A few days back, Rajeev Srinivasan, writing for Firstpost came up with an article titled ‘It’s Baffling that Indians like Hillary as much as they do’.
With a headline as counter-intuitive as this, I was eager to know what brilliant logic the author would come up with that can baffle me even a little bit about why Indians are more inclined to like Hillary Clinton. Instead, what I got was a mishmash of standard Republican talking points and some shoddy attempts at justifying how Donald Trump may be friendlier to Indians than Hillary Clinton.
Just to save you the troubles from going through the piece, I have listed down the points that make Srinivasan so puzzled about Indians feeling giddy about Clinton:
- Clinton carries a lot of baggage from her long record in politics, including the recent investigations into the attacks on an American diplomatic compound at Benghazi, Libya and her decision to host her mail as Secretary of State on a private sever (as opposed to the official server and thus exposing some confidential data to the threats of hacking).
- Clinton is not pro-business and has left leaning perspectives.
- She is no friend of India.
- Republicans are more scared of China whereas Democrats really like dictators. Thus Republicans may prefer a strong India to counter China whereas Democrats would, on account of some secret fascination with dictatorship, prefer to deal with the Pakistani military.
- Huma Abedin, a close aide of Clinton, is a Pakistani-American and by definition, would be antagonistic to the interests of India.
The reasons here start from the genuine and legitimate ones and get progressively bizarre.
Srinivasan ends the piece with saying, “On average, Donald Trump, despite his loudmouth behavior, or in any fact any Republican left in the race, would be a better candidate for Indian-Americans and Indians. Oddly enough, most of them don’t seem to believe so.”
Srinivasan could not be more wrong.
But before proceeding any further, let us first find out if Indian Americans have a propensity to vote for Democratic Party candidates. The Indian-American community is too small and geographically dispersed to qualify as a meaningful sample size for exit polls at the presidential election level. However, a Pew Research Centre report states that 65% of the Indian Americans were Democrats or leaned towards Democrats, making them more likely to support a Democratic presidential candidate than a Republican one.
If the same is true (and there is no reason to believe it is not), Indian-Americans are among the dozens of ethnic minority groups which tend to favour the Democratic Party whereas the Republican Party is generally supported by a majority of white voters. In the 2012 Presidential election, the Democratic Party won the support of 39% of white voters, 93% of black voters, 73% of Asian voters and 71% of Hispanic voters. In 2008, it won the support of 43% of white voters, 95% of black voters, 62% of Asian voters and 67% of Hispanic voters. This wide disparity in how the white and non-white voters vote is generally consistent across states and political contests, even though the degree may vary.
This naturally begets the question – why is this so? Why is the American politics so polarized along racial lines? After all, Republican Party with its message of social conservatism and fiscal prudence can be expected to have some support among the older, richer and more conservative minority voters.
It is worth mentioning here that it was not always like this. In fact, the Republican Party was founded on an anti-slavery platform, to galvanize opposition against slavery; Abraham Lincoln was the first President to be elected from the Republican Party. For a long time, the Party was supported by Northern liberal whites while Democratic Party was the Party of the southern conservative whites who fought tooth and nail to preserve racial segregation and other discriminatory practices in their respective states. But, as the Civil Rights movement grew stronger, there was a great split within the Democratic Party. The southern white Democrats vociferously opposed the movement and put tremendous pressure on the Democratic Establishment not to yield to the civil rights activists. Finally, the administration of Lyndon B Johnson, the Democratic president who succeeded John.F.Kennedy, passed the historic Civil Rights Act in 1964. This seminal moment engineered a gradual hardening of voting preferences among racial lines that has continued to persist even today. At the time of signing of the bill, Johnson said, “We have lost the South for a generation.” He was to be proved almost prophetic.
Even as the Democrats moved towards embracing civil rights and the rights of minorities, the disaffected white voters found solace in the welcoming arms of the Republican Party. In 1968, Richard Nixon, the presidential candidate from the Republican Party, first experimented with the strategy of covertly appealing to the xenophobic beliefs of such voters, often through dog whistles and innuendos. The strategy proved remarkably successful. Thus, these Southern white voters, many of them poor, blue collar workers and traditional voters of the Democratic Party, the party of the common men and the unions, gradually started voting for the Republican Party. This trend has suffered temporary setbacks, but in the long run has become more and more pronounced, to the extent that across South today, the Democratic Party has virtually been wiped off from every level of the executive branch.
