Commentary by Seshadri Kumar in Houston, Texas
Donald Trump fought and defeated Hillary Clinton, the media, fellow Republicans and conventional wisdom on his way to the American Presidency.
I have watched at least eight presidential elections in the U.S. up close. As an immigrant journalist, I had the opportunity to cover the nomination speech of George H.W. Bush at the Republican National Convention, in Houston, in 1992, when the senior Bush lost the election to Bill Clinton.
The media narrative that trounced Bush was the catch phrase “Read my lips, no new taxes,” a promise that Bush had broken in his first term.
Trump’s victory has variously been described as a “revolution” and a “movement”; and I would add a “phenomenon” as well.
A “Second Coming”
I don’t mean to serve up a post-facto encomium to Trump’s election, but I submit that Trump’s announcement in June 2015 of running for the Presidency had a certain “Second Coming” feel to it. I had the feeling then that this was not yet another candidate – I sensed a popular elation that accompanied it.
The media enthusiastically caricatured him, the pundits lampooned him, literally laughing at him. And that laughter continues today, even as Trump’s inauguration approaches.
What catapulted Trump to national attention was his colloquial, yet somewhat exaggerated, matter-of-fact observation that Mexico is sending across border thieves, smugglers and rapists. He did not merely use the prosaic expression ‘securing the borders.’ He deliberately chose to avoid the “politically correct”.
Contest in Texas
While the other Republication candidates could be written off as soft on immigration, Ted Cruz from Texas was as hard and harsh as Trump on containing illegal immigration.
What strengthened my thinking outside the conventional box was that even Cruz failed to excite the base because he stuck to politically-correct language. Thus, a Conservative like Cruz, a very articulate and accomplished Senator, could not distinguish himself from Democrats as well as fellow Republicans.
While Cruz was shackled on immigration, Trump stood out as a torchbearer, not to speak of his visual, emotional and symbolic pledge to build a wall with Mexico. The more the media played up the wall as a divider to alienate Trump, the greater the resolve among Trump supporters in solidifying their support behind him.
The first debate
Another significant episode, in my opinion, was the first Republican presidential debate conducted by the Fox News Channel. The very first debate question of the 2016 presidential race was asked by Megyn Kelley and it had to do with women. To me, it came across as similar to asking Trump if he would stop beating his wife.
At a time when America stood poised to elect its first woman president, I saw another candidate beside his beautiful immigrant wife and an accomplished daughter. I felt that that would have a positive impact, at least on some women.
It is important to recognize that Trump supporters never saw him as Pope material. His lifestyle was not a secret. By the time allegations of his improper behaviour with women became national news, Trump was immune to the attacks as the public was already been de-sensitized to such charges.
The issues that mattered to voters were below the radar of the media, which played up sex scandals, Trump calling beauty pageant participant as fat and ugly or insulting a Gold Star Muslim family. The majority of them remained in the closet and came out on Election Day.
Fort Bend county: a case study
Something very surprising happened in Fort Bend County, where I live and publish newspapers. Fort Bend County in Texas is one of the top three most diversified counties in the country.
Nearly 25 per cent of the county’s population is Asian and a large chunk of them are Indian Americans. It has been a Republican county forever, but the county voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in more than 50 years. The last time was for John F. Kennedy.
While the state of Texas voted for Trump, Fort Bend County voted for Clinton. At the same time, in down ballots, in local races, they elected all Republicans. The precincts where Trump lost in Fort Bend County comprise a large number of Muslims and immigrants from India.
Like everybody else, these voters chose to defy convention wisdom.
India-born Seshadri Kumar started his journalism career with The Times of India in Mumbai in 1977. He worked with the Khaleej Times, Dubai, U.A.E. and subsequently with the Houston Community Newspapers and Houston Chronicle in the U.S.. He began publishing an ethnic newspaper in Houston, India Herald, in 1995, and launched a mainstream community newspaper called Fort Bend Independent in 2008. He lives in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston.