America, and the world, need new leadership

Nine days after he was found Covid-19 positive, Donald Trump was back at the hustings with a gusto. Announcing that ‘I am feeling great’ he has once again spurned the mask and even done a jig at a political rally. US elections are less than three weeks away and he has lost precious time because of his illness of which scanty details have been shared. But it has filtered out that he needed oxygen twice and he has been administered a ‘cocktail of drugs’ details of which again have not been shared.

The American President has been very cavalier about the pandemic which has cost the US 220,000 lives so far, and even now the average new cases are around 50,000 with 700 deaths daily. But because of his political exigency, he has tried to mislead his country and even compared Covid-19 to a common flu. For, Donald Trump all is well. As winter approaches and sickness and death loom large, he is not concerned if he passes the infection, or at his rallies his equally careless but raucous supporters get it and pass it around. American infectious diseases specialist Dr Antony Fauci with whom Trump has had a running battle has laconically commented on Trump’s recovery, “ That’s sort of saying somebody was speeding at 95 miles an hour and didn’t get into an accident, so I can go ahead and speed and not get into an accident”.

Trump is not the only leader who has been careless about the virus. UK’s Boris Johnson had the same cavalier attitude and went about meeting people and shaking hands, he had to be hospitalised and doctors had to struggle to save him. Today Boris Johnson is a much- chastened person. On the other hand, I must acknowledge that our own government has been very serious about dealing with the pandemic, they imposed the lockdown early and till today PM Modi and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan have been warning people against being complacent. Yes, a huge economic cost had to be paid for these tough measures, but they have been able to save millions of lives.

Trump or Biden? There is huge interest here as to who will be better for India and the Indian Americans. Modi’s frequent interaction with Trump, especially two blockbuster events in Houston and Ahmedabad, have kindled even more interest. Trump has said he ‘loves hindoo’. Some well-wishers here have even held a havan for his well- being. This friendship thing with Modi though is being overplayed as there are no friends in the international arena and definitely not Donald Trump. He must be the least emotional of US Presidents, fixated as he is on his political career.

Just before elections Trump has imposed restrictions on H-1B visa. Earlier as well he had tried to change the immigration rules. This will make things difficult for our professionals and our IT companies will be negatively impacted and Joe Biden will definitely be more liberal in this matter. Trump has also raked up Kashmir many times, offering to mediate knowing well how this raises India’s hackles. Nor has he shown any eagerness for a trade deal with us.

Yes, on China his administration has been quite active in trying to corner that country, Secretary of State Pompeo especially has been most vocal. But as Trump’s former NSA John Bolton has warned, Trump is fake and if he wins, he may tell Xi that India and Taiwan do not matter to him, all he wants is a good deal.

Bolton may have his reasons but US -China rivalry is a fact of global politics. There is also rare bipartisan agreement in America to circumscribe China’s rise, US will never tolerate a potential rival in China as it can be more troublesome than the former Soviet Union. They also need India to balance China is Asia. Much depends on us. If we continue to rise economically and open our markets to them, the US- whichever administration there is, would be interested in us. If we become a cantankerous nation in conflict with itself and falling behind even Bangladesh, then the world may look the other way. But history is witness that except probably for Nixon, our diplomats have been able to manage most American Presidents and their administrations well.

On this election, India and its diaspora may not be on the same page. Indian-Americans have traditionally voted for the Democrats and there doesn’t seem to be a change this time as well. A survey finds that 72% of Indian-Americans are going to vote for Joe Biden-Kamala Harris. There are about 2 million such voters who matter in battleground states like Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and most are not voting for Trump.

Of course, relations with India do matter to our people there, but they are probably more concerned about immediate issues that touch their lives. Modi and Trump bonhomie, if it is there, is of less importance than US immigration policy and race relations where Trump is personally seen hostile.

But the major reason of the tilt of the community towards Democratic Party is the vice- presidential candidature of Kamala Harris.

Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have in the past been critical of India raising unpleasant questions about Kashmir and minorities. But in Kamala’s rise and achievement the Indian-Americans see a reflection of their own struggle and success. After all a self- confessed idli – dosa loving Kamala may be the next Vice- President of America and who knows one day may even be the POTUS. That will be an occasion to celebrate, whatever the policy may be.

The US Presidential election is important not only for them it also impacts the world which has been shaken up by the disruptive and erratic behaviour of the incumbent in the White House. America’s reputation has plunged globally primarily due to the unreliability of its President. The next President will have to deal with the pandemic and its severe economic aftermath. He will also have to deal with a rampaging China. The world needs a White House that can steer through this crisis to repair the world order, or to prepare a new world order.

For that it needs a person who is not transactional and whose long- term policies, good or bad, are not whimsical. Trump has been scathing about multilateral agencies as seen in his decision to ditch WHO in the middle of the pandemic. There is a leadership vacuum at the American and the international level. The world does need America to lead but that needs a steady hand. Donald Trump is not, and cannot be, that hand.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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