With the influx of these voters to the Republican Party, the GOP (or the Grand Old Party, as it is known commonly) started increasingly becoming a majoritarian party reflecting the interests of conservative white men. Interestingly, this period also coincided with the onset of rapid change in the demographic profile of the country.
America has always been a country of immigrants. But up until the later part of the 20th century, the migrants were overwhelmingly White Anglo-Saxon Protestants coming from Europe, with a healthy minority of Catholics and African Americans. However, in the later part of the 20th century, the immigration pattern changed with more and more immigrants from Mexico, Cuba and other Spanish speaking Latin American countries settling in the USA, many of them illegally. There was at the same time a spate of immigration from the talent rich developing Asian countries like China, India, Japan and Korea. Many of these immigrant communities have higher birth rates than the ethnic white population and coupled with increasing immigration, this has led to the percentage of white population shrinking fast in America.
Non-Hispanic whites have already been reduced to minority in a number of states, like California, New Mexico and Texas. Other populous states like Florida, Georgia and Arizona are expected to become majority-minority in a few years’ time. Most of these immigrants, especially the undocumented ones, coming in from Mexico and Central America, work for low wages in various low-skill jobs and thus provide significant wage competition to the lesser educated, blue collar white workers. Combine this with the gradual decline of good, decent paying manufacturing jobs in America, with most manufacturing being outsourced to China, Taiwan, Korea and other Asian countries, and you get a sense of why the less educated white population is increasingly disillusioned, disgruntled and angry.
Now Republican Party is the party which disproportionately represents such voters and as a result, it reflects the interests and concerns of such voters. ( In fact, in the last presidential election held in 2012, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, won the votes of white voters who were not college graduates by a thumping 26 percentage points, even as Barack Obama won the overall popular vote by a margin of 4 percentage points.) And this has resulted in the Republican Party gradually becoming more suspicious of the racial minorities and clamouring for harder crackdown on illegal immigrants as well as on immigrants who misuse the legal immigration process.
This is why in a Republican Primary, it is almost suicidal to even talk about introducing any form of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader and the second ranking member of the Republican delegation in the House of Representatives, lost in a primary in 2014 against a rank outsider, just because he was perceived to be slightly in favour of immigration reform. Thus, the explosive and belligerent language used by Donald Trump may seem shocking to many, but this is a language which has been used in a more politically correct manner by a number of Republican Party leaders for some time now and which appeals naturally to the Republican Party base.
This is not to say every Republican politician is a demagogue who calls for building a wall along the Mexican border and banning Muslims from coming into the country. In fact, immigration is one area where there is a large disconnect between the Republican elites (the party donors and party operatives) and the Republican Party base. Republican elites, many of who are rich businessmen or work at top management positions, are predominantly socially liberal but fiscally conservative. They want less tax, less regulation and a business friendly regime that does not want to redistribute their wealth to the less privileged sections of the society through big Government interventions (like Obamacare), which is why they support the Republican Party. But at the same time, they are not threatened by the influx of cheap, non-white workers into America; infact, many of their interests served by immigration, after all, they do employ many of such workers who are often willing to work at a lower salary than their American counterparts.
An Indian sitting in India who is aspiring to migrate to USA or an Indian-American sitting in the USA may look towards supporting such a Republican, who in the name of free market and lower labour costs, may encourage legal immigration. However, Donald Trump is not that Republican. He has repeatedly resorted to appealing to the basest instincts of his white base to whip up anti-immigrant passion. He has called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. He has claimed that American Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11, despite no evidence. He has tried to justify violence committed by his own supporters against members of the minority population. His whole candidacy is built on the premise of fanning the discontent felt by the less educated white population who feel their economic security and cultural values are increasingly under siege in a country because of Government laxity allowing unchecked immigration and acquiescence to countries like Mexico and China in trade.
Not only is Trump calling for deportation of all undocumented immigrants and building a wall along the Mexican border, he is also asking for an end to the H1B visa programme, normally the route through which skilled workers from India migrate to USA. Here is a statement issued by the Trump campaign after the Republican Party debate held at Detroit on 3rd March, 2016.
