2008 was a history-altering year. The Great Recession, as it has been termed in retrospect, set in motion a series of events that impacted the populace globally. The bursting of housing bubble and the subsequent global economic downturn, led to widespread layoffs, depression of wages and general discontent among the masses worldwide. But, what differentiated this recession from previous economic busts was the power and privilege of social media that gave immense power in the hands of the ordinary masses. Hence, the social media phenomena witnessed post-2008, gave us the Arab Spring, starting in tiny Tunisia and soon engulfing the entire Middle East.
It is not surprising that, even in India, the heady mix of slowdown in the years after recession, unearthing of massive scams undertaken by UPA-I between 2004 and 2009, and the explosion of social media, together culminated in India Against Corruption Movement in 2011. This movement gave us the Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal.
At the same, the pinnacle of global development, United States too, witnessed the rise of the Tea Party in the years after Recession. This ultra-right wing group, with TEA standing for Taxed Enough Already, was partly led by Steve Bannon and his vision of Economic Nationalism. This platform was hijacked by Donald Trump in his subsequent rise to power.
But, similarities between Arvind Kejriwal and Donald Trump don’t end with their beginnings. Both Kejriwal and Trump, operate with the same modus operandi.
Let me elaborate by listing down a number of uncanny similarities I see in both the gentlemen involved.
1. Both claim to represent a fight against establishment politics. But both represent continuity rather than actual change in politics of their country.
- Trump constantly brings up how he was never an “all talk, no action” politician but was a ‘successful’ business leader. Yet, his ideology and background make it impossible for him to direct America towards a more central position. Rather, America has rolled even more to the right, with massive government funding cuts, lessening the control of regulations regime and bombing of Syria. So even though, he claims to be a radical change from existing political system, his administration represents conservatism of a capitalistic America.
But, Trump is a Wharton Business School graduate, so maybe he knows more than he lets on.
- Kejriwal is happy to let everyone know how corrupt the politicians in India are, how he had a ‘successful’ career in bureaucracy, and how he led a ‘successful’ campaign against corruption. He too claims to be a radical change from existing political decadence. But at the same time, his policies represent conservatism in a socialistic India, like every politician before him, free-entitlements like water and electricity subsidies and minority appeasement, all of which clearly have never provided the kind of results they envisioned, in our history before.
But, Kejriwal has successfully cleared the toughest exams in India, IIT-JEE and UPSC (Civil Services), so maybe knows more than he lets on.
The problem with such thinking is its wishfulness. The underlying basis for both the gentlemen is how the cause of the maladministration is limited to the lack of probity and competence of the personnel in charge of previous administrations. Rather than an attempt to weed out the anomalies in the system, they represent the misguided notion of how the personnel are the problem.
2. Both use and abuse populism and populist measures.
- In Trump’s case, The Wall, China, 2nd Amendment and above all “Make America Great Again!” are policies that sound great, but are either not feasible, doom America in the long-term or are outright lies. For example, the entire platform of how America has lost its jobs to China falls flat in front of reality. Almost 85% of American jobs lost between 2000 and 2010 have been due to automation and not international trade. So, even if he arranges for new trade deals, no substantial gains in the jobs sector seem forthcoming.
- Kejriwal is unapologetic about his populism, right from his “I am victim of the system too” tone, his clothing and demeanour to the very name of his party. Even his most popular claim to fame, “Bijli Half, Paani Maaf,” is based on subsidising the services, without targeting. He also promised a loan waiver scheme to benefit the farmers of Punjab, if he were to be elected. Such economic policies, though make political sense, are nightmarish to the economy in the long term, as they eliminate competiveness and efficiency of the product.
There is a reason we want our leaders to be smarter than the common man. A common man thinks only of himself and even there his long term planning is limited. A leader takes all stakeholders along with firm planning for the long term. NAFTA and FDI may result in short term loss of jobs, but help in increasing the efficiency of the economy and its stakeholders.
