After a bitterly fought election last November, many Americans continue to question the political legitimacy of Donald Trump, who was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday. There has always been a sharp edge to American politics, and Trump has probably brought out the worst. His own abrasive persona, an unconventional communication style, a deeply controversial political agenda and that he did not win the popular vote, have all contributed to it. Given America’s pervasive global influence, it is easy for outsiders to presume they are part of the American process. No, we are not. We do not vote in the US elections and must deal with America as it is and whoever it elects.
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The world may be right to despair that the US, which elected someone as urbane and dignified as Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, has in 2016 chosen someone so vastly different from the 44th president. If Obama made history as the first black president of America, it is easy to miss the political significance of Trump. A rank outsider to the establishment, Trump surprised America by outsmarting many well known and better funded political figures to win the nomination of the Republican Party and defeated one of the most formidable political figures of contemporary America, Hillary Clinton. India has no choice but to take Trump seriously, understand his politics and carefully assess his impact on this country and the world.
For all the confusion generated by Trump’s tweets and loose talk, there is an essential core to his worldview — that America is the victim of globalisation and has paid too high a price for its international ventures. His critique of globalism has tapped into the deepest anxieties of the white working classes in America, whose jobs have disappeared to distant lands and whose communities have been inundated by “outsiders”. Trump is not alone in channeling these sentiments in the West. They had come to the fore in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and are likely to be quite evident in other impending European elections. Unlike professional politicians, Trump has not finessed the controversial positions he took during the campaign. That has inevitably set the stage for a prolonged confrontation with the Washington establishment. The prospect that Trump might come a cropper against entrenched resistance, not just from opposition Democrats but also his own Republican party, is real. It is equally possible that Trump, who robbed, in plain day light, economic populism from the Democrats and challenged the reigning assumptions of the conservative Republican party, could restructure America’s domestic coalitions and international relations. Either way, India, with growing stakes in America, must be prepared for unprecedented political volatility in Washington.
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