Trump begins to look more like a “stop gap” than a “turning point”.

In the UK, the “New Labour” Blairites and the conservatives would join hands to thwart the left ward surge represented by Jeremy Corbyn.

The rise of the Leftist Podemos in Spain has been temporarily checkmated after last June’s election created space for a possible Podemos participation in a coalition. But in the end Corporate interests have prevailed – Socialists have enabled the conservative People’s Party to remain in power by abstaining in a vote of confidence. PP with links to a Franco past was considered a better prospect for the socialists than a real Left. In Madrid observers saw this thwarting of a new Leftist party as its long term gain. If people are pitted against the establishment surely people will carry the tide eventually.

On December 4, Italy holds a referendum on a new constitution. The Anti Establishment Five Star Movement, which has already captured the key Mayorships of Rome and Turin, is expected to win. There are shifts galore everywhere.

President Barack Obama during a recent visit to Europe attributed some of the turmoil to a mismanagement of Globalization. The consequent hardships have produced a young, progressive elite, trying to break out of conservative shackles. Trump, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and Blairite Labour do not respond to the aspirations of this lot. Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Pablo Iglesias of Podemos do.

Corresponding shifts to left and the right are afoot in other democracies as well. Establishments are universally in bad odour. It will be interesting to watch how the Trump administration copes with political shifts down the road.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

The View From A New York Loft: The Devil's Own Choice

The View From A New York Loft: The Devil's Own Choice
                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

The certainty of a Hilary 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 fairly 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 back room 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 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 at 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 neighbours 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 cliché: 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 obvious 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?

When Ahmad Shah Abdali's marauders were knocking at the gates of Delhi, the Moghul emperor uttered the famous lines, "hanoz "dilli doorast"- dilli is still far. Call it delusion; call it rank cockiness.

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 civilization.  By contrast, Prof. 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 a price for keeping their focus willfully away from that frame etched indelibly on my mind. Half the split TV screen has a yelling Qaddafi being sodomized by a knife; the other half has Hilary'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 pour over new drawing boards.  But is that such a hopeless prospect after the bleak and shoddy record of the past 25 years which have seen more war and mayhem than ever before.

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