After a sweeping victory in last week’s New York primary, Donald Trump will in all likelihood be the Republican Party’s candidate for the United States presidential election in November. As Trump readies for the race to the White House, much has been said about the similarities between him and his potential future counterpart in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Both Modi and Trump are melodramatic and self-admiring. Trump puts his own nameplate in gold on everything he owns. He consistently proclaims himself as the smartest, brightest and richest.
Modi not only writes his name all over his suit, but his four favourite words are “I”, “me”, “my” and “mine”. Modi also takes his “style icon” role seriously. Both Modi and Trump work hard to depict themselves as alpha males and women are the bedrock of their support base.
Narendra Modi and Donald Trump also take good care to project themselves as outsiders and claim dubious but discernable records of being decisive and highly successful.
Despite inheriting a fortune from his father and then claiming bankruptcy four times to wiggle out of financial trouble, Trump declares himself as a very rich and successful businessman. Similarly, Gujarat was relatively a developed and rich state in India before Modi became the chief minister. But he credited himself for everything the state has achieved while successfully concealing the ugly side of his development model.
Both Modi and Trump have tamed Twitter to circumvent the mainstream media. Trump’s Twitter handle has more than seven million followers, while Modi is followed by more than 19 million. Apart from the adulation, both enjoy attention an army of internet trolls as well.
Trump like Modi is equally relaxed about the obnoxious language that many of his social media supporters use against critical and independent voices. They even openly provide patronage and encouragement to their abusive “toadies”.
Modi and Trump are overtly xenophobic and uncouth while addressing the public and use it to their fully advantage to enthuse their political support base. Trump’s utterance about Mexicans matches Modi’s grandstanding on Bangladeshis. Trump boasts about building a “great wall” on the US’ southern border to stop “evil” Mexicans entering the United States. Before the 2014 general elections, Modi had similarly bragged, “You can write it down. After May 16, these Bangladeshis better be prepared with their bags packed.”
Lesser of two evils
However, unlike Trump, Modi has already become the elected leader of his country. At this point, Trump is only the top aspirant to be his party’s nominee and his presidency is still a remote possibility as he will have compete with the Democratic Party’s candidate, who will most likely be Hillary Clinton.
Since Donald Trump became a front-runner in the race for the Republican Party’s nomination, the American mainstream media has been preoccupied with the question of “What if he becomes President?” Besides worries over the survival of the Republican Party, questions are also being raised over whether America could survive a Trump presidency.
Despite these legitimate concerns, Americans should be happy and relieved that Trump’s main rival, Ted Cruz, is most likely going to be knocked out of the race for the Republican Party’s nomination. The prospect of Cruz in the White House is far more terrifying than a President Trump.
Donald Trump may be a boastful hypocrite, but he is also good at making deals. He is a businessman and knows how to negotiate and compromise. His philosophy of governance will not be governed by any firm ideological or religious principle. Trump is ignorant and impulsive, but has the ideological flexibility needed to govern a large, powerful and racially divided country. As former US president Jimmy Carter describes, Trump does not have “any fixed opinions that he would really go to the White House and fight for.”
Combination of traits
That makes Trump different from Modi and Cruz. Narendra Modi might have a Trump-like big mouth and a tempestuous reputation, but unlike Trump, he adheres to sharp ideological line. In this context, Modi is more like Ted Cruz, who is power-hungry, uncompromising, confrontational and a habitual exaggerator.
Cruz and Modi have poignant family history and both also manipulatively and repeatedly use the stories of their rise from humble beginnings for political gains. Both are ideologically indoctrinated. Not only that, they also have firm religious belief and political conviction on how their country should exist. Both also project themselves as anti-establishment and fighting against the privileged elites, and claim the victimhood of the liberal media.
Countering the comparison in public discourse between Modi and Trump, Modi supporters claim that Trump is not Modi and Modi is not Trump. And they are absolutely right. Modi is not Trump alone, he is Trump and Cruz put together in one package. On the whole, Modi sounds like Trump but thinks like Cruz. He ably combines Trump’s idiosyncrasy and Cruz’s dogma.
Whatever happens in its presidential election on November 8, the United States is never going to get both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as its presidents. So the country and its well wishers not need not be very apprehensive over the election process and its outcome.
If Indian democracy can manage to keep itself alive with a Trump and Cruz combination in the form of Modi, American democracy certainly can withstand one of them if needed. Moreover, the United States has more to celebrate, given that a Ted Cruz Presidency is becoming a very distant possibility. Trump would be easily manageable in comparison.
Ashok Swain is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.