Our family spent almost three weeks this summer in America and just returned to India. As a tourist, one tends to focus on the weather, on flight connections, on food, on not falling sick, on good accommodation. If they all go smoothly, one thinks that all is well with the world and that God is kind! Clearly, such a God would be deemed to have a warped sense of priorities because while we were counting these ‘blessings’ in the last fortnight, all was not well with the world. Britain voted to leave the European Union. Enough has been written about the fallout of that decision. But it is important to keep one thing in mind. It was not a trigger but a reminder of the economically and politically fraught world that we live in.
The last one month has been dotted with acts of terrorism—from Orlando to Istanbul to Dhaka to Medina. Seemingly mindless killings of blacks by the American police in Baton Rouge and St Paul in Minnesota were met with a deadly sniper attack on the police in Dallas, Texas. The cycle of retribution will now continue. While America is relatively better placed in the world compared with Europe, Japan or China, the society appears fragmented. It is not difficult to spot the homeless on pavements and in trains. Unrepentant policymakers mix actions that benefit the wealthy and powerful elites with homilies and empty platitudes on social and economic divide. The country appears to be in need of a catharsis.
Certainly, that must have been the last thing on the mind of former president Bill Clinton when he stepped onto a plane to meet Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, while his wife was still under a federal investigation over the private e-mail server that she had maintained as secretary of state. He should have known that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion and be seen to be above suspicion too. The real issue is the sense of entitlement that the Clintons have displayed. That has been the problem with the liberal elite. They seldom walk their talk.
The statement of the director of Federal Bureau of Investigation that the decision not to press charges against Hillary Clinton cannot be construed as a free pass for the future by others was somewhat extraordinary. There is a very fine dividing line between being extremely careless and deliberately reckless. I believe that he gave a good testimony to the US Congress and that he is a life-long Republican. Yet, these are fraught times. With all good intentions and good faith, he might well have concluded that he was doing something right for the nation by applying a higher standard for prosecution than normal. These are subjective judgements and no matter how much one tries, the cloud of suspicion will linger on.
That brings us to Donald Trump. It would be very difficult for anyone to vote for him in a positive sense. Certainly, he has not made that decision any easier. As things stand, a negative vote for Clinton would go to him and vice versa. One could have made a case for Bernie Sanders. Regardless of whether one agreed with him, at least he stood for something. But now that he is out of the race, Donald Trump assumes greater significance.
President Barack Obama, for all his reasonableness, intellect and good intentions, has been unable to heal America. One can debate whether he was stymied by the polarizing politics of the Republicans, but the fact remains that both economically and otherwise, he will leave America with as many questions as he inherited, if not more. Unreasonable people change the status quo—for the better or worse. When society is in need of a cathartic change, unreasonable people serve the purpose better. Trump is one such person. I am not rooting for Trump. I do not have any skin in the game either. But from the perspective of how societies evolve and given the present global context, now that Bernie is out, he might be needed.
It is a bit clichéd, but it is true that things have to get worse before they get better. That is part of how societies progress. Trump might be the answer for the ‘get worse’ precondition. Sure, Hillary is capable of doing that job too. But, she would do it differently. She is more likely to defend status quo interests than disrupt them. It will bring things to a boiling point four years down the road and things may have to get much worse before they get better. In good or bad ways, a Trump presidency would make American society confront the difficult choices it has to make to hold itself together. It would focus minds like nothing else will. America would emerge all the better for it. The world will need a stronger and socially more cohesive America in the years and decades ahead as it faces the very real prospect of reliving the inter-war years of the 20th century.
V. Anantha Nageswaran is an independent financial markets consultant based in Singapore.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read V. Anantha Nageswaran’s previous columns here