I was talking to my dear friend Shahbaz when I was momentarily distracted. “Sorry bro,” I told him after staring at my browser for a moment. “Joe Biden just won the election!”
We both kinda knew it would happen by then, but it still gave me a jolt of happiness. Immediately I was reminded of something a friend had said during a group discussion four years ago.
“I don’t follow politics man! I mean, what does it matter who the American President is? How is the American Presidency going to affect our lives?”
I couldn’t formulate a comprehensive reply that day, even though I knew the answer. So four years later, here it is…
Picture Donald Trump wins reelection. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you shudder, but let’s do a thought experiment.
It’s January 20, 2021 and you’re sitting at home in Kerala, watching the man-shaped Cheeto almost burn his hand on the Bible as he is sworn in as President of the United States of America for the next four years.
Understandably you are cursing at the television, making your mother nervous enough to move the television remote from reaching distance lest it becomes an improvised projectile weapon. Your dad walks in and chuckles in amusement.
“Avade nadakkanadh kanditt ninakkenthada ethrem vigaaram?” (“Why are you getting so worked up seeing what’s happening in America?”)
For a moment you’re more worried than outraged as your father’s suspicious WhatsApp forwards about the origins of the Corona virus and the truth about climate change flash through your mind. But before you can reply, your father cheerfully tells your mother the following line:
“Swandham jillayille manthri aaranennariyilla, pinneyanavan Amerikayile Presidentinde patti veshamikkand!” (“He’s emotional about who the President of America is but he doesn’t even know who represents his own district!”)
You want to tell him about the geopolitical repercussions of the American Presidency, but you’re also trying to remember the name of that guy whose poster was stuck beside the tea stall wall for the past six months. Rebuttal and recollection at the same time short circuits your brain but thankfully your brother walks into the living room.
He announces that your relatives will arrive in 30 minutes’ time. “Why are they so late?” your mother complains, thinking about the dinner she’d prepared already.
Your brother sighs and explains once again that the relatives are flying in from the UK on Qatar Airways, which means the flight will be longer because Qatar Airways flights cannot pass over Saudi Arabian or UAE airspace. Your dad has left to take a bath and your mom is too preoccupied with considering whether your phone might be the new projectile weapon to pay attention.
An hour later, everyone is at the dinner table, exchanging stories. Your aunt informs everyone that her son won’t be returning to Dubai for work.
“It seems the economy is getting worse there now,” she laments. “It seems there might be a recession, God knows!”
Your mother, ever the skilled conversationalist and caring sister, deftly manages to change the conversation. “And how’s Anju doing?”
The maneuver backfires spectacularly, as is obvious by your uncle’s frantic pacification of his wife’s tears at the end of a ten-minute long rant. It turns out the software company in America let Anju go since there’d been drastic policy changes with regards to her H-1B visa. After four years of working there, she’ll be returning to Kerala next month.
Your cousin shrugs his shoulder, indifferent to the drama that’s just occurred around him. The teenager haughtily announces that it doesn’t matter. “World War 3 is going to start soon anyways!”
Everyone is slightly alarmed until the aspiring TikTok star explains the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and how the involvement of Turkey and Russia has drawn multiple countries into a potential war. By the time he’s done, your mom has managed to serve pudding to everyone and clearing the table too.
Patting his nephew’s head animatedly, your dad invites everyone to the living room. Your uncle grins the way someone does when he’s finally seized on a potentially interesting conversational topic. “Oh, are you all going to get that Arzapaltran vaccine?”
He is pleased, for everyone has an opinion about this issue. The vaccine for COVID-19 was just announced a few days ago, and it was extremely controversial.
Your elder brother is emphatically against it. “I’ve heard it’s not reliable at all. There are lot of issues with how they created it. And the company is not that reputed.”
“Nonsense! It’s perfectly fine! The central government has approved it!” your dad rebuts as your mother wonders out loud how much it costs.
“It doesn’t matter if the central government approved it,” you snap, getting annoyed. “The W.H.O. hasn’t finished testing it.”
“Who?” Your aunt asks.
“It’s pronounced as W.H.O., aunty,” your brother corrects her politely.
“What is?” your mother asks.
Two minutes later you and your brother have finally managed to untangle the difference between the abbreviation and the pronoun. You try to control your irritation as you explain to everyone in the room that the World Health Organization hasn’t been able to finish testing Arzapaltran or any of the half dozen alternative vaccines that have been produced. When your uncle asks why they’d be so slow, you take a deep breath and tell them that the World Health Organization’s funding has been severely reduced, dramatically affecting its operations.
“America is pulling about 400 million dollars from the World Health Organization!” You announce dramatically, and your severe facial expression doesn’t change even as your aunt excitedly asks how much that is in Rupees.
The conversation winds down and your relatives get ready to go home. As your uncle waits in the porch, he checks his WhatsApp and exclaims in disbelief.
“Ithukando?” (“Did you see this?”) he cries, showing your dad his phone.
