It’s been a year since Covid-19 got escalated into an pandemic in 2020. If we ask anyone about how has the year been for them, I am sure no one would answer it affirmatively. Maybe with the only exception of billionaires and Tech firms whose wealth almost doubled or even grew several times more during the pandemic. After all, these businessmen have mastered the art of making profit even during crisis, be it artificial like 2007 subprime crisis in America, or natural like Covid-19.
The last year saw the world turn upside down. Hardly can we find any industry or sector which remained unaffected. The lockdowns shut down the businesses, wiped out the small startups, ended the tourism and hospitality industry, started the laborious ‘Work from Home’ culture, even ‘Study Online’ over On-campus classes, and skyrocketed the demand for online tech services, be it amazon, zomato, swiggy, facebook and many more. Enough has been written and talked about the after effects of the pandemic in our life.
And this has continued till date. Even though the vaccines have arrived and however, they might be mismanaged or delayed for rollout, the hopes amongst the people have risen that soon, things will get better. Experts are saying that things will get back to normal. But the real question remains, Is it really going to be normal again?
Let me highlight my own experience of both the worlds when I was in the United States. I like to call the two worlds, as BC and AC. That stands for ‘Before Covid’, and ‘After Covid’. Funny it may sound, but we simply cannot deny the fact that our world has indeed changed to such a large extent. I had been working for an Energy Management company before moving back to India in Sep 2020. My work involved substantial amount of traveling to customer sites, where our customers included Energy companies all over the USA. I got to travel to quite a few places like Pennsylvania, St Louis, Colorado, Minneapolis, Florida, Illinois and Georgia. Traveling for business by flights, staying in some of the finest hotels, renting posh cars, sight seeing after work, eating food in famous restaurants ( often a different restaurant or some international cuisine), all this was a part of business trip. And we also worked hard in office during office hours. All such perks which come along with such business trips, were all paid at the company’s expense. For a 25 year old guy, who had never been to America before, this is the one of the best American experience he could get, isn’t it?
But then Covid-19 happened. And everything changed overnight. Our customer site visits or business trips all were cancelled, that means no staying in nice hotels, or parties. The business continues through work from home. The networking which we used to have with the customers and guiding their tech teams for efficient deployment solutions all became virtual using Teams, or similar video conferencing calls. The field experience through such business trips, the networking with the clients, the real world experience which helped me to become matured and even business savvy, all simply disappeared. Work just became work from home, and it just ended up as ‘All work and no play’
And then as Covid-19 became worse, things also took a downward spiral. I had to come back to India for visa issues, and also having some family responsibilities. And later I joined a new company in India. But I heard from my previous company colleagues that the Covid has impacted this industry so much, that mass firings have become a common thing. The revenues have plunged, and the customers are no longer interested in signing new contracts. The work from home has become the new work standard not only to stay away from the virus, but also it serves as a cheap work option. As the business continues, no longer is the need to travel to meet customers, or even get a field experience. The companies have not only accepted the ‘work from home’ culture but also promotes it for saving expenses. This is understandable from accounting point of view, but for a business which depends on in-person trainings, networking and gaining and sharing of knowledge from field visits, this will have long term implications on the business. And this pandemic has affected this industry, such that it has changed the way I worked prior to Covid. Learning new skills, and being prepared for an uncertain work is the new norm.
I am sure not only in energy business, but many other professions like banking, movie industry, performing arts, tourism, hospitality, aviation, sales, retail and many more have seen dramatic change in work pattern. The long established rules of delivering work has been changed. Because after all, not all work can be done from home or remotely. A pilot needs in-flight experience and cannot be replaced by simulation. A tourist guide cannot perform his work through some video conferencing, and neither can a theatre artist. This is one of the biggest change in human history.
Its been one year after Covid started, and for me, its been more than 6 months, since I have returned back to India. Having seen both the pre-Covid and post-Covid world, it seems a big change in work culture, networking, travels, and in personal life as well. There are pros and cons , and it would be too early to say that this change is bad. Maybe we have to adjust to the new change, and even change the statusquo. The work from home might stay for sometime, and the future might remain uncertain for coming days. Its as if like nature is testing our patience, and we have to continue with our strengths, and keep the hope alive.
If 2016 US elections results were one of the most surprising and shocking the world ever saw, then on the same grounds, it seems that 2020 will also make a history with its outcome, whatever it may be. Both sides have their pros and cons, and whatever results the political ‘pundits’ might speculate, still no one knows what will actually happen on Nov 3rd. I have lived in US for 5 years ( 2015 to 2020) and having observed the US politics and culture closely, I felt to write a post to add my two cents to this.
First of all, I endorse no party, or candidate, as I am not an American. Hence, the views expressed are completely from an outsider’s perspective, of what I saw in America, and based on those set of experiences, there are certain observations and deductions made about the US politics and public opinions. Also, I like to read history, international relations, and based on that, I often inter-relate certain events around the world, which does influence each other. For ex: one of the significant factors behind Trump’s 2016 victory was the shift towards right wing politics, anti-establishment trend around the world and which was already proven in countries like India and UK, where Narendra Modi had won in 2014 and British had voted in favor of Brexit in 2015, respectively. Such references helps us to understand why Trump could manage to win, inspite of whatever the world media and political analysts had predicted.
Similarly, there are many events and factors which are going to influence this election, enormously. This article analyzes some of them, which will make us understand what is the trend, and what might be the outcome. But at the same time, even a small scandal or event before the elections can change the course, as it happened regarding Hillary Clinton’s email controversy, just few days before the elections. Nevertheless, it did significant damage to her credibility.
The United States as we see today is a very deeply polarized nation. Not only divided are they in terms of political affiliation ( democrats vs republicans), but also on social issues, environmental concerns, women rights, immigrants and minorities, foreign affairs, economic policy, health and education system etc. One set of followers who support republican party, and who are right wingers, pro-establishment believe in excessive patriotism ( or jingoism), less taxes, global warming as a hoax, live in ‘Bible belt’, America first policy, ban immigrants, pro whites and against minority rights, against abortion, against Obamacare etc. While the other set believes in the exact opposite which is the democratic party, with pro minorities and immigrants rights under the banner that America is a nation made of immigrants ( which is true..). They are concerned about environmental issues like global warming, support abortion, do not believe in church or any religion ( or rather religion is a personal matter, that has nothing to do with the state), more taxes on the wealthy, social security and universal health care for all etc. I don’t know any area where both these groups might come together. Such deep and wide has become the nation’s political and social division.
But amidst all this pandemonium, Donald Trump stands as an outsider to all this chaotic politics, who is a rabble rouser, an iconoclast, with his callous and unpredictable behavior. After becoming President, he not only has widened the rift, but also normalized the ‘abnormal’. The way we look towards and expect from the President’s office has utterly changed. He is liked by millions, just as being disliked by even more. But he has become a phenomenon in US politics who cannot be ignored.
Firstly, Trump has benefited immensely from the people’s shift towards right wing, anti-establishment sentiment. This rise of nationalism was seen in 2016, and it continues to this day. We see more and more Presidents and Prime Ministers all over the world being elected, belonging to the right wing party, or ideology. Take India, Narendra Modi won in 2014 and again in 2019, with even more majority. Though Indian politics is a lot different than US, but considering the similarity in political backgrounds as an outsider ( Modi is also an outsider like Trump, as he neither belongs to the establishment of Gandhi-Nehru family, nor he is a part of Lutyen’s Delhi), and their pro country( Make in India, and America First) stand, they both become natural friends. Then, we have PM Boris Johnson in UK, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Bolsenaro in Brazil, and Netanyahu in Israel ( with whom Trump has close relations). This rise of nationalism, all over the world, stands in favor of Trump.
