The last time America voted, it was for Barack Obama’s second term. Four years before that, the most powerful market economy in the world was voting to install a black man, his black spouse and their two daughters in the White House. As Aretha Franklin sang ‘America’ My Country Tis Of Thee at Obama’s first inauguration on January 20th 2009, millions around the world wept. There were tears of joy and recognition of a long and difficult road to freedom. In 2013, the central issues were jobs, an attack on the Wall Street culture and a square look at what was broken in the American system.
Now the world is crying too, but these tears are different. There is hopelessness, despair and even derision in the air. Election-watchers are left wondering if the clownish Presidential hopeful Republican Donald Trump wears a wig and what will help his rival Democrat Hillary Clinton take the votes away next November. Can you remember one speech, one visionary position or anything else that grabbed you in the last month as American politicians slug it out? Trump is bad news across the board making one wonder if this is all one of the world’s oldest political parties – the Grand Old Party (GOP) – can produce at a time when leadership is in short supply?
Clinton is better, but her challenger among the Democrats Bernie Sanders is gnawing away at that ‘better’ with issues that speak to an America that may have lost its compass. His surprise wins have raised the bar for Clinton.
The world may come to a standstill as America votes, but Americans are fairly insular in their world-view. It roughly translates into China (job-stealers), India (IT and poverty) United Kingdom (US annex), France (cinema) Germany (Nazis), Russia (Communists), Brazil (football), Switzerland (corrupt bankers), European Union (pest), Australia (kangaroos) and Cuba (new best friend). Dismal, you may think given that nothing in the world moves without an acknowledgment or dismissal from Washington. Trade, arms control, public health, global warming, wars, economic blockade are only some of the better known among these. When you are as powerful as the United States (US) and wield your power and influence ruthlessly (most countries in that position would do the same), you are not required to worry about geography.
The America the world feels is not the America that Americans live in. American news dominates world news. Every word or gesture by an American President is breaking news and the opening bell at Wall Street keeps traders awake 24/7 across time zones. Gun control, immigration, climate change, abortion laws, Syrian refugees and healthcare are among some issues Americans will be voting on next November. It is too early – and foolish – to call the exact cut but the broad lines are emerging.
On immigration, two out of three Democrats say illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay legally while less than half of the Republicans agree. On gun control, some 76% of Democrats are calling for tighter regulations as against 23% of Republicans. Abortion is also a critical voting issue nationally and perhaps the only one that divides both parties down the middle. Republicans are calling for a push back of funds for Planned Parenthood and those opposing it are split over allowing exceptions where rape or incest is concerned. One in two Democrats supports abortion rights whereas only 16% of Republicans agree to it.
Climate change is a big-ticket item for the Democrats but there is some monkey-balancing going on between the need to save the earth and the American economy at the same time. Just over 50% of Republicans think it’s a good thing while two in three Democrats say that the measures that prime sustainable development must be given a fillip. Expectedly, Republicans are opposing the Affordable Health Care Act, one of President Obama’s far-reaching policy successes. Only 9% of Republicans back this against 44% among the Democrats.
And then there is a hot potato created by the Americans, one they are tossing around hoping it will disappear. It is called Syrian refugees and while most Americans may wonder what Syrians are fleeing from, this is probably the biggest example of American political double-speak to hit the elections. A little over 60% of Democrats want to admit the refugees while only 27% of Republicans want them. Trump wants only Christians to be allowed in.
So what does this mean for India? Nothing much as American politicians are aligned on major international issues like trade, arms control, foreign policy and climate change irrespective of government change. When push comes to shove, Washington does not care about what New Delhi thinks or does because historically, India makes a fair amount of noise before falling in line. The most recent example was on climate change where stuck between a rock and a hard place, India showed its ‘might’ in hollow speeches. We can expect more trips to the dispute panel at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), no backing for India’s bid to a permanent seat at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), no pulling the plug on supply of arms and weapons to Pakistan and certainly India will figure nowhere when Washington and Beijing meet.