My father, who turns 94 this week, bless his heart, taught me any number of lessons, which I, of course, paid little attention to at the time. All of them have come back to me over the years, in an accurate reflection of the truism—it is remarkable how smart your parents get as you get older. One of Dad’s homilies which I particularly disdained as a kid was that “It’s not how well or badly you do that’s important, it’s how well or badly you do relative to expectations.” He played poker for a living for a couple of years, so I guess he learned how to get the best out of the cards you were dealt.
This advice is, of course, red meat (or dhokla, as the case may be) for politicians—it doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you are able to keep the electorate happy after you win. And this is where demagogues end up falling short.
Take Modi, for instance. When he won the election in a landslide, his popularity was off the charts; like a fool, even I believed that since his clear dream was to be remembered as India’s greatest leader, he would have to do only the right things. Fast forward two-and-a-half years and, while his government has certainly done a lot of the right things—from reducing open defecation to focusing on the girl child to substantially strengthening the macro framework—his popularity is wa-a-y down from May 2014. And it is not just the social liberals and the entire gamut of minorities (from women to Muslims to Dalits to Christians to you name it), but the plain (Hindu) people of India, who had voted for Modi with real hope in their hearts, who have turned virulently against him.
A couple of months ago, I was speaking to a cabdriver from Allahabad, who said with angry conviction, “Aate hue election main Modi ko UP main ek bhi vote nahi milega!” I was shocked. He was pissed off because of all of Modi’s promises—“Kaha ke har ek ke liye bank account kholkar ek lakh rupya dalega; kya hua? Bank account kholne ke liye hame paisa bharna pada. Kaha ke garib ko kaccha ghar pacca banane ke liya paise dega; kya hua? Baarish mein kai garib mar gaye kaccha ghar mein.”
He’s certainly not voting for Modi and, even if the politically well-timed demonetisation enables the BJP to do well, it is this voter’s visceral anger that tells the tale. At the next Parliamentary election, the BJP may well win the most seats—there is no real opposition—but its majority will certainly be severely curtailed.
Turning to Trump, his promises were so extravagant that they made even Modi’s seem sensible and modest. Building a wall along the Mexican border—I can’t imagine anything more foolish and unimplementable, and there is already at least one Republican Congressman demanding that he start on this immediately. Trump is already babbling about deporting millions of illegal immigrants—another well-nigh impossible task, that, as another Republican Congressman has already said, would decimate US agriculture. Rescinding trade agreements left, right and centre – even if he can put it together, the disruption this caused would affect the US, which is the largest player in global trade most of all, push up inflation and create a recession. Making US companies pay a 35% tax on products sold into the US from factories overseas—an eminent idea, but which flies in the face of his current articulated plan to charge US companies with $2.6 billion in overseas profits just 10% tax to bring the money in.
Without doubt, the boy is very quickly going to generate a lot of dissatisfaction even amongst many of his own, who voted for him because they genuinely believed he would do exactly as he said—classic demagogic success.
Add this to the protests taking place by Americans who feel that their own basic rights are being threatened; there are already hundreds of horror stories of threats and worse being reported from around the country. These protests, which reflect the beliefs of millions of Americans, are certainly not going to die down any time soon.
To his credit, Trump did highlight the genuine concerns of millions of other Americans who, simply put, fear that their country is changing much too rapidly for their taste. To create a sound body politic, it is imperative that these concerns and hopes are also taken into consideration. But, Trump’s bull in a china shop approach will only result in politics biting back at his ample backside.
Further, given his ego, it is hard to see how he will be able to respond calmly to what will continue to be a barrage of criticism; equally, given his “I am the only one that knows how to…”, it is hard to see how he will be able to manage the structural constraints on what he can do. He is only the president of the US, not the king.
It seems a good bet that inside of eighteen months of taking office, he will either resign or, more likely, be impeached. (Un)remarkably, I am not alone in this belief—professor Alan Lichtman, one of few academics who had predicted Trump’s victory, has also predicted that he will be impeached by the Republican Congress so they can get someone in who they can work with more effectively.
The author is MD, Mecklai Financial. Views are personal