The US poll is like a card game that reminds you that the joker often comes up trumps

Trump might be more surprised by his victory than Clinton by her defeat. But such is the world we call electoral politics.

A semiotics expert shrewdly watching politics once told me a man can only become president of the United States if he looks like a cartoon. Think of Ronald Reagan or Bush I and II. It is true for India also. Narendra Modi looks like a piece from Madame Tussauds. Donald Trump looks like a leftover from Mad magazine. Hilary Clinton carries the weight of history and the historicity of her husband. She is like a bad piece out of the New Yorker while Trump reads like a graphic novel. His daughter and wife are perfect accompaniments, nay accomplices, to his career. Clinton appears like a set of broken promises, bits of glass that do not connect as a kaleidoscope. Trump is a cartoon whose career will be a caricature of his promised self.

Reality, values, consistency play a serious part in the construction of both. Clinton is a collage of broken moments – feminist democratic, internationalist. She has played pied piper to many multinationals. She sounds like a hypocrite, a part of the upper-class establishment that talks values but insists others should pursue it. She is real, historical and tired.

Trump is sheer fiction. His reality stems from his power to exaggerate. He is part American salesman, part playboy playing out the repressions of middle America. He represents a working class that is threatened by loss of work. He is a hard hat representation of a working and blue-collar working class.

Both emphasise their anxieties by immediate threats. The enemy, says Trump, needs to be extradited, interned and exorcised without any of the human rights claptrap that Clinton or the New York Times may want. Trump is outrageous, provocative, a salesman of the repressions of an America that is not quite global. Clinton is cosmopolitan, hypocritical. Trump sounds like a combination of a bully, a Sunday sermon and an obscene joke. Clinton sounds like a prevaricating editorial, a representative of all the institutions that create the credibility gap in America – from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

Clinton sounds like the United Nations secretary general, a post she could have filled with greater elan. Trump sounds like something that preceded the Monroe Doctrine – which warned European nations against interference in US interests – isolationist, a salesman pretending to be Old Testament, calling for God to strike with thunder and lightning anyone who seeks to outsource America.

Symbolic battle

The electoral battle was not so much an ideological war but a semiotic battle where Trump was a believable version of himself. Trump could only be Trump while Clinton pretended to be too many people caught in a ganglion of too many issues. Clinton sounded confused trying to please too many people. Trump echoed a simple catechism. Clinton sounded like a multi-cultural handbook in a congregation of hard hats wanting immigration to end.

Both were readings of the global world. Clinton read America like the former British Prime Minister David Cameron read the European Union. Trump had the simplicity of Brexit. Any outsider, in fact all outsiders, was the enemy regardless of whether they were Chinese, Arab or Mexican. Globalisation to Trump was anti-American. But for Clinton, globalisation was the next step in the American dream. She sounded like an area studies handbook, Trump was a simplified America. Clinton looked like something from a salon, Trump from a bar room brawl.

Clinton was politically correct, liberal, democratic and cosmopolitan. Trump was a bull in a China shop in a world tired of China shops, tired of delicacy when it demanded immediacy. Oddly, Trump came out as more honest than Clinton. In a Bible thumping heartland, an Old Testament prophet in the garb of a salesman is more effective than a feminist liberal. For Trump, boasting about grabbing beautiful women “by the pussy” was mere locker room talk. Clinton was coy but people felt that Trump in his Playboy candidness was more real than the Clintons. An advocate of porn is preferable to a hypocrite with backroom indulgences. Trump’s promises sounded real, simple, like a medicinal advertisement. Clinton reeked of policy documents that have little credibility. In fact, Trump as the inexperienced outsider contained more of Horatio Alger’s America than Clinton who reeked of the establishment. It showed that a movement that speaks the language of experts and policy cannot match the language of folklore.

Trump may not have articulated new dreams but at least he played out old repressions. Clinton sounded like a collection of old dreams and promises that were difficult to redeem. It was like Ivy League battling working class America as the true locus of the American dream. A John Kennedy could enact Camelot. Clinton’s Camelot had too many vacancies. It failed as a poetic act. A bad epic sometimes is no match for a Falstaffian limerick. It is not the content of the message alone but the messenger. Trump is the Barnum of the communication world. Clinton as political soprano lost her voice.

The American election is like a card game that reminds you that the joker often comes up trumps. Clinton becomes a period piece who can be confined to history as Trump steps out to create it. This was a communication and semiotic war where idols were vandalised and iconoclasts valorised. In a strange iconic way, Trump might be more surprised by his victory than Clinton by her defeat. But such is the world we call electoral politics.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.