Imagining a second Trump presidency - Hindustan Times

Imagining a second Trump presidency

Jul 09, 2024 09:14 PM IST

Donald Trump will be disruptive in many ways. But on climate and democracy, his actions will weaken the US and should concern India

Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance and his refusal to give way to a new Democratic candidate has made Donald J Trump the clear frontrunner to win America’s presidential election.

Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a campaign event, in Chesapeake, Virginia, U.S. June 28, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (REUTERS)
Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a campaign event, in Chesapeake, Virginia, U.S. June 28, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (REUTERS)

Biden has been a good president. But the debate clearly showed his age-related physical and mental vulnerabilities to be more debilitating than had been known, or disclosed by his aides and interlocutors. This has severely dented the credibility of the White House and the Democratic Party and made it hard for any Democrat, in good faith, to ask a voter to trust that Biden can run the United States (US) for four more years. But, like any other politician, Biden doesn’t want to let go of power. Like any other politician, Biden is being incredibly vain by proclaiming that only he can defeat Trump. Like any other politician, he is now blaming the media and elites for being against him.

But even as the focus is on what Biden will or won’t do, it is time to seriously consider the meaning of a second Trump presidency. This will be a disruptive outcome in several ways, all of which merit deep examination, but let us discuss two issues and ask what India should look out for.

One, climate. America’s historic and current contribution to the climate crisis is stunning in its scale. The US remains the world’s most irresponsible power that, for long, resisted making any substantial public investments in reducing emissions. It remains the world’s most conspicuous consumerist economy, marked by excess and waste. It is deeply hypocritical, for it expects countries which need to lift millions out of poverty to make developmental compromises way beyond their historic responsibilities even as Americans refuse to change their way of life. And the US is deeply unjust because, for all its historic sins, it is unwilling to even provide modest financing to those who need it the most and are suffering.

Both the Democrats and Republicans are to blame for this. But, under Biden, the US returned to the Paris accord, passed a climate legislation, set ambitious domestic targets, pushed multilateral development banks (MDBs) to expand their remit to include the climate crisis, and made at least tokenistic noises about its responsibility. Trump will do none of the above, and just like his first term when he walked out of the Paris accord, pretend that climate isn’t his problem at all.

It would be tempting for India to think that this will help reduce the pressure that Delhi encounters from the West on climate issues. But that is myopic. Climate is a global problem. The US has played a big role in creating this problem. But there is also no solution without the US. Trump’s approach will worsen the climate crisis. It will allow China to both position itself as a responsible climate power and continue its dominance over green technologies. It will cripple MDBs such as the World Bank working on climate. It will disincentivise American private capital from investing. And it will leave countries that have been promised climate finance with even fewer options.

Two, democracy. America is a flawed democracy in many respects. Take its judiciary that combines the worst of two worlds. Judges, due to the permanence of their tenure, have zero accountability; judges, due to their executive-nominated and legislative-confirmed appointment process, are totally partisan and ideologically driven. This has created a thoroughly compromised branch of government that is limitless in its power while being beholden to ideological patrons. Or take the American electoral system that, unusually for a presidential form, has no correlation between popular vote and outcome. It allows politicians to gerrymander electoral constituencies. It allows for a corrupt politics-big donor nexus to thrive due to a flawed political financing regime. And, after 2020, even though the election was fair, half the country questions the legitimacy of the electoral process and even the peaceful transfer of power is uncertain.

Some of this is due to the US’s peculiar constitutional design. But the democratic deficit can be exacerbated by who is in power. Trump’s nomination of three judges to the Supreme Court has already led to a reversal of basic human rights such as the woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and given the President’s unchecked power. A win may allow him to nominate more judges. Trump’s victory will also inaugurate a period of political impunity where politicians will believe that challenging election results, committing crimes and being convicted are no bar to office. It will also lead to a partially racist and substantially Christian nationalist ideological and social agenda, especially if Trump’s possible win is accompanied by a Republican takeover of the Senate (very likely) and retention of the House (possible).

It would be tempting for India’s political dispensation to think that Trump’s return will reduce the pressure that Delhi encounters in the West on the quality of its own democracy. But that is myopic. There is a bigger problem. The more the functioning and legitimacy of American institutions come under strain, the more the American polity gets unstable, the more its society gets divided into feuding political tribes which don’t accept the common rules of the game, the more its political formations turn extreme, the greater is the possibility of internal conflicts in the US and the more insular, isolationist and weaker the US is likely to get. One can be a ruthless critic of America’s domestic and foreign policy adventurism and misjudgments. But, at this time, a weaker and divided US at war with itself benefits China strategically and ideologically. It is also bad for America’s immigrant communities, including Indians who have thrived in an open, liberal, multicultural setting.

Next week, Donald Trump will become the official Republican nominee for President. Whether he becomes the President will determine the future of the world’s climate and politics.

The views expressed are personal

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