“The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”
It is asking too much from an Indian staying in USA to support such a candidate whose candidacy is based on opposing his stay in the country. It is like calling Muslims in India to support Bharatiya Janata Party in a general election with Subramaniam Swamy as the prime ministerial candidate or calling North Indians in Mumbai to support Maharashtra Navanirman Sena in an assembly election with Raj Thackeray as the chief ministerial candidate. It is simply not going to happen.
The only other candidate who has a realistic shot at winning the Republican Party is Ted Cruz. You may not guess it from the public fights between the two campaigns, but when it comes to immigration, Cruz is no different than Trump. He has supported the idea of Trump to build a wall. As a senator, he has consistently built positions to the extreme right of the entire Republican caucus, including on immigration. It is true that unlike Trump, Cruz is a career politician; so, he has packaged his anti-immigration rhetoric in more standard right wing arguments. But at the same time, we can be sure that Cruz believes in what he says, unlike Trump who has been all over the map in terms of his ideological statements.
But what about Indians sitting in India, who have no intention of moving to the USA? Should not they support the Republican Party which as the more conservative party, is a believer in free market economics, and hence in free trade pacts that should support Indian companies in the pharmaceutical and information technology sectors, for whom US is by far the largest market. Not quite. Although Republican politicians still by and large support free trade, Donald Trump diverges from the standard Republican orthodoxy on this parameter as well, calling for lower trade deficits with countries like Mexico, China, Japan and Korea. He has even called for a trade war with China and imposing prohibitive tariffs on goods from China if they do not play by the rules set by the US. As with immigration, Trump is again taking advantage of the economic anxiety of the blue collar American workers, living in the manufacturing hubs of the country, who have seen decades of loss of manufacturing jobs to the lower cost manufacturing centres coming up across Asia and South America.
Trump has surprisingly been mute about outsourcing of jobs to India, probably because of the fact that India is still not seen a manufacturing world power, unlike say China or Korea. However, the pharma and IT sector in India are almost entirely dependent on exports to USA and any protective measures taken by a future Trump regime to reduce American imports in such sectors may impact these industries badly. This is especially relevant for the young, skilled, graduate Indians, for whom IT and pharma are two of the most lucrative sectors to work for.
Srinivasan also argues that Republican voters are more scared of China and thus a Republican administration would try to support India to emerge as a credible threat to China. Again this is looking at the practices of the last Republican administration led by George W Bush and extrapolating to assume that every future Republican administration shall follow the same policies. The reality is though that Ted Cruz and Donald Trump do not prescribe to the ideas of the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party, one that argued that for a more muscular presence of USA across the world, and one which resulted in the rather reckless invasion of Iraq in 2002. Trump has strongly criticized the foreign policy measures of the Bush administration, particularly the Iraq War, and has called for a lighter footprint of the US military across the world. In multiple interviews and debates, he has stated that US is now a debtor country and as such, does not have the financial power to maintain army bases across the world, protecting its allies from its enemies. He has called Europe to take a more leading role in protecting Ukraine from Russia. He has called for the cost of NATO to be shared more equitably among its various allies. He has asked South Korea to start paying entirely for the American Army base maintained there to protect it against any attack by North Korea. He has even expressed admiration of Vladimir Putin and has said that the main aim of the US in Syria should be to defeat ISIS, not topple Bashar Al Assad.
This kind of talk makes a lot of US allies nervous, and for justifiable reason. It is true that US has the tendency to over-extend its army presence across various conflict centres. But it is also true that US is the sole remaining super power in the world today and for better or for worse, its presence in required in a number of conflict zones, from Syria to the South China Sea. The spectre of US accelerating its retreat from such places, a process which has already been started by the Obama administration, shall embolden rogue powers like Russia and China and leave its allies vulnerable. This is also a discomfiting thought for India which is juxtaposed between an unstable Pakistan and an increasingly ambitious China, both of which are nuclear super powers and have territorial disputes with India. In fact, India has increasingly tried to improve its relations with USA and traditional American allies like Japan and Australia, to counter this alliance. But the talks of US abandoning its allies leave any such alliance fragile, weak and pointless.
