Part of the reason why Donald J. Trump is so hard for many Americans to stomach is that there is something rather un-American about his politics. His success rests on importing and utilizing political strategies from another country; India.
Much of the Trump agenda including ethnonationalism, anti-Islamic rhetoric, and claims that white Christian America is threatened; was just so different from previous campaign norms, that it completely befuddled his opponents and pundits alike. A great deal of Trumpism was nothing like Americans have ever seen before, even if it was draped in the flag and archaic phrases like “America First.”
Trump’s strategy of appealing to narrow segments of the electorate on ethnic, racial, or religious grounds is drawn straight from Indian politics. That is no mistake because America and India far more in common than many people realize.
Like the United States, India is a large multiethnic, multi-religious, and multicultural democracy composed of many states. It is also an English-speaking nation; with very similar legal and political traditions and institutions, inherited from the British Empire.
Trump’s Indian Strategy
Since independence in 1947, Indian political parties have won votes by appealing to voters along ethnic and religious lines. In a practice called vote banking, politicians grant concessions or privileges to particular ethnic or religious groups in exchange for votes.
A good example of vote banking is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh; which added the Rashtriya Ulema Council to its leadership, Livemint reported. The council is a group of Islamic scholars and legal experts, the hope is that the members of the Ulema will get out the Muslim vote for the BSP.
Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) uses appeals to Hindus, India’s religious group, to win votes. It has made protection of cows; which Hindus regard as sacred, from slaughter a policy since taking power in 2014, for example.
Likewise, Trump has made a strong appeal to Evangelical Christian leaders in the United States. He gave the commencement address at the cradle of American fundamentalist-thought Liberty University and won the endorsement of the well-known evangelical leader and educator Jerry Falwell Jr for example.
The strategy paid off when 80% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump in November 2016, The Washington Post reported. White Evangelicals make up a just 25.4% of the US population, but their population is concentrated certain states. That guaranteed Trump a specific number of Electoral College votes and the presidency.
The obvious conclusion we can draw is that somebody in the Trump campaign; quite probably former Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus, made a careful study of Indian politics. That person or persons then adapted the BJP’s tactics for American elections.
Indian Style Vote Banking Explains Trump and Roy Moore
Since getting elected Trump has repaid Evangelicals in several ways. He appointed two of their number: Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (R-Michigan) to cabinet positions. DeVos is a well-known radical Evangelical who favors the replacement of secular public education with privately-financed religious schools.
Sessions and Trump have repaid Evangelicals for their support by using the Justice Department in efforts to suppress abortion reminiscent of the BJP’s cow protection. Many Evangelicals regard abortion as a sin. Sessions’ Justice Department even asked the U.S. Supreme Court to punish two American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorneys that helped a 17-year-old girl in Texas obtain an abortion, The Los Angeles Times reported.
In another sop to Evangelicals, Trump appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court and has promised to pack courts with right-leaning judges. The President has championed Roy Moore, the Christian radical U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, who has been accused of statutory rape.
Moore is something of a folk hero to some U.S. Evangelicals for his insistence on installing a monument to the Ten Commandments in Alabama’s Supreme Court in defiance of a federal judge years ago. Moore was even removed from his position as that state’s Chief Justice for refusing to enforce separation of church and state.
Disturbingly, some polls indicate Alabama Evangelicals’ support for Moore grew after the allegations which caused leftist attacks on him to mount. That is a pattern of behavior common in Indian politics where Hindu and Moslem vote bankers rally around their candidates no matter what they do.
All of this is classic Indian style-vote banking reminiscent of Indian political parties such as the BJP. For decades, the BJP has used the hysteria of a “Muslim vote bank” that threatens Indian democracy and secular society. Trump has stoked such hysterical fears as the notion of a war on Christmas by secularists.
How Democrats can Vote Bank Too
The BJP was able to win the vote in Uttar Pradesh; where Muslims make up 30% of the electorate, by running mostly Hindu candidates, The Hindustan Times reported. This, of course, points to a troubling strategy that Democrats or Trump opponents can use: they can run against the big bad Evangelicals whom they brand as a threat to American democracy and secularism.
That sounds close to what Democrat Doug Jones, Roy Moore’s opponent in Alabama is doing. Polls indicate that Jones is running neck and neck with Moore in a historically Republican state. Alabama is a 49% Evangelical state, but Jones can appeal to African American voters that view Moore as a racist.
All Democrats have to do to thwart Trump’s vote banking is to vote bank secularists, blacks, and other groups that feel threatened by evangelicals, and politicians that pander to them. This might bode ill for religious freedom in America because some secularists might run on a policy of limiting the freedoms of Christians or others.
Disturbingly, Trump has provided a template for such efforts with his hysterical crusade against Muslims. One way the Donald does that is by spreading hysterical stories or anecdotes, for example, the nonsense about Muslims dancing in the streets of New Jersey after the September 11 attacks.
Anti-Christian candidates can spread similar horror stories for instance tales of Christians burning books or planning terrorism. Liberal media outlets in the United States are already filled with scare stories about Evangelical efforts to destroy public education and suppress women’s rights. Some of them are disturbingly reminiscent of some of the BJP’s anti-Muslim propaganda.
How Vote-Banking can lead to Murder
There is a very dark side to Indian vote banking; Ummar Khan a Muslim farmer was murdered in Rajastan’s Alwar district on 11 November 2017, Reuters reported. Police suspect Khan died because he was in a truck hauling cows to a slaughterhouse. Khan was killed in a shootout between cow smugglers and Hindu fanatics.
The attackers were part of the Gau rakshaks; a movement of self-styled Hindu vigilantes dedicated to protecting cows from butchers at all costs. Disturbingly, Khan was the second Muslim farmer lynched by Gau rakshaks in India this year. Khan’s wife accused local Modi supporters of being involved in her husband’s murder.
This is very reminiscent of the local hate crimes in the United States carried out by white nationalists emboldened by Trump’s victory. There have also been attacks on Trump supporters and sympathizers by anti-Trump zealots. Trump has not only imported Indian-style vote banking to America, he’s inspired Indian-style political violence.
The Future of Vote Banking in America
Modi’s government in India provides a possible template for Trump’s future actions. Once the Donald has shored up his base among Christians and White Nationalists, he is likely to attempt radical social or economic reforms designed to generate popular support.
Modi has already attempted this through demonetization, declaring most of India’s paper money worthless on 8 November 2016. His government has also discussed radical social policies such as basic income.
There is a precedent for such a radical turn to the left in American history. Trump’s role model and icon President Richard M. Nixon (R-California) used vote banking of whites to win elections; then proposed a very radical agenda that included basic income and single-payer health care before his administration collapsed in the Watergate debacle.
Only history will tell if Trump will repeat Modi’s success (so far) or Nixon’s debacle. There is one certainty; Donald J. Trump has changed American politics by adopting Indian methods, and few Americans seem to have noticed.