It was a one-way conversation on Saturday night. Donald Trump spoke at an event hosted for him by the Republican Hindu Coalition, proclaimed his love for Hindus, India and Indians, and left.
But if he had stayed to hear what some in the audience wanted to say to him, he might have a left a chastened man, or perhaps wiser about the people he loved: They strongly disapproved of his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Most members of the audience interviewed by this reporter while waiting for Trump at the rally said they did not agree with his position on Muslims, and strenuously disapproved of it.
This was noteworthy for an audience that the organisers had hoped, and tried, to rally using regulation stereotypes, such as depicting terrorists as men in Middle Eastern-style dress, speaking with a strange accent in a skit that ended with their death and the singing of the American anthem.
“That’s the most un-presidential thing he has done,” Ari Rangnathan, a Hindu and Republican of 40 years, said about Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks, making no attempt to conceal his distaste.
Rangnathan grew agitated as he spoke: “I am only voting for him because I am one of those people who vote Republican down the ticket, anyone and everyone fielded by the party.” Trump distressed him.
Ramesh Desai, a Democrat who was considering voting Republican and had backed Ohio governor John Kasich before he conceded the race to Trump, is back with his old party, and will vote for Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s position on Muslims was one of the reasons why Desai gave up on the Republican Party.“Why paint the entire community black on account of a few?” he said. “There are a lot of good Muslims.”
His wife, Kiran Desai, agreed, though she said she was willing to give Trump a pass on the 2005 tape that featured him bragging about kissing and groping women. “Not sure what was the state of his mind then, 11 years ago,” she said.
Trump started out by proposing a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, seeking to tap a deep sense of insecurity that gripped the country in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December 2015. He watered it down subsequently as even Republicans protested he had gone too far.
He is now sticking to “extreme vetting” to keep out people from areas of the world affected by terrorism.
But Trump has continued to stoke Islamophobia through muddled messaging and actions, such as the cringe-worthy public spat with Pakistani-descent Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a Muslim soldier of the US Army killed in Iraq.
Some Hindu Americans such as Shailesh Dave, a New Jersey businessman, did say they agreed with Trump’s efforts to focus attention on terrorism emanating from Muslim-majority countries. “You tell me where else they are coming from?” he asked rhetorically, to make his point. But even Dave had trouble going the distance with Trump. “It’s not fair to go after the whole community.”
A recent poll found 78% of Indian Americans – an estimated 51% to 81% of whom are said to be Hindus (there is no official faith-based census of Americans, numbers come from polls and surveys) – disapproved of Trump’s position on Muslims.
As these numbers suggest, some do indeed support him on this issue, but most Indian Americans, and Hindu Americans, reject it.
Kiran Gandhi, a New Jersey businessman excited by Trump’s business policy, was dismissive of the 2005 tape and allegations of sexual assault against him. He described this as “propaganda” and said he would vote for the Republican nominee. But even he wasn’t with Trump on Muslims: “I disagree with Trump – not all Muslims are bad.”