It’s a video clip that’s been going viral for the past two hours. You haven’t seen it yet, but as you were having dinner, tens of thousands of fellow Malayalis were watching that video clip. The one that showed a riot that’d broken out in a particular state in North India. Thousands of houses have been torched and there’s full-blown communal unrest. Men are shown terrorizing families with their swords and sticks, tearful mothers growling at their feet to let their daughters go. It’s a harrowing clip that sucks out every drop of serenity from the atmosphere around you.
The nearly 3-minute silence on the porch is pierced by your teenage cousin’s question. The chubby, reliably apathetic teenager’s eyes are wide with shock as he asks his elders. “Where are the cops?”
You, your brother, your dad, and uncle all know that particular state’s cops won’t be doing anything to stop the flow of blood and tears.
Sadly, your dad and uncle don’t know that for the next four years at least, neither will the world’s cops.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States became the world’s only superpower. They were referred to as the world’s policeman because their economic prowess and global military presence meant they could effectively control matters.
No one country should be the world’s cop, and the United States has a long history of destroying democracies. However, this is not an article about the good and bad sides of American geopolitical influence. It’s about why we should be terrified of the bad becoming worse.
It’s easy to make fun of someone who’s overly excited by American politics. When you see a Malayali who’s never left Kerala tell you about how Clayton county in Georgia helped flip the 2020 election, it’s easy to tell them to calm down and focus on things that matter.
It’s a valid point to a certain degree. After all, you and I are better off making sure we have a productive day that refreshing the page a hundred times to see if the vote count has been updated. But restrain shouldn’t be confused with disregard.
Because Clayton county might be the reason why our lives improve dramatically over the next four years.
In the thought experiment we just did, I’ve tried to reference just some of the ways in which a Trump presidency would have influenced us directly. Donald Trump is the reason why Malayalis in Qatar cannot visit their friends in UAE. Or go to Saudi Arabia for Umra or Hajj pilgrimage.
By greenlighting the blockade of Qatar in 2017, Trump influenced the economic situation in the Middle East, dramatically reducing trade and commerce between the richest economies in the region.
Trump’s hardline (and ultimately self-defeating) approach to immigration means many Malayalis won’t be working in the U.S.
He doesn’t care about what happens in other countries, which is why the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict has gone unchecked. Unfortunately, we live in a world where powerful countries have to exert their influence to ensure smaller ones don’t go to war. So when an American President ignores foreign policy briefings, everyone suffers.
America’s exit from W.H.O. funding might not have immediately manifested itself in us not receiving a reliable vaccine, but the possibilities are endless.
None of us want an American President to be telling an Indian Prime Minister what to do. That would be an insult, which is why I’m sure all of us admire Jawarharlal Nehru’s policy of non-alignment at a time when most countries in the world were pressurised into choosing a slide in the Cold War, right?
But if, god forbid, the Indian Government turned a blind eye or actively sponsored the killing of its own citizens, say maybe through a paramilitary organization, what’s the best way to make sure you don’t die? Pray that the American President is someone who’ll pick up the call and tell his Indian counterpart to knock it off.
So yes, it does matter who the American President is. And you are completely justified in being emotionally invested in that struggle. You can even be forgiven for getting too carried away, because after all, whether you have better jobs, your family has better protection from a pandemic, your relatives have the ability to move freely and your children have the chance to breathe fresh air…is greatly determined by the men and women who occupy the Oval Office. At least for the foreseeable future.
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Feel free to send this article to any friend of yours who smugly tries to justify their political ignorance and shame you for your emotional investment in the American Presidency. It’s not cool to not care about what sayipps halfway across the world are doing. After all, that kind of thinking hasn’t served as well in the past, has it?
I’m not just talking about pre-1947 India. In the late 1970s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. Ambassador to India from 1973 to 1975, wrote in his book “A Dangerous Place” that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had provided funds to the Indian Congress Party in order to defeat the Communist government of Kerala in 1959.
That’s the world we live in. No matter if you’ve never stepped out of Kannur or consider the UAE your home country, Malayalis everywhere have had their past, present, and possible future shaped by the American Presidency.
“Okay, fine, I get that. But what can we do about it? If you tweet from Kerala what difference will it make to someone in Georgia?”
Sure, Malayalis are not (yet) in a position to influence American voters. But talking about the American election is not just about changing ballot counts. It’s about changing our own opinions.
Earlier this year countless Malayalis talked about racism within Kerala society because a black man named George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis.
Talking about the defunding of Planned Parenthood in Arizona allows you and your friends to express your opinion regarding abortion.
Mocking the senator who brought a snowball into the U.S. Senate will keep the conversation about climate change alive in your circles.
So that’s why we believe that the American Presidency will have as much (or maybe more) influence on our lives than our local MLA.
Looking to relax with a captivating thriller novel? Check out Marwan Razzaq’s debut novel, “The Man Who Found His Shadow”, available now on Amazon!