Going home for the holidays should be an uplifting experience, something to look forward to. But as I pack my bags for my second visit to New York in as many months, I’m in an even gloomier mood than I was the last time. The last time, it was to vote in the presidential election involving two uninspiring candidates. This time, there’s the rebarbative prospect of having to watch, at close quarters, the horror show that is Donald Trump’s transition to the presidency.
It’s been frightening enough to observe from a distance. Not only is Trump the least-prepared president-elect in American history, but he compounds this by showing no interest in preparing — if anything, he seems absolutely determined not to prepare — for the most important job in the world. Most worrisome of all is the news that he has been avoiding daily security briefings by the intelligence services. A man so plainly ignorant about the world should be asking for a double dose of briefings, but Trump has decided that he can do without them because… Well, why don’t you hear from the man himself, in this exchange in a TV interview:
INTERVIEWER: I just want to ask you about your skepticism about the intelligence community. You are getting the presidential daily brief only once a week.
TRUMP: Yes. Well, I get it when I need it.
INTERVIEWER: But, if there is some skepticism ...
TRUMP: Look, first of all, these are very good people giving me the briefings. And I say if something should change from this point, immediately call me, I’m available on one minute’s notice. I don’t have to be told, you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next 8 years. Could be 8 years, but 8 years. I don’t need that.
The sheer absurdity of his attitude is heightened by the third-standard syntax: “I don’t have to be told, you know, I’m, like, a smart person.”
Worse yet, he has actively undermined his intelligence agencies by suggesting that they are in cahoots with Hillary Clinton, and making excuses for her defeat. (Never mind that Clinton herself attributes her defeat to FBI director Jim Comey’s pre-election statement about her email server.) Trump has dismissed as “ridiculous” a CIA report that Russia actively interfered in the election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s servers, and feeding material about Clinton to WikiLeaks. In a statement, he pointed out that the CIA “are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
He’s right about that, of course, but the CIA has also got plenty of things right, and such blithe dismissal suggests Trump is keen to draw attention away from the report. In any case, it ill behooves a president to display such open contempt of his own intelligence agencies — especially when he has nominated, as his national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, an Islamophobe, racist and conspiracy theorist who has frequently clashed with those same agencies. In a world where threats to American interests come from State actors (Russia, China) as well as non-State entities (ISIS, Al Qaeda and sundry terrorist groups), the US can’t afford an open rupture between the intelligence community and the White House.
Instead of educating himself about the problems of the world, many of which will have a bearing on everything he does as president, Trump has spent a great deal of time using his Twitter account to attack his critics, and pass judgment on Saturday Night Live, a comedy sketch show that lampoons him. He seems to have left most important decisions to his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, an unabashed White-supremacist demagogue. Bannon’s hand is plainly visible in most of the nominations to Trump’s cabinet, from Jeff Sessions (soon to be attorney general, a man who was denied a judgeship because he was found to be too racist) to Andrew Puzder (the next labour secretary, a man who is opposed to minimum wage laws), to Scott Pruitt (a climate-change denier who will be the next head of the environmental protection agency).
Should Indians care about this faraway circus? Yes, absolutely. As I’ve argued in these columns before, any American president who represents a danger to his own country and to the world order also poses a danger to India, which now has a great deal at stake in both. But the threat from a Trump presidency is much more specific than that. For all his claims to “love the Hindu,” the president-elect’s protectionist impulses — he wants to bring jobs back to the US, and to punish American companies that take jobs out — can only be bad for India. At an event in Iowa last week, be made his position perfectly clear: “My administration will follow a simple rule — buy American, hire American… We love our companies, but we don’t love them when they go out of our country.”
Then, sending a chill down the spine of the Indian IT industry, he went on to fulminate against the misuse of the H1-B visa, referring to the specific example of Walt Disney World in Orlando, involving Indians hired on that particular visa. You have to be an incorrigible optimist to harbour any lingering hope that Trump might be good for India. Or you have to believe that, contrary to all evidence, he is… “like, a smart person.”
Bobby Ghosh is editor-in-chief of Hindustan TimesTwitter: @ghoshworld