The Hindi proverb Behti Ganga Mein Haath Dhona—which loosely translates as making the most of an available opportunity—may in a snap describe my interest in Donald Trump. A large part of the sane world is hurling the most brilliant arguments in his disfavour, but should that stop me from jumping into the gab fest?
The Republican nominee for the American presidency has been pelted with so many derogatory descriptions that it is hard to write a piece without repeating a handful of those fabulously hateful terms. You are spot on, I love to hate Trump. This piece, however, is to argue why an Indian female, journalist (or not) is entitled to a few lessons in gender politics and the politics of our times via Trump. “Why are you so interested in Trump?” asks a fellow journalist, rolling her eyes. “There are no direct consequences of Trump’s verbal tyranny or policy proposals for you,” says another with a shrug.
Consequences? So no, I am not an American, I do not live or vote in the country whose democratically elected president is called the leader of the free world. Trump may have made that phrase a lasting satire, but let me not waltz on that obvious notion. So, if Trump comes to power, there will be no direct “consequences” for me. Except that this very election, the debates it has provoked and pandered to in the past year especially, the very nomination of a ranting misogynist like Trump that gives him at least half of half a chance to win his way to the most powerful political office in the world, makes it a cause celebre for everyone.
Certainly for those like me, who believed that American liberalism had a robust immunity, even if its warts were becoming visible and viral. For believing that the most prosperous destination in the free world was also the most intellectually reflective and reinventive society. Beneath clouded judgement manipulated by my fascination for America’s policy research, exemplary legal interventions, leaps in space science and brain science, its museums, films and Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, I had conveniently forgotten how seething minorities of misogynists, bigots and right-wing supremacists existed everywhere in the world—America included. It needed Terrible Trump to hurl that back.
His visceral insults of women—his opponent Hillary Clinton or Carly Fiorina, the only female Republican candidate in the race whose face he cruelly ridiculed, or Kim Novak, a retired American film and television actress who was advised by Trump to sue her plastic surgeon or, most recently, former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whose weight gain he derided, are a painful reminder of how a section of men will always hate women. They will hate beauty as well as ugliness, strength as well as vulnerability, power and helplessness with equal venom. What lights up in their brains alongside the word “hate” is “woman”—regardless of who she is or what she is capable (or incapable) of. That’s Trump. But not just Trump—he is the face of a seething minority that we have no business forgetting about.
Since outrage is the worst tool to demonise outrage, Trump forces certain deeper reflections that candidates like Clinton or Barack Obama never provoked. Stories about Abraham Lincoln, for instance, only seeded the opposite—“the integrity of his character and the moral fibre of his being”—the words Doris Kearns Goodwin used in her Ted Talk: Lessons from Past Presidents.
For me, one lesson from the present threat to the American presidential race is to pause and question my journalistic privilege to express political or feminist opinion through the prism of open dislike. Hating Trump is easy and, therefore, dangerous.
Yet it is relevant. In this part of the world, at least, in societies dark with male fascism like ours, we have had Trump types around all the time. Bristling against Trump, in fact, is like bristling against half of India, from khap panchayats to politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav who defended rape by saying “boys will be boys”. But that it took an American presidential nominee, a misinformed misanthropist to tell us (well, me) that the world is after all a small place leaves me defeated.
Open dislike for Trump, even if easy, is an important reactive idea of this hour—wherever we may live in the world, whatever be the gender, race or colour of skin that forms our identity.
To protest against Trump is to protest against the loss of reason. It is to protest against that genre of vain politics that allow cranks and charlatans to run for mighty offices. It is a protest against the one-man summit of misogyny. It is an attempt—however feeble and inconsequential—to shame the man who shames everyone. If reality can create a vocabulary, even the vice versa is true—vocabulary can indeed create a reality.