Monday, March 21, 2016

The Trump Conundrum

In the year 2000, I happen to be in Des Moines, Iowa, where the Iowa Caucasus take place, which in many ways is the true launch of the American election cycle. Along with my brother-in-law I was strolling about the grounds making sense of a circus I had never seen before. We walked into a giant white tent, where I soon realized, we were the only two people of "color" in a homogeneous crowd. Onto the stage walked George W. Bush the candidate and the crowd burst into applause. He started his speech in Texan Spanish pandering to some Hispanic people in the front row. He then went on to do what candidates do at such rallies. I was left aghast. I said to my self, well if this man becomes our president, we are "screwed". Even though Donald Trump is no Neo-Con, I have seen enough of him to feel the same, with a higher degree of anxiety. And I am afraid to say it loud, with a fear of making it come true.

It is an election year in America. On the 8th of November, people in this country will exercise their inalienable right to choose a candidate to the highest elected office of this land. That candidate will come from one of only two parties, and for the next four years, will shape the course of this nation to some degree. If you peeped into America today and turned on the television, you will find that election mania is on overdrive. The two parties, Republicans and Democrats, are taking part in something called the "primaries". The primaries are essentially horse races to choose a final candidate for the presidential runoff. The rules by which someone gets chosen as the front runner are as arcane as some of the candidates and for the uninitiated, could seem bizarre and undemocratic. State by state each of the respective parties and their voters, throw their weight behind a candidate. After an insane number of televised debates, advertisements, analysis and a plethora of faux-pas and histrionics, the horse race gets into high gear. By summer the candidates are chosen, and the real run for the white house begins in earnest.

The first Republican debate was held in August of last year. They had seventeen candidates in the running and the Democrats had four. At this stage, there are two on the Democrat side and three on the Republican who are left standing. The final candidates are chosen at the respective parties' conventions, that take place in the summer. The wide speculation is that the final two presidential candidates will be Hillary Clinton on the Democrat side and Donald Trump on the Republican. But there is still no absolute certainty of that.

The most controversial candidate to surface on the political scene in decades, is undoubtedly the real estate businessman Donald Trump. He is the quintessential outsider who has never held any position inside any government at any level. He is a businessman with name recognition and a sizable bank account and has been able to stage what many are calling a "hostile takeover" of the Republican party. Donald Trump had floated the idea of running for the presidency in 2000. He even did some preliminary campaign appearances then, but soon realized that his appeal was limited. Over the years his successful reality TV show The Apprentice, and his dogged campaign to prove that President Obama was not born on American soil, got him more media exposure than he could have ever wished for. With that confidence he decided to join the race, seeking a Republican ticket. Even he did not imagine he would get this far, as he watched all establishment candidates wither away, casualties of a corrosive political landscape and a media frenzy intoxicated by Donald Trump's obscene antics .

Today America is faced with an unthinkable conundrum. It is plausible that Donald Trump could in fact become the "leader of the free world" and the tremors of that reality, could be seismic to say the least.

Donald Trump thus far has the highest number of delegate votes going into the convention which takes place in July. Each state is allotted an arbitrary number of delegate votes and Donald Trump as the leader of the pack has 678 and needs 1237 to clinch the nomination. He in his boastful usual self thinks he deserves the nomination, as he has rightfully earned it. The Republican establishment believes Donald Trump is not a true conservative and is only playing one personal gain. They detest him and think he is not electable in a general election for his views and his demeanor, and are determined to derail his candidacy at the convention. Having a sense of the forces he is up against, Donald Trump threatened violence and rioting, if there were to be a contested convention and he were not declared the winner.

Donald Trump rallies so far have been marred by violence, divisiveness, protests, bigotry, racism, misogyny, antisemitism, white supremacy, xenophobia, demagoguery, egomania and the kind of human behavior which is considered uncivil around the world, not just for a politician but a human being. But then again Donald Trump proudly proclaims he is not a politician. And his supporters applaud him for that, and get charged as he urges them to attack those who do not support him. He was even welcomed to applause at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) convention, the strongest and loudest Pro-Israel lobby, as he pandered to get Jewish votes.

What Donald Trump has bought with his bullish and boorish behavior, is free 24/7 media coverage visa vie advertising. And that media exposure has brought out supporters who one would think never existed in this country. The rise of Donald Trump is a reflection of a section of American society that you rarely see or hear from and are not represented in the mainstream. They have coalesced around him to push an extremist monochromatic agenda, which in their mind, is a return to what America was originally envisioned to be. His supporters tend to be predominantly white, working class with low levels of education. They are those who think America is no longer "great" as it elected a Black President and has let too many immigrants into its borders changing the fabric of this nation.

