By some co-incidence, I saw the two most discussed TV events in America on the same day. On Friday morning, a few hours after it had taken place, I watched the final Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. And that evening I watched the second Borat movie on a streaming service.
I assume you know what the Borat movie is. If you don’t, here’s a brief rundown. Sacha Baron Cohen is a British comedian who has focused in recent years on showing us the seamy underbelly of American political life. His character Borat claims to be a TV journalist from Kazakhstan and routinely traps Americans (and their politicians) into exposing the bigoted sides of their personalities.
In the current movie, a sequel to the first Borat picture, one scene has attracted the most attention. Baron’s fifteen-year-old-daughter in the film (played by a European actress in her 20’s), decides to offer herself to Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and close ally.
She calls Giuliani to a hotel suite for a TV interview and then, when the interview is over, asks him to shift to the bedroom for a drink. Giuliani does not find this request odd and enthusiastically complies, reclines on the bed as she removes his recording equipment. Then comes the controversial bit. Giuliani puts his hand inside his trousers and appears to be manipulating something. It has been suggested that he is playing with, or at least, touching himself, perhaps because he is excited to be lying in a bed watching a pretty young girl.
Giuliani has denied this interpretation and claims that he was merely tucking his shirt into his trousers, having removed a microphone. I saw the shot and frankly, both interpretations seem to me to be plausible. And in any case, we never get a chance to find out what Giuliani’s intentions are because Cohen busts into the room before events can move forward. Cohen’s response to Giuliani’s explanation is that, in any case, it shows dodgy judgment for Giuliani to have rushed into the young woman’s bedroom and reclined on the bed.
I won’t make any judgment but the episode seems to fit into the trail of sleaze that has followed Trump around in recent years: he has famously bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, has been revealed to have paid off a porn star (who says she spanked his naked behind with a rolled up magazine) and many of his associates (including those who occupied high positions in his White House) are either in jail or out on bail.
My other visit to the world of Trump had come earlier in the day when I watched the debate. I am not an American and do not necessarily understand the concerns of American voters so I can’t say which candidate did better though it did seem to me that the debate would change few minds. Those who liked Trump would be pleased by his performance while Biden supporters would think their man had won.
What intrigued me though was Trump’s use of the world ‘filthy’ to describe India. (The exact quote is, “Look at India.It’s filthy. The air is filthy.”) You could argue, in Trump’s defence, that this was a mere statement of fact. But you could also conclude that it was an ugly thing to say about a friendly country. America has one of the world’s highest murder rates but I can’t imagine an Indian Prime Minister ever referring to “murderous America” or “the bloody streets of America”. That too would be a statement of fact but not the sort of thing friends say about each other. And in any case, is Trump a friend of India? We may get the impression that he is because our government has sometimes crossed the line into American domestic politics to pander to him. (The Howdy Modi rally, for instance, may have gone too far.) But it is hard to argue that he has done more for India than say, George W Bush, who fought for the nuclear deal or even Barack Obama who welcomed Narendra Modi into the community of world leaders, even appearing on a Mann Ki Baat with him.
Certainly PIOs living in the US don’t have much affection for Trump. Polls suggest that something like 70 per cent of them will vote for his opponent. And yet, among a small but loud minority of NRIs and PIOs, there is a constant attempt on social media to boost Trump’s prospects and to even run down Kamala Haris, the only politician of part-Indian origin to have got so far in US politics without playing down her Indian heritage.
What accounts for those loud expressions of support for Trump? I have never been able to fully work it out. Four years ago, when the Trump-Hillary battle was raging, I did a TV programme trying to figure out why Trump was so popular with a certain kind of Indian. Some of it was Hillary-hatred. (Fair enough. I was never a great fan of her’s either though hatred is putting it too strongly.) But a lot of it went beyond all bounds of rationality.
There were sangh parivar-types who even celebrated Trump’s birthday and others who passionately supported his candidacy. The harder I looked to try and find what it was that drew them to Trump, only one answer suggested itself. They liked Trump because he had called for a ban on Muslims entering the US.
That anti-Muslim feeling struck many of Trump’s Indian fans as being their sort of thing. Hence the birthday cakes and the loud expressions of support. To be fair, perhaps some of his Indian fans believed that this sentiment would translate into a pro-India and anti-Pakistan foreign policy. In fact, continuity in US foreign policy has been maintained and it is hard to see how Pakistan has lost out because of Trump.
Nor does his alleged anti-Muslim sentiment seem to influence policy in the rest of the world. The US continues to be friends with much of the Islamic world (the Saudis, for instance, have Trump in their pocket) and the President is happy to visit Muslim countries. As for his concern about India’s border disputes, John Bolton, Trump’s former National Security Advisor writes that Trump did not know that India had a border with China.
In a couple of weeks we will know how this ends. After the upset results in the last election, most American commentators are hesitant to make any predictions about this race. But most polls suggest that Trump will lose.
Should that happen, South Block will have to do some hasty backtracking as will sections of the Indian political establishment. And his loudest supporters here on social media will have to come to the inescapable conclusion that when you love someone only because he uses anti-Muslim rhetoric , that doesn’t get you very far in foreign policy terms.
Like Giuliani in the Borat film, many of Trump’s Indian fans will be left adjusting their trousers. (Or at least, that’s what they will claim they were doing.)
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