‘The World’s Women Lost to an Isolationist America’: Views From India

An Indian man in Kolkata reads a Bengali language newspaper with "Trumped" on the front on November 10, 2016. (Bikas Das / AP)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Our first reader note from the subcontinent is from Jaiganesh:

Last Wednesday morning was a shock not only to the U.S., but to the whole world. While leaders of world nations voiced passive aggressive congratulatory messages, the global community watched in horror as President-elect Trump gave his victory speech. Then the world stock markets dipped, gold prices surged, the Mexican peso took a nose dive, and we witnessed the first fallout of a potentially free trade restrictive America in making.

India was already recovering from Prime Minister Modi’s retaliation against corruption while the U.S. was still up for grabs. To put it delicately, India was in denial. The immensely young Indian population was astonished to find a reality TV show joke on his way to the White House.

Why was there such a reaction from us, and the rest of the world? Why did the majority of the Indian population found it implausible to believe that Trump was now the President–elect of the United States? Here’s why.

Like most people, we did not pause to reflect on the human factor involved in elections. We did not consider Trump’s aggressive message against the Washington establishment from a white working-class U.S. citizen point of view. And like all the polls, we underestimated the silent Trump supporters who carried him to the Oval Office.

To put it simply, the U.S. works perfectly in the eyes of young Indians, with its lucrative job and business opportunities for the well-educated, liberal, and “Western” culture that most young Indians try to embrace, and the global leadership role the U.S. plays. We never understood the difficulties of middle-class American families faced in getting their kids to college—a privilege that middle-class Indians took for granted. We failed to comprehend that such a significant portion of our high-paying jobs were originally created for U.S. citizens. The cheap technical expertise of Indian college graduates brought millions of jobs to the country at the cost of U.S. jobs. This is all very much true; Donald Trump is not wrong.

A global community based on U.S. post-WWII military alliances was stunned by the very probable withdrawal of U.S. interventionist foreign policy. A nation that nurtured a bipartisan foreign policy to act as the world’s police for several decades was now crawling behind walls and closing its economic borders. A nation to which Indians looked up, a nation which Indian progressives and liberals wanted India to follow, is now taking a step back from global leadership, from standing as a pillar of nuclear non-proliferation, from leading by example in constitutional rights.

It is a gloomy day for our women to watch the great glass ceiling to go unbroken. My mother—who never followed global news enough to properly name the presidential candidates—was disappointed to watch Hillary give her concession speech. Seeing a women finally clinch the U.S. presidency would have been a moment of great satisfaction and motivation that the world’s female community lost to an isolationist America. When the world expected the U.S. to take a step forward, it took ten steps back.

India shares a lot of the populist lack of trust in the incumbent establishment with the U.S. electorate. We want change badly; our scope of progress hinges on it. And yet, this is somehow not the change that we want to see in our country. We want to see India move forward as a global superpower, and this election is going feed the fear of stepping out in Indian citizens, if they even have such a notion. We also share the diverse culture of the U.S., with a large Muslim population that makes us relate to the need for inclusiveness and religious equality that India is struggling to establish.

I am an electrical engineer, to nobody’s surprise, and I believe in the preservation of our environment. Hillary Clinton’s view of the U.S. being the Clean Energy Superpower would have been a defining moment for India, which still fails to implement even the most basic of carbon footprint control measures. It is horrifying to realize that the president-elect of the United States believes that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese.

To sum it all up, the U.S. just disappointed half the world, including more than half of its voting population.

Another reader in India, Tarun, goes more into the Modi comparisons:

As an Indian national with generally liberal values, this feels like a play by play of the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi in 2014, complete with the decent-with-caveats economic performance of the prior government and the seemingly inexplicable anti-establishment sentiment. I attended grad school in Boston, and even in that liberal bastion it was very hard, until six months ago, to explain how demagogic and un-qualified Modi is for the position. I remember the dean referring in his welcome to the opportunities created by Modi’s election, and I remember feeling like he was describing a country I did not recognise.

Please, please, please emphasise to your leaders our lessons after the fact. Despite three years of policy fumbling (especially in foreign policy which has been flat out chaotic) the major opposition—our Congress—has failed to make a coherent case for why they should come back to power. This is not for a lack of hitting the right “liberal” notes. The Congress’ spokespersons speak of globalism, women’s rights and minority rights fluently.

Their liberal bona fides, however, simply do not allow them to escape the fact that their party is built around the Gandhi family, which is their sole fund-raising apparatus and default provider of Prime Ministerial candidates. Inevitably, it is a relationship seeped in corruption and nepotism. When the Democratic Party effectively stepped aside for Mrs. Clinton’s coronation in the primaries, it showed itself to be a similar party.

There is of course plenty of sexism and racism to go around, but there are also enough voters who instinctively abhor such a mentality. Neither Modi nor Trump have won the popular vote nationally. But when liberal parties fall prey to this dynasty mentality, their core democratic populist appeal suffers in a way that conservative “blood-and-steel” appeal does not.

So, as bleak as this sweep looks, I hope American liberals do what Indian liberals have not: use the next four years to build a bench at the lowest levels of government and have them compete without the interference of the Democratic party machinery. The calls for a Michelle Obama candidacy are short-sighted and hypocritical. They are also a disservice to a very intelligent and qualified woman who will conceivably break herself trying to rescue a party unwilling to rebuild at the grassroots.

Thank you for doing a much more responsible job of reporting this election than the Posts Washington and Huffington. Stay safe and free.