Good riddanceFour years of the Trump administration has done enough damage, but the Nepali Trump ploughs on.
It might be a few more days before the official tally is in, and Donald Trump and his Republican Party acknowledge what the rest of the world has: the Trump era is over and with it the nightmare that began with his wildcard victory four years ago.
Some days before Americans went to the polls, Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian wrote that the US presidential election ‘is stressing people out’, referring not only to Americans. That was enough affirmation, if I needed any, that the four-year-long heartburn that ailed me was a phenomenon common the world over. That experience was quite unsettling. For instance, despite everything I have read about avoiding screen time before sleeping, the last four years has seen me dawdling with my phone in bed, reading the news coming out of the United States. The first thing I have been doing upon opening my eyes in the morning is check that news again, dreading against dread that Trump did not do or say something atrocious or obnoxious. Few were the days that he disappointed. His ouster means I can now banish my phone from my bedside and take up reading in bed once again.
My obsession with Trump has nothing to do with friends and family in the US, even if I do feel for them having to live in a country where the president encourages violence against their very presence. It is driven more by how his presidency has affected me and my sensibilities. Experts in Nepal have weighed in arguing that Biden’s triumph over Trump will make little difference to us. No doubt about that if one looks at relations over time between the two countries. Starting in the 1950s, American interest in Nepal was piqued mainly for being a frontline state against communist China’s rise, and even then we were always a minor actor. A brief spurt of additional interest came during the Maoist insurgency and its unnecessary provocations against the US that included the killing of a Nepali security guard, raising Nepal’s profile to the extent that the then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, thought it worthwhile to drop in. Other than that, the level of American engagement with Nepal has neither waxed nor waned. The volume of aid has gone up and down by some over the years but nothing so dramatic to indicate either loosening of ties or a growing embrace. Nepal is never likely to register anything but a polite and paternalistic curiosity among the power players in Washington DC.
It is as a citizen of the world that I fretted over Trump’s actions, and also over the results of the world’s most undemocratic election. Undemocratic not because of how the Electoral College system works or how minorities continue to be systematically and openly disenfranchised in the US, but because Americans are allowed to vote in an election that has implications for the whole world. And, not only in how Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif put it: ‘As a long-suffering citizen of a world run by US presidents, may I remind them that he [Trump] is not very different from the other presidents that I and the rest of the non-American world have suffered for the past half century’.
However grounded in fact Hanif’s views may be, American influence goes beyond policing the world. With Trump’s ascension to power came the expected reinstatement of the ‘Mexico City Policy’, which cuts off funding for organisations that provide abortion services or advocate for the same, a situation that certainly affected countries like Nepal in its fight against unwanted pregnancies. The larger harm Trump unleashed on the world was scary. Besides normalising abhorrent behaviour such as racism and xenophobia, he served as an inspiration for the growing cohort of political leaders who have adopted ‘illiberal democracy’ as their game plan for ruling with a strong hand.
Most worrisome perhaps was Trump’s complete disregard for science, not for any ideological reasons but seemingly out of sheer ignorance. He was not able to comprehend the distinction between ‘climate’ and ‘weather’, and actually believed that ozone sprayed out of a can in a room would not float into the atmosphere. The overwhelming evidence of global warming not only failed to sway him but he actually instituted policies that would hasten climate change. Most egregious has been the manner in which he has handled Covid-19, not only in terms of the continuing tragedy in the US but by failing to rally the world in a common response against a scourge that respects no borders.
Millions around the world woke up the day after the election to the possibility that Trump could be re-elected. The dismay we all felt that even after four years of Trumpism—a mixture of populism, racism, nativism and cronyism, to name just some of its salient characteristics—Americans could vote in such large numbers for more of the same was almost too much to bear. Thankfully, the electoral tide slowly shifted and we can look forward to at least four years of being done with Trump and hope that the many wannabe Trumps lined up will begin to see the fallacy of such an approach.
American Oli and Nepali Trump
I read a comment somewhere that with the American Oli now gone, what about the Nepali Trump? The parallels with our prime minister are striking. Starting with their respective ascents, with both having ridden waves of nativism, white supremacy in the US and pahade nationalism in our case. Neither seems really interested in the business of governance. Trump’s single agenda appears to have been to be a two-term president, having kicked off his re-election campaign the day he was sworn into office in 2017, with four years spent rallying touting achievements that were true only to him. Oli’s approach is similar; instead of rallies he launches into diatribes extolling his own government’s successes that no one but he and his acolytes seem able to discern.
Neither ever admits to having been mistaken and there is always someone to blame for any shortcomings that may come to light. If Trump’s lack of knowledge of science is legion globally, so is Oli’s nationally. Covid-19 felled them both, with Trump flailing for a response to contain it, while Oli has not even bothered. I cannot recall the last time Oli spoke exclusively about the pandemic wreaking havoc on our economy and society.
Most of all, it is the imperative to remain in power at all costs that will do lasting damage. Trump’s undermining of the integrity of the US elections just because he lost will lead to an erosion of trust in the democratic process there. Oli’s shenanigans have already had the same effect in Nepal. All Oli has done since the beginning of this year while the coronavirus rages is find ways to undercut his party rivals and remain in power—for the sake of it.
There is one crucial difference: unlike Trump profiting off his office, Oli does not even seem to have any interest in that (although others around him are reportedly making hay). That can hardly be a saving grace when the country sorely requires a leader who can lead from the front. Hopefully, when the time comes, the Nepali electorate will inform the Nepali Trump in words spoken by Oliver Cromwell in 1653 when he dismissed the British parliament: ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately...In the name of God, go!’