Opinion: What might a Trump presidency mean for India and US?

Written By: Ayesha Ray
Pennsylvania, United States Updated: Feb 12, 2018, 11:56 AM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

It is hard to imagine that most Americans have survived a year under the weight of a chaotic presidency. A year ago, the American political landscape was permanently transformed when Donald Trump was elected its 45th President. Trump rose to power by channeling the worst xenophobic and misogynist impulses that had, for long, stayed dormant in American society. 


His economic platform was heavily protectionist and the social one, a dog-whistle to white supremacists. He brought with him a history of sexual misconduct, displayed little grace in international diplomacy, demonstrated a shocking ignorance of American and international politics, and in the past year, has essentially ceded much of America’s global leadership. 


Moving forward, the Trump presidency is likely to further damage the credibility of American political institutions and destabilize the liberal international order.  


A year into the Trump presidency reveals several dangerous trends. 

First, the president has shown little regard for America’s most cherished political institutions – in particular – a free press and law enforcement. The liberal press has come under heavy attack for seeking accountability on facts. In what has turned into an hourly ritual, the president takes to social media where he attacks, vilifies, and spreads false information about the press, sowing confusion and breeding ignorance among the average American public. 


Intelligence officials and law enforcement agencies have faced similar persecution. The unceremonious dismissal of the FBI Director, James Comey, in May 2017, for investigating the Trump presidency’s links to Russia, was a remarkable abuse of political power. Donald Trump’s strong-arm tactics, threats, and coercion signal a dark new reality. America is slowly but surely embracing authoritarianism. A reckless and power-hungry president with no respect for checks and balances threatens to seriously weaken American institutions and some critics correctly predict a possible constitutional crisis emerging soon. 


Second, the Trump presidency has become synonymous with reclaiming white nationalism, evident in the president’s inclination for harsh immigration policies (recall the Muslim ban, “building the wall” with Mexico) and his recent statements disparaging immigrants from non-white countries. 


A combination of exclusionary policies and toxic rhetoric carries a ringing endorsement that unless you are white, you are not American. The Republican party shows signs of moral decay, failing to call out the president on his actions and is complicit in aiding a white nationalist agenda. 


Third, Donald Trump believes America needs a stronger military to win its wars. This means a more muscular approach in foreign policy, sharp increases in defense expenditure, more bombs, more weapons, but little reflection on the lessons of history for America’s future conduct of war. While the president swears by the American military, his actual policies and statements on transgender troops and women in the military are deeply prejudiced and will dent the image and professionalism of the American military. 


American civil-military relations often appear to be in tension when the president and his advisors make contradictory statements on matters of national security. While both James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and H.R. McMaster, National Security Advisor, have shown thought and resolve on pressing national security issues like North Korea and Iraq, it is not entirely clear how much influence they can ultimately exercise in shaping policy independent of the president’s political preferences. 


Finally, America’s image as the leader of the free world has suffered a major debacle abroad. An understaffed State Department, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and a less prominent role in the United Nations are some of the many diplomatic failings of this presidency pointing to the growing absence of global American leadership. 


What might a Trump presidency mean for India? 


The answer here is hard to predict as little value can be placed on the words of an unpredictable megalomaniac. It is unlikely that the Trump administration will significantly deviate from the Obama administration’s approach to India. Cooperation in defense, trade, and technology will continue as before and the two countries will continue to maintain a viable partnership. 


The only decisive shift affecting foreign relations of both countries could emerge on the Pakistan front. In recent months and weeks, Trump has taken a much harder line on Pakistan than previous administrations. He has communicated a strong desire to dismantle terrorist groups, called Pakistan a state-sponsor of terrorism, and in the last few weeks, withdrawn aid to the country. Trump’s pressure on Pakistan has been welcomed by many of India’s top political leaders. 


While this works in favor of Indian security interests, it would be profoundly unwise for India to predicate its Pakistan policy around Donald Trump’s plan to isolate Pakistan. As much as Trump believes, in theory, that Pakistan can be backed into a corner, it will be much harder, in fact, for the United States to sever all ties with Pakistan. The United States will require Pakistan’s support to fight terrorism in some form and it would be prudent for India to not allow America’s relationship with Pakistan to be the defining benchmark of its relationship with both.  


A separate and troubling moral question the Trump presidency poses for India is whether India is going to ignore the revival of white nationalism at its own peril to embrace its security interests first. America has a large Indian-American immigrant population who will, undoubtedly, be seriously impacted by Trump’s immigration policies. 


Tata Consultancy, India’s largest software exporter, has already expressed serious concerns over the administration’s unclear and draconian H1-B policy. Since Trump became president, Indian communities have also been threatened and persecuted by resurgent white nationalist groups. Some have even been murdered. Case in point: Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32-year-old Indian immigrant who was shot to death in Olathe, Kansas by a white nationalist. 


There are important moral questions for the future of Indians living in America that are equally vital for India to consider in its current relationship with the United States. White nationalism is a scourge and India is no stranger to the legacy of colonialism. To secure a stronger economic future with America, it should not compromise its moral standing in the world. 


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)  

Ayesha Ray

Ayesha Ray is associate professor, Department of Political Science, King's College, Pennsylvania,
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