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Why desis supported Trumpism

Last updated on: November 14, 2020 12:04 IST
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In this moment there has to be honest acknowledgement of how so many in our community willingly voted for another four years of Trump, based on the morally flimsiest of reasons, points out Suleman Din.

IMAGE: US President Donald J Trump at the Arlington National Cemetery, November 11, 2020. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

My introduction to Trumpworld was served alongside a plate of chicken tikka.

I was at an opulent dinner party in one of New Jersey's most upscale neighborhoods, and I found myself alone at a table for men.

Immediately I felt embarrassed for opting to eat with naan triangles while everyone else sliced through kabobs and samosas with silverware.

But no one noticed, because they were too busy jokingly discussing how Ben Carson was an example of the token Black person in medical school.

The same Ben Carson who directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center at age 33 -- but to these desi doctor Trump supporters, his blackness meant stupidity and laziness, saved only by affirmative action in college admissions.

I listened for a few minutes before I pushed my chair back, stood up, and excused myself, leaving my plate as it was.

"My apologies, I seem to have lost my appetite," I said.

The table fell silent, and one man who had been gently admonishing the rest spoke to me. "Brother..." he began, but I had already turned away.

South Asians in America -- be it Indians, Pakistanis, or Bangladeshis -- I'm sorry; you don't get to claim Kamala Harris.

You don't get to fully celebrate this rebellion against four years of incompetent rule and the rejection of vile racism writ as national policy.

No, in this moment there has to be honest acknowledgement of how so many in our community willingly voted for another four years of Trump, based on the morally flimsiest of reasons.

Additionally, there must be recognition of our near total failure to be allies of other minorities here in America.

The exit polls bear a hard truth: A sizable portion of South Asians voted for Trump in this election.

The reasons are not broken down in any official study yet, but anecdotally they are very clear.

Racial prejudice is absolutely a motivator; never mind that to the average red-hatted dimwit, all brown people are secret agents of Shariah, no matter if you are Muslim or not.

A number of desis here nurture the beliefs I heard at the dinner table that night.

Perhaps ingrained by 'model minority' conditioning, they share with Trump supporters the same opposition to Black Lives Matter, for instance: That it is simply a cover for opportunistic looting, and if the Blacks only obeyed the police, there would be no problems.

(Despite the fawning press he received from the Indian media, Rahul Dubey was an anomaly. Would you have opened your door to protestors?)

When Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate, there was plenty of negative reaction from desis for Trump who said she wasn't Indian, obviously disgusted by the fact that her father was Jamaican.

Where traditional negative attitudes toward blackness among South Asians meets buying into tired stereotypes about African-Americans, I leave to social scientists to decipher.

It is lost on these same South Asians that they are in fact skimming the benefits of the same affirmative action education policies and diversity hiring imperatives that are direct descendants of civil rights activism and hard-fought litigation in America.

That when Trump and his ilk deny systemic racism exists in the country, that means law enforcement are free to treat them badly too.

Of course, they don't feel the pinch, not until they are treated badly at an airport by law enforcement or see how the route for their work visa has become significantly blockaded.

But for those desis who have naturalized here, even the issue of curtailed H1-Bs loses potency.

Because selfishness is another defining reason for desi Trump supporters.

If it doesn't apply to me, so what? There is no interest in supporting the greater civic good; just cut my taxes, cut my taxes, cut my taxes.

There's a reason why so many desis have settled in Texas and Florida: Big houses, big cars, private communities and no personal income tax.

Yes, mandirs and mosques can get them to open their wallets for tributes and aggrandizement, but paying into supporting the community they live in at large? The prevalent mentality is more 'Pound Salt' than Salt March.

I had one opportunity to sway at least one South Asian voter who was leaning toward Trump because of his concerns about rising taxes under a Biden administration.

As his friends assailed him on Facebook about the threat that Trump posed to minorities like us, I instead stuck to his stated concern and pointed him to the Biden campaign's economic proposals, which only targeted the uber-wealthy, and received commendation from fiscal scholars at the Wharton School of Business.