In fact, it is debatable whether Trump understands much of foreign policy at all. In a number of interviews, he has betrayed lack of any aptitude in such affairs, apart from some standard talking points. Normally, a businessman who has spent most of his life constructing and selling real estate is not expected to be very knowledgeable when it comes to foreign policy. But Trump has now been campaigning for almost nine months now and it is not clear whether he has beefed up his policy credentials during this time. He has even exhibited an unwillingness to learn anything by meeting and speaking to policy experts. Just this week, Trump for the first time declared the names of five of his foreign policy advisors; almost, all of them have lightweight resumes or are unknown commodities in the foreign policy circle in US.
One may in fact argue that Hillary Clinton, despite being a Democrat, is to the right of Donald Trump when it comes to foreign policy. She memorably voted in favour of the Iraq War in 2002 and as a Secretary of State, had called for active US intervention in toppling unpopular regimes in Libya and Syria. But at the same time, she also laid the groundwork for the nuclear deal with Iran and de-freezing of relations with Cuba. It is well knows that Clinton is far more driven by pragmatism than hard core ideology and may be expected to offer a balance between the unnecessarily hawkish regime of George W Bush and the cautious to a fault foreign policies of Barack Obama. Donald Trump, on the other hand, through a lack of experience and expertise, might drive most US relations cultivated over decades through the cliff and precipitate more dangerous situations across the globe.
I could not find any evidence to support Srinivasan’s claim that the Democratic Party has an unhealthy obsession with dictators. US governments, regardless of party colours, have been supportive of Governments that serve the narrow self-interests of US, whether they are democratically elected or not. If anything, Obama, the current Democratic Party president, has repeatedly called for the establishment of democratic practices across the world and has not been loath to subject the heads of countries with less than stellar human rights or democratic records to unflattering questioning from the US media. Indians will remember that in the last state visit made to India in January, 2015, President Obama had made the following comment, to the embarrassment of his Indian host:
“Every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines.”
Srinivasan also claims that Huma Abedin, Clinton’s close aide, is a Pakistani American and would act to subvert Indian interests. This is, of course, ridiculous. First of all, Abedin’s father is an Indian American whereas her mother is a Pakistani American. Secondly, she has never lived in Pakistan. Thirdly, it is unlikely that the ethnicity of a supporting staff would have any significant impact on the decisions made by a President.
I would say it is even incredible that we are even having this discussion, trying to justify why any right thinking person would support Hillary Clinton over her Republican opponents. Clinton is perhaps one of the most competent and experienced candidates to ever run for the office of the US President. She has decades of experience serving as an activist First Lady, first of the state of Arkansas and then of the United States of America, a senator and a Secretary of State. In all of her roles, she has shown the ability to work hard, work across the aisle and forge alliances with unlikely partners. She is widely known to be the wonkiest candidate in the field with a strong strain of pragmatism and belief in getting things done as opposed to ideological posturing. It is true that her resume is not blunder free; after all, it is difficult to have such a long career without making any mistake. Whereas the controversy over Benghazi has mostly been a creation of the Republican PR machine, Clinton did commit a serious error of judgement in hosting her official account on a private server. The ethics of the Clinton Foundation are also a subject of controversy. But on the whole, the positives that a candidate like Clinton brings far outweigh the negatives. She is a politician who given her long history, the accompanying baggage, dour campaigning style and a relatively centrist outlook will never be able to excite passionate following among a whole lot of voters; but if the voters are looking for a steady hand to get the job done, Clinton is the best choice in the field right now.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a politically inexperienced novice who is running as a populist and a demagogue, appealing to the fears and anxieties of the less educated white voters, who feel short changed by years of job loss and wage stagnation on account of the far reaching changes of globalization and technology. While such anger and discontent is legitimate, Trump has no coherent plan to address these issues; instead, he is fanning the anger and riding high on it. On most issues, he has no detailed policy measures. Nor has he shown any inclination to learn about the complex issues that a US president has to handle day in and day out. On the few issues that he has come up with any degree of detail, his policies are self-destructive in nature. They shall destroy not only the fabric of the country but also imperil global trade, global economy, global politics and global institutions, outcomes which are not desirable to anyone who is not an Islamic Jihadist waging a war for the destruction of the free world.
So on the balance, it is not surprising that Indians or Indian Americans, or any other sane global citizen who does not fervently believe in the dismantling of the current world order, shall be praying for the victory of Hillary Clinton in the November general election. What is instead baffling is that Mr. Srinivasan would consider any such thing as baffling.