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26 October 2016, Gateway House

U.S. Elections: questioning the status quo

This edited excerpt was transcribed from The Gateway House Podcast episode 'U.S. Elections: assessing its wider impact' which is a part of the special mini-series on the U.S. elections and its foreign policy implications. In this episode, Ambassador Deo talks about the wider impact that the elections will have on the race for the U.S. Congress and Senate, on American society, and on global political discourse.

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The following edited extract was transcribed from The Gateway House Podcast episode ‘U.S. Elections: assessing its wider impact‘ which is a part of the special mini-series on the U.S. elections and its foreign policy implications. 

Virpratap Vikram Singh: What sort of impact is this election likely to leave on American society and on the world? The rhetoric that has emerged, and the legitimisation of negative discourse, especially with reference to minority communities, looks set to stay and have a cascading effect across the world because newly democratic countries tend to regard the U.S. as a successful democratic experiment.

Ambassador Neelam Deo: I think it’s important to understand that Trump, for all his nastiness and his unpopularity, especially in the media, has received more Republican votes in the primaries than any Republican candidate in the history of the party. So, he has widened the Republican base. If he gets anything above 40% of the vote, it is a clear reflection that American society is deeply divided, and the divide between the two sides has grown wider.

But this is so in most societies around the world, whether Europe, India, Australia, or Japan. Wherever strong leaders have come forth they have divided societies. So, that is one legacy which predates this American election, but fits in with the kind of divide that will be seen more and more within American society.

Then, as you mentioned, this election specifically—with its rhetoric–has certainly legitimised some real negatives. Racism is widespread: take the anti-Hispanic mood in the United States, anti-Polish in the U.K., anti-immigrant and anti-refugee in the other Western and Central European countries, or anti-immigration in India itself, where we are against Bangladeshi-Muslim immigrants, who have been distinguished from Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh.

Islamophobia is another very negative fall-out of the American election, endorsing anti-refugee, anti-immigrant forces in Europe and other countries that have experienced terrorism, carried out very often by Islamic jihadists. Yet, it is always a mistake to conflate an individual with a religion.

This election is also a mark of the absolute fall in the trust of people in government itself, in democratic institutions, and in corporations, because they feel strongly that post the financial crisis, corporations were bailed out, big banks were bailed out, but not small people who lost their homes, having been cheated into mortgages.

There is a fall as never before also in trust in the media–and that will be further deepened. Again, that is a global issue. There is a fall in trust in expert opinion, evident most sharply in  Brexit, where everybody had not only predicted that Brexit would not win the vote, but also predicted dire consequences should Brexit happen. There may well come dire consequences, but so far, the U.K. has not done so badly after Brexit.

But let’s also consider some of the positive outcomes that this election has opened up for examination. Does U.S. leadership, which the United States and West is keen to preserve and promote, have to be always expressed as military intervention? This a question that has to be examined globally, but also most importantly, in the United States itself.

Secondly, is trade always a positive? Clearly, the upsurge against globalisation, whether in the United States or in other developed countries, is because, for the first time, the people have felt the negative consequences of free trade since China became the largest trading partner of all countries and has foreign exchange reserves exceeding $3 trillion.

Free trade has its pluses, but what are the actual terms of these trade agreements? Be it the rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the free trade agreement that the Americans were seeking to sign with the European Union, the question of trade and on what terms it is conducted will have been reopened.

What also bears discussion is why in this election the tendency has been to denigrate Russia, specifically President Putin, who has been accused of carrying out cyber attacks, hacking into Democratic parties’ emails, of enabling WikiLeaks. In fact, the only real peer competitor the United States has is China. And China has been part of this discussion only when Trump has said that he will impose a 35% tariff on imports from China.

The strategic community in the United States, in the West, everywhere in the world, really needs to examine why everyone has trained their focus on Russia, which, finally, is an economy roughly the size of India, and not a threatening one. China, which has also displayed expansionist tendencies, has not been part of this Presidential campaign.

Listen to the full episode here.

 This extract was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive features here.

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