And I pointed out that campaign plans don't necessarily translate into similar Congressional action, if at all.

By the end, he was at least mollified.

Of course, there are those in this community who are leading progressive political efforts or joined Democrat causes and have earned public office -- Congresswoman Pramila Jaypal and Congressman Ro Khanna among the most visible examples.

There were grassroots efforts among desis here against Trump too. They See Blue was just one of many desi-anchored groups that worked against Trumpism.

Young desis in America are out there feeding and agitating for the homeless, raising bail money for protesters, driving around rural America organizing farm workers, doing legal clinics for refugees. And that hopefully is the new direction in which our community evolves in political participation.

But within the Trump administration, South Asians were disproportionately represented.

We had Nikki Haley, Seema Verma, Ajit Pai and even Indra Nooyi lent her cred as an advisory member.

We had Raj Shah as a mouthpiece in the early days of the administration.

We just had the appointment of a Patel by Trump even as he bitterly sinks into the reality of his defeat.

And don't for a second cross out the fusion of Trumpism and Diaspora politics here, particularly among the hardliners.

Why else would we play host to lavish displays of 'Howdy Modi', both here and in India, yet during this election campaign not a single 'Kemcho Biden',"or 'Salaam Kamala?'

If I had to guess what has contributed to this rot, it is that South Asians, by in large, still remain insulated from other communities here in the US.

Now I'm sure desis would like to dispute any suggestion that they are ghettoized, and will argue the community is a diverse array of experiences and individuals including long-time immigrants, newly arrived, and those born and raised here.

But whether by occupational choice or familial ties, most live in certain urban clusters, whether Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago or New York.

So the exposure to pure Trumpism isn't there.

They can read about it, they can see it on TV or on social media, but it isn't in their face.

Living in Central Pennsylvania for the past year-and-a-half, I have not had that buffer.

The Trump/Pence signs troublesomely multiplied around us as we neared November -- at traffic stops, on manicured lawns, along country roadsides, posted outside businesses.

There was a sense of inevitability to it.

Here even in this liberal college town you brushed up against Trump's influence and his followers everywhere.

There were the malicious: The blonde woman who barged past us at the Wal-Mart, sans mask but brandishing a .22 revolver in her jeans waist. (Kicked out moments later only for not having a properly holstered handgun.)

Or the pickup emblazoned with a number of skull-motif stickers of the Oathkeepers, a far-right anti-government militia, outside the local arcade parlor.

'I am the descendent of men who would not be ruled', read one.

IMAGE: US President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Dr Jill Biden at a Veterans Day observance in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 11, 2020. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

And, of course, there were the absurd, like the idiot who tried to pass off a made-in-China Donald Trump 2020 novelty bill as legal tender at the Burger King, or the displays of slow-witted backcountry political activism -- like the mop-haired, business-suited mannequin you had to pass on the way to the state park, who held up a sign stating how he was going to defend us against socialism and China.

The danger of Trumpism and authoritarianism was no clearer than the moment when my wife and I watched as two state police officers brought in a young African-American male into the hospital lobby as I waited to be seen.

He began calling for help, asking for anyone to contact his family.

He happened to be a student in the same school where my wife teaches.

She took out her phone to record his plea.

We went inside to sit with a nurse when in barged the police officers, another security officer as well as other hospital staff, demanding that my wife delete the recording on her phone.

The nurse who was checking on me stopped too until my wife complied.

"You aren't the civic police," the officer barked.

My 17-year-old daughter was so nervous that Trump was going to be elected to a second term that she couldn't bear to watch the news every time I turned it on.

Everything my daughter has witnessed here, she was quick to decode.

The Blue Lives Matter flag, the Confederate flag, the MAGA and TRUMP TRAIN banners, the #QAnon placards and anti-mask bumper stickers: people animated by prejudice and hate.

So she said, every time she spoke about it.

There was no one else in her mind who could support this incompetent buffoon or this level of nativist thought.

I didn't have the heart to tell her otherwise.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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