If you had been told exactly a year ago that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States, that the United Kingdom would not just pass but also trigger Brexit, or that Yogi Adityanath would be the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, you could well have pointed to the calendar and scoffed: “Nice try.”
All Fools’ Day may have a single entry on the calendar, but the way things have gone recently, it appears to be a daily observation of absurdity. The occupant of the White House is possibly the symbol of this systemic silliness, especially when he can’t control his twitching Twitter trigger fingers. But Trump, over the past two years, has also shown an uncanny ability to toss his critics’ conjectures (including those of this writer) into the junkyard.
The failure of the Republican healthcare bill, based on the rinse and repeat refrain of repeal and replace Obamacare, has led to another flurry of Worst Week Ever fever within Washington’s wonkdom. Some believe the American President is already a lame duck, others that his agenda is dead, and yet, he has only been President for a little over two months. Teflon Don has defied the doomsayers during his brief political career, and this latest round of obituaries is a fool’s quest. It may be that Trump will arrive politically dead in four years, but we are not there yet. Just as there is no middle ground in the Trump universe, between loving him or loathing him, the reaction to his tenure in 2020 as he seeks re-election could pivot to either extreme – cruise control or crash and burn. But writing him off at this point isn’t worth the paper.
It’s instructive to recall that two years into his first term, shellacked by a backlash to the Affordable Healthcare Act, Barack Obama’s re-election seemed in serious jeopardy. In this instance, if you speculate, you tend to accumulate a web trail of looking foolish.
Meanwhile further North, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may be the liberals’ poster boy but he will not be buoyed by pollsters who indicate that his party, for the first time since the autumn of 2015, is trailing the opposition Conservatives, even as the latter remain leaderless and leaden. Marijuana legalisation, expected next summer, may take him somewhat higher, but nowhere close to the levels his popularity touched, as his government completed its first year. Those visions of a supermajority have dimmed, but with much less than half a term done, the chances of Trudeau recapturing his earlier trajectory are also up in the air.
At the other end of the spectrum of speculation, following the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results, there are experts already wondering about what Prime Minister Narendra Modi will do in his second term. They are quick to forget that fairly recently, the year 2015 was bookended by outcomes in Delhi and Bihar that had the same pundits pronouncing Modi’s imminent political eclipse.
Presuming that 2019 is locked and loaded for Modi at this juncture is foolhardy. We should refer to the fine print in financial investment documents to get real: “Past performance is not an indicator of future results.” As Trump has proven, the political markets don’t obey the laws of gravity.
It’s probably wise not to take pundits’ prognostications as profound, certainly not the ones in America, at least not till they can actually pronounce the word pundit.
The only predictable event is that of being pranked again. After all, a year ago, much of the chatter was about Texas Senator Ted Cruz winning the Wisconsin primary and poised to derail the Trump train. That became a path to pratfalls.
In these times of disruption, just about the only safe prediction to make is that crystal ball-gazing may have a bleak future.
Those who are professionals at telling political fortunes, are as reliable as those crafting horoscopes. And the space between reality and their reactions is similar to that of the gulf between the science practised by astronomers and astrologers. It may be wiser to restrict the foolishness to a designated date.
Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs.
The views expressed are personal