3. Both lead a fight against this invisible, unnamed enemy impeding the growth of the common man to rally
- According to Trump, the biggest problem hindering success of American citizens is the illegal entry of Mexicans, who are rapists and drug traffickers. Every economist, every administrator and even your own common sense will tell you that American economy will fall if the support in form of cheap labour provided by these illegals is deported back to Mexico.
- Kejriwal’s battle is against financial corruption. Again, your common sense will do the talking here. The day you stop breaking the traffic law, stop seeking advantageous favours from a government official and start following rules and procedures and so does every other person you know, corruption will no longer be the menace it is now, because in exchange of bribes, there are always 2 parties involved, the taker and the giver.
- Both the persons meet a lot of protesters while campaigning.
- A Trump rally without a heckler being violently thrown out is not considered a Trump rally. Trump plays the super-masculine egoist.
- Kejriwal on campaign trail, gets a show thrown at him daily, gets slapped once a week; his face gets inked once a month. He plays “I am the victim too” card to perfection.
- Both propound an anti-intellectual narrative.
- Trump is lambasted for his incoherence, ever so visible in the transcriptions of his speeches and press conferences. His brashness and volatility are propagated as signs of speaking the truth and not bowing down to political correctness like when he threatens his political opponent with imprisonment. Almost all of his proposed policies and legislations only get condemnations from both experts and professionals.
- Kejriwal, again, is incoherent in his weird arguments like calculating demonetisation as an ₹8000 crore scam. His rhetoric too is full of vitriol like when he calls the sitting PM a coward and a psychopath. Inherent contradictions too plague his government like a bigger government in the form of subsidies and government participation in primary health care in the richest state in India being his paradoxical solution to corruption in the government.
- Both believe that through certificates they can gain power.
- Trump, even if he did not start it, was the unofficial leader of the birther movement against Obama. Obama’s birth certificate.
- Kejriwal demands Modi’s graduation and post-graduation certificates and claims that they are forged when presented to him.
- Both are famous for lacking consistency in their opinions, policies and actions.
- Trump is habitual of contradicting himself, having different facts at different points of time. For example, earlier, China was a currency manipulator. But now, China is not a currency manipulator. Sometimes, he changes his views in a matter of 2 sentences. He starts by saying minimum wage is too low and should be increased, 2 sentences later, he says minimum wage can’t be increased because it might ruin the economy.
- Kejriwal is a synonym for U-turns. One day, he swears on his children’s lives on national TV, he won’t form government with outside support from corrupt Congress. 3 days later, he asks every Delhiite to pray for his children’s health.
- Both don’t spend their own money on advertising, yet they are everywhere every day
- Trump owns the media, from politically conservative media organisations like Fox News to ultra-progressive anti-Trump Young Turks like YouTube outlets have 30 minutes of Trump news every day.
- Kejriwal makes one controversial statement a week, questions the morality of one person a month and is on news every day. At the same, a substantial amount of advertising budget of Delhi government has been earmarked as “Creation of Cult of Kejriwal” fund.
- Both use their Twitter account as a medium of communication with their supporters to bypass the “corrupt and lying” media.
- Trump and his use (addiction?) of Twitter. Despite becoming the president of the most powerful state in the world, he still finds time to tweet 4-5 times daily. Not only has Trump branded mainstream media outlets like CNN as fake news, he also claims the full form of CNN to be Clinton News Network.
- Kejriwal, to his credit, was one of the first politicians in India to realise the potential of social media. Upon becoming the CM of Delhi, he has decided to not allocate any portfolio to himself, and spends most of his time tweeting and retweeting all anti-BJP and anti-Modi articles and posts.
- Both question the legitimacy of the electoral process.
- Trump, despite winning the electoral college, questioned the popular vote by claiming illegal aliens and dead people voted against him.
- Kejriwal, too, has questioned the electoral process and the use of EVMs to conduct polling. As per him, Election Commission is colluding with BJP and rigging the elections.
Well, these are only some of the commonalities between Donald Trump and Arvind Kejriwal. There are far too many to list them all. It seems that the heady mix of populism and the penetrative capacity of social media has rendered the politics of our times susceptible to such buffoonery.