In Bengaluru and still talking about Donald Trump

Initially, this piece had nothing to do with Donald Trump. It had nothing to with American politics whatsoever. I set out to write about my experience visiting an office and a local university in Bengaluru. I thought, maybe I will discuss outsourcing or the importance of community journalism. But once I started writing, what I needed to say became clear. I needed to write about Donald Trump.

Last week I visited an American company whose Indian staff generates lecture and homework content for American universities. I talked with a group of employees. They asked how I was adjusting to life in Bengaluru and why Americans don’t use pressure cookers—they are preparing for a month-long training session in California and needed to know whether they should just pack their own. I answered their questions about Irvine and explained my confusion with the Indian head shake. We covered the basics and then.

“Who are you voting for,” one of them asked me, referring to the American presidential election this November. This was not the first time, and certainly won’t be the last time, I have been asked this question since arriving in India. Don’t get me wrong, I invite the question. I hope by answering this question and engaging in a dialogue with those that ask, I’ll show them not all Americans are narcissistic bigots, supportive of globalisation only when convenient.

I answer the question, forthright, adding a disparaging joke about Trump.

Talk of Trump quickly transitioned into a discussion around outsourcing. Trump’s anti-outsourcing rhetoric hasn’t fallen on deaf ears in India—known for its booming outsourcing industry. Some were defensive. What would happen to India if a US president “ended outsourcing,” an idea Trump has indiscreetly toyed with. Indian media have covered this, explaining the negative impacts a Trump presidency would have on the subcontinent. The hits the IT and automobile industry would take are frequently discussed, as are what his xenophobia would mean for H-1B visa applicants and international security efforts. 

The Wire wrote a piece earlier this year on how Trump’s “globophobia” would be a “blow to India.”

“Trump’s protectionist wild talk is disconcerting,” Uttara Choudhury wrote. “Trump has hit a sensitive American nerve on fears of what is derisively called “globophobia.” Sadly, what muscle-flexing Trump doesn’t tell voters is that the American people will finally end up paying these taxes, which, as with any levies, will be embedded in the price of the product.”

And this, written by Seema Sirohi in Scroll, is my favorite passage from any story on India and Donald Trump: “So what would a Trump presidency mean for India? There is no concrete answer yet – only attempts to glean meaning from half-completed sentences delivered in a distracted, rambling style that jumps topics like a grasshopper.”

It’s as nice to see Indian media harping on Trump as it is to develop a common bond with someone here over a mutual loathing of the guy. Trump’s toxic masculinity, misogynistic comments, racism, bigotry, and inability to articulate (Hey! He’s not a “professor in grammar!”), are often enough to get a person, American or not, to abhor him. And if that’s not enough, his anti-globalisation remarks will do it.

Given the frequency of the Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton questions, I was not surprised when I was once again asked about Trump a few days later, this time by a college student. During a visit to a university in Bengaluru for a journalism workshop hosted by Citizen Matters and Radio Active, I spoke briefly to students about the process of writing a story, pretending all the while that I myself wasn’t in their shoes five minutes ago. But before the leaders of the workshop delved into interviewing and pitching, the founder of Citizen Matters gave a talk on the basics of solution journalism. As she was highlighting its connection to spreading awareness around local issues, a debate around voting began to brew.

In Bengaluru voting participation is less than stellar; the voter turnout is around 50 percent in a given neighborhood on average, according to my colleagues here at Citizen Matters. For a few minutes students debated the importance of voting. Then I, as an American unfamiliar with Bengaluru politics, was asked to share my perspective on voting. I mumbled something about how it’s your civic duty to vote and am immediately asked a follow-up: what are Americans opposed to both Clinton and Trump doing? Why should they vote if they don’t like either candidate? I stand by my statement. Everyone should vote, still. If everyone says their vote doesn’t matter then, well, that’s how Trump becomes president.

I’m not sure this audience realised how common that question, why vote if you dislike either candidate, is debated in the US After Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, officially dropping out of the race for president, many people I know exclaimed, via Facebook of course, that they would not be voting at all. That “if Bernie wasn’t in the race, well… the whole thing is corrupt anyway and my vote counts for nothing! “Bernie or bust!” I’ve been involved in or overheard this debate many, many, many, many times. The difference in discussing this in the Bengaluru classroom vs. with a group of me peers in Seattle, was the level of discomfort that’s usually present in these conversations was absent.

Talking to Bengalureans about the American election and gaining an understanding of their perspective on the process has been enlightening. Of course I knew prior to coming to India that the outcome of the American presidential election was of global importance, as it has global impacts. When I studied in Serbia two years ago, I was asked frequently about White racism and racial tension between African Americans and White Americans in the US. It was 2014, unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown had just been murdered by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests erupted in Ferguson and made headlines across the world. That’s when I learned not only Americans were watching America and American politics, the world was watching.

The newspaper headlines in Serbia that summer initiated many conversations with strangers. I talked to Serbians about the militarisation of the American police and police violence, granted I am white and was 20-years-old at the time, I couldn’t contribute to the dialogue, but I answered their questions nonetheless. The things they asked me I’d never been asked before, they were so direct, and this directness was mind-opening.

When you’re abroad, I’ve learned, the sensitivity and desire to be politically-correct that normally hovers over a conversation around politics in the US is gone. There’s no beating around the bush, why should there be? This means refreshingly truthful dialogues around candidates and issues can be had. As in many countries, politics in the US are incredibly divisive; we are encouraged to avoid discussing hot-button issues, even with close friends. Being in an environment entirely absent of these unspoken rules and norms I’m accustomed to means I am able to engage and debate in a new way and without fear of judgement.

Of course, many Bengalureans have their favorite candidates and many dislike Trump, but because they haven’t had a steady media diet (more like force-feeding) of Trump and Clinton for months and months, their take on the election, on Donald Trump, is distinct. These conversations, both in India and in Serbia have taught me a lot about how America is perceived globally, and the position it holds in global politics.

During that classroom visit, none of the journalism students could name the Bengaluru mayor or the BBMP commissioner. I am told this is not as telling as it seemed to me, “the mayor doesn’t really do anything.” Fair, but I bet every single one of them could name the American Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. Who knows, maybe that’s just because this year we have “The Donald” and the first female nominee in US history, it is a particularly entertaining show after all.

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