An Indian’s Open Letter To Devastated Americans
Dear devastated Americans,
A part of me was tempted to rant about how appalled I am at the results of your presidential election, but there has been enough shaming on social media in the last four days. So in an endeavour to be more levelheaded this letter has taken me longer to write, but it is hopefully more meaningful.
Empathy: we have been here
As an Indian, I am familiar with how devastated you feel about Trump’s victory. Two years ago, we elected a man who carried a controversial past –having tacitly condoned a massacre against a minority community. His supporters were vocal and he gained publicity on account of attacking the establishment for being corrupt and nepotistic. He positioned himself as a harbinger of change, with a vision to bring better days. Unless you have been sleeping under a rock for the last year, this rhetoric will ring a bell. Or in this case, alarm bells.
Most have been quick to draw parallels between the outcome of your election and that of the EU referendum. But few have pointed to the striking commonalities between your President elect and our incumbent Prime Minister. Although we were slightly more prepared for his victory, we were just as uncertain of what to expect when he did come to power. Because as you know, the goal of greatness is both elusive and subjective.
Inspiration: looking back
I cannot predict what Trump will do when in power, but if the last few days are indicative, then I am fairly certain that you will be critical of his agenda and the ideology he enables. Some of it will make you feel ashamed to be American and cause you to contemplate leaving the country. Many of you have already considered it – if the crashing of Canada’s immigration website wasn’t an obvious enough indication.
But this is what I can tell you: leaving won’t resolve the situation. If living under a government whose beliefs I am fundamentally opposed to has taught me anything, it is to have strong beliefs rather than to have no beliefs. Because having beliefs means you care – even if it meant you had to hit a political rock bottom to realise it.
Eight years ago, I witnessed a historic moment in your country, when Barack Obama won his first election. As a wide-eyed freshman at one of your renowned liberal arts colleges, I was moved by the feverish excitement that swept our campus. I found the atmosphere markedly different from the cynical and apathetic youth that the urban middle-class has traditionally taken toward politics in my country. This turning point in your country’s political history became a personal turning point for me – it inspired me to become a more engaged citizen.
If four years of living in your country taught me anything it was that people are engaged. It is my hope that they continue to engage, because it is the only way can adapt to the uncertain and complex political environment of today. For those who are now waking up to the fact that politics truly matters let this be your turning point. Politics has a tangible impact on all our lives. It is not a sphere for politicians, but for all of us to engage with.
Engagement: looking forward
If recent events have taught us anything, it is that disengagement is dangerous. It leads citizens to undesirable extremes. For those of us who do not identify with those extremes, our complacency is equally to blame, for it provides a breeding ground for those ideas to materialise. We’re quick to dismiss them in the comfort of our living rooms, or the confines of our liberal college campuses, but we refuse to engage with them. We boast that we don’t know anyone who voted for Trump, when that may very well be the root cause of the problem.
Of course, engagement does not mean finding a middle ground with, and it certainly does not mean accepting, extremity. It requires genuine dialogue to understand the cause of such beliefs. There may be moments where you find yourself gritting your teeth, or temped to hurl profanities in order to prove your point. But if you want to influence and not infuriate, it can only be done by rationally defending your viewpoint, no matter how radically different. Unfortunately, such engagement is rare, because it is not easy. But it is also the only way to safeguard the values enshrined in your democratic constitutions.
As a responsible citizen, you have a duty to advance the values that your society is built on, regardless of the government that is in power. But by refusing to engage, those values slowly become meaningless. Eventually, you will turn a blind eye to injustice and maybe even accept that it is part of politics. I see this in my country, where people dismiss substantive engagement or try to moderate their viewpoints to try and accommodate new ideologies.
Sticking by your beliefs, especially amidst a trying political environment, is not a sign of weakness, but strength. So please stick by yours as you embark on a political era in which they are at the risk of becoming part of a diminishing ‘liberal’ camp.
The American burden
For far too long the world has used the term ‘white man’s burden,’ to signify the euro-centric imperialist mindsets that dominate global politics. I witnessed it as a student in your country, hearing my classmates justify the endless interventions and invasions carried out by past US administrations. Whether you were one of those people who espoused such self-righteous beliefs or not, the reality is that ‘the west knows best’ is an outdated way of thinking.
Today, the world has a new problem to address: the American burden. But in this burden I see an opportunity; an opportunity for us to unite in our resolve and realise that we have more in common than we think; an opportunity to move past conventional classifications of the ‘third’ and ‘first’ worlds that pigeonhole countries as being advice-takers and givers. So lets use this opportunity to come together and break down those barriers. Besides, we certainly don’t need metaphorical barriers, when your President elect intends to erect physical ones.
An equally devastated, but slightly more optimistic Indian