Until a few days ago, I was a determined follower of the Never-Trump camp. Recent events are causing me to reconsider. As a legal immigrant US resident alien of Indian origin, I am also a dyed in the wool, hardcore Keynesian. Financially conservative, with a socially neutral approach, I am hardline on legal immigration.
After waiting patiently in the line, filling out all the forms, spending nearly 5 years in an underserved (but wonderful) town, my wife and I became legal US residents 3 years ago – after 14 years of legal visa status in various shapes and forms. Each year of these, marked by a letter describing our status – B1, J1, H1B, and O-1 and the nearly $50,000 in visa and lawyer fees. I paid my taxes, insurance premiums and followed the laws. As have thousands (if not millions) of people like me.
Yet, despite the robust message of immigration controls, when Donald Trump brought forth his candidacy, his bid drew the xenophobes and the racists to the fore. While agreeing with his message, I could not support the obviously bizarre rhetoric. Furthermore, his words and presentation, appealing to the most base values of the most simple-minded of us, did not appeal to my intellect.
Whether it was the Khan controversy, Mexican ‘rapists’, Judge Curiel, the spat with Ryan, or the put down by Ted Cruz, it is with glee that I watched his approval spiral. Until now.
When our President visited China this year, a recurring theme that has been the undercurrent of world politics came into plain sight. A theme of disrespecting America. And getting away with it. Because of our political correctness. Because of our need for a “sane” response to the insanities of the world. We were no longer treated as the world’s policeman, just the lone guard in an asylum taken over by the lunatics.
When the Chinese publicly humiliate a US president during a state visit, when an idiot like Duterte can avail of the US fleet protecting him, all the while insulting a US ambassador, the Secretary of State,and now, the President, and when Putin can smirk his way into the Ukraine, something is fundamentally wrong.
The US is built on the bulwark of strength, and lead by individuals of iron will. The pusillanimity of our current crop of leaders, does us no favors. Winston Churchill was a racist and elitist member of the British Aristocracy, and clearly believed in the benefits of benign (not always) white leadership of the King’s Empire in Asia and Africa. Yet, if not for his obdurate leadership, Britain may have failed to stand in the face of the German war machine. He was the only reason that Hitler (who rapaciously tore through Europe and North Africa) was deliberate in attacking Great Britain, launching attacks from afar while simultaneously strengthening a wall across the sea-wall of Nazi dominated Europe.
Far from the image of the foppish, preppy popinjay Englishman, the iron willed and tough Briton is an image cultivated from the world’s admiration for British resolve under the remarkable duress of the Second World War. Whether we like it or not, our leaders define us – just as we elect them. Our leaders are a reflection of who we think we are and who we need to be.
So how does this lead to Donald Trump? How does his message with potentially racist undertones, inept comments and lack of experience reflect the America I love? It doesn’t. And it doesn’t have to.
When the world thinks of America as weak and we support the current crop of leaders that condone this, We, the people, effectively say: “We don’t think America is great enough to stand up to you!” Maybe, going asymmetric is the answer. Maybe, having a leader who is unpredictable enough that none will want to take us on, is the answer.
America is often compared to a modern Roman empire. Maybe, lessons for our present hark back to a past forgotten. Gaius Julius Caesar, often remembered in heroic terms, should also be remembered for being an anti-democratic demagogue who was regarded as an upstart by his contemporaries. Historians and bards alike sing praise to his greatness, do so not by promoting fact, but in fact, cement their own popularity and immortality by creating a paper hero of legend – stabbed to death by his own colleagues after a stint of less than a 100 days.
By contrast, the redoubtable “villain”, Caligula may not have been all that villainous after all. As a young emperor, he focused on “good acts”. Restoring democratic elections, civic repair and publishing public accounts, he certainly doesn’t come off as a villain. Described by the historian, Cassius Dio in Book LIX, as “delighting the rabble and grieving the sensible” by the act of restoring democratic rights to the plebs. For “if offices should fall once more into the hands of the many, and the funds on hand should be exhausted and private sources of income should fail, many disasters would result”. We look back at the history of Caligula and read of debauchery, cruelty and blood lust. Sadly, these were the norms of the day, just as nuclear weapons and other tools of genocide are the norms of ours.
My point with this digression, was to highlight that strong leaders are seldom defined by their own actions, but, unfortunately, by the myths created by their retelling. That said, greatness of civilizations and leaders is often a reflection of individual legendary acts – often in a sea of otherwise mediocrity and, sometimes, incompetence.
At this time, in this election, we are neither proffered the administrative and political genius of an Augustus, nor the villainy and darkness of a Tiberius. We have the inept, and possibly racist, Trump against a calculating, but cold Hillary. Which one is right for the strange times we live in? I was for choosing the so-called sensible candidate thus far, but I am reconsidering my thinking now.
My hope is, that electing this racist, incompetent bomb thrower of a candidate, will create the right environment for a political catharsis, such that truly great leaders will again come forward, to lead my adopted country to greatness once again. Even if it is not good for the brown people like me, it is a sacrifice I am considering very seriously.