The creation of Donald Trump can be directly linked to an extreme aversion to the last eight years of President Obama's leadership. Fox Television, the extreme right tea party and the evangelical movement, have steadily been leading the charge, in drafting a corrosive narrative of mostly lies and deceit. They believe America has strayed from its roots and has become a liberal non Judaeo-christian nation. Even though there is no evidence to prove it, that narrative translates to every aspect of their argument, ranging from the economy, security, military to the state of the nation's moral compass. President Obama's passing of the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court giving equal rights to Gays and Lesbians, the Iran deal to the ending of America's combat operations abroad, are all seen in the framework of that narrative. Those who have swallowed that story have come to project their hopes and fears onto Donald Trump. Even though the other establishment candidates like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have pandered to that outrage, Donald Trump with his outsider credentials usurped a majority of the support from right under their noses.

Many in America compare Donald Trump to Hitler. Donald Trump in power can be reckless and dangerous but he is no Hitler. At the most he is a megalomaniac, much like Italy's infamous billionaire philanderer Silvio Berlusconi. He could be an embarrassment and take the nation backward with his ill-advised policies. While he may look and sound Hitleresque, and his supporters may dabble in racism and antisemitism, the American system of government has enough checks and balances in place to keep power from absolutely corrupting a leader towards destruction. But having created a place like Guantanamo Bay and having presided over a horrific war in the middle east, whose effects are still engulfing that part of the world, the prospects of putting someone like Donald Trump in power are grave. In a recent report the Economist Intelligence Unit has sighted Donald Trump's presidency among the top 10 risks facing the world today.

What we are seeing today reflected in the rise of Donald Trump, is a phenomenon that is sweeping  the globe. Right leaning parties are gaining momentum in many nations in response to a changing mood. In the largest democracy on the planet India, the right leaning nationalist BJP party came to power with an overwhelming majority. In many parts of Europe, right wing fascist movements have been steadily gaining ground in response to a refugee crisis inundating their borders. Jean-Marie Le Pen, probably the most divisive figure in French politics, endorsed Donald Trump for presidency.

While there is a perception that Donald Trump is leading the pack and is garnering massive support, the reality on closer examination is somewhat contradictory. There is no question, that his support within the Republican voting block has grown substantially. But what has truly worked to his advantage is the apathy of the voters, who have chosen to stay home rather than be proactive. According to a Pew research study, turnout in the Republican contest around this stage is at its highest since 1980, but still averages just 17% of eligible voters. Donald Trump’s margin of victory in the states where he has won is dwarfed by the potential pool of voters who refrained from taking part. If more anti-Trump Republicans, and Democrats and independents in states that have open or semi-closed primaries, had turned out, they could have dampened his momentum. So far, the vast majority of Republicans have not voted for him and that is why the establishment hawks rightfully feel that he is not electable in a general contest.

Despite being lauded as one the largest democracies of the world, America's voting record in terms of turn out is pathetic. Almost half the eligible voting population in this country, always chooses to stay home on election day. If the voter turn out crosses 50%, it is considered a good election. When Obama became president in 2012 the total voter turn out was 54.9%, which for America was high. For a nation that is supposed to be developed, with fairly high levels of political awareness and education, that number is discouraging to say the least. If the voter turnout continues to stay low in this election, it could give candidates like Donald Trump an advantage.

What some are predicting, is that a contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will lead to more voter apathy, than voter energy. Both candidates are not well liked by a sizable majority of either party. Hillary Clinton's Democrat rival Bernie Sanders, has been able to energize the youth, with his socialist agenda and incorruptible image, but he is seen as too radical by the older demographic. Hillary Clinton is seen as an insider, and there are many who are not in favor of another four years of a Clinton administration, having been through eight of them which were not particularly stellar.

If the choice is between the lesser of two evils, then the risk of electing Donald Trump, if he in fact is confirmed as the eventual Republican nominee, increases exponentially. And that is the unthinkable scenario that could become a reality, if the voters do not wake up now and step up to their fundamental responsibility as citizens. Never before have the values and the future of this nation been at stake to this degree. The world is watching and the temperature is rising. It is what it is.