Secondly, Trump has a loyal supporter base, primarily of white voters, who are from rural america, and who have been severely affected by globalization, competition by China, and flow of low cost immigrants from Mexico. They continue to support Trump because of many reasons. They feel Trump has taken steps in favor of them. His trade war with China, banning of immigrants from Mexico, plans to build the wall ( its been 4 years, and there is no Wall yet..). I saw one documentary from DW where the poor people in Appalachian mountains, are hardcore supporters of Trump, inspite of their continued living in poverty. Infact, when I used to travel in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, I saw numerous Trump supporters billboards. They are enamored by Trump, and his persona, for being a white guy, who is billionaire, and close to his family always. The poor and uneducated people in America, are often the fiercest followers of Christianity, and ardent church goers. They find Trump, to be an ideal Christian man, who has been faithful to his family, and exhibits Christian ( which means Protestant) virtues. Besides, he is rich, and white dude, which makes him perfect candidate for preserving the old, white, waspy, conservative America.
Then, we see Trump is fortunate to have formed close alliances with like minded friends, who will render him support to win. This includes being friends with Israel, Saudis and Russia. Israel and its conservative leadership has benefited immensely from the day Trump has been in the Oval office. Not only has Trump endorsed Israel on many issues such as setting up the US embassy in Jerusalem, its stand against Iran by the assassination of Major General Qasem Suleimani, US withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal, and imposing of economic sanctions on Iran, but also Trump being close to Jews, due to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, being Jewish, and his pro-Israel stand. Hence, the conservative Jews in US( Wall Street, Koch brothers) against the liberal Jews in US (New York Times, Silicon valley, universities or George Soros) will fight to support Trump, and make every attempt to get him elected again. Besides, Saudi Arabia favors Trump due to the change in geo-politics in the middle east, where Saudi’s are ever more concerned about the influence of rising Shia Crescent after the disastrous Syrian Civil War, and also with the rise in another competitor, Turkey to challenge the Saudi leadership in the Muslim world. They need Trump’s support to keep Iran and Turkey away from dominating middle east. In case of Russia, it has never been good time for Putin and Kremlin, for having Trump as a President. Russia have always suffered under the democrats( particularly Clintons), under Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1990’s and they feared for the same if Hillary had taken the command in 2016. Hence, Russia will support Trump to keep him in power.
Trump is an astute businessman. He knows how to deal with people, situations and comprehends everything in the world as a race, competition to win. Its his winners take all approach, coupled with survival of the fittest which makes him a typical old fashioned american businessman. He has no ethics, values or principles, and never accepts defeat. But also he has not regrets and is always willing to pass any limits to achieve his ambition. He is the perfect embodiment of “The end justifies the means” ideology. This is what enthralled the attention of the conservative American public. For them, he was and still is the right candidate to recover the American economy, to bring back the jobs lost abroad or to immigrants. Though before Covid-19 happened, American economy rose with the highest growth rates, and Wall street was elated with the spectacular performance of the stock market, thanks for Trump’s decrease in the taxes on the wealthy ( thereby increasing the already widened gap between the rich and the poor), but also due to the share buyback approach adapted by most of the companies. His supporters conveniently forget to acknowledge the fact that Trump had already inherited a booming economy from Obama, and it was during Obama years, when the economy faced dire recession, and it was Obama government who made sure the economy be brought back on track. But as we all know, Trump rarely gives credit to others, and so he boasted of making the greatest economy in human history, in a mere span of 3 years! Now, Trump has lost the trump card of leading the greatest economy due to Covid-19, now he is promising the voters to revive back the economy once again like it was before. He even had to discard the slogan “Keep America Great” and retake the first term campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”. For his supporters, Covid-19 and economic recession are external threats brought by China, and hence they would exonerate Trump for the current economic conditions. Infact, the Trump supporters still hope that he is only the man who can do the job of reviving back the economy, just like he had done to his business, inspite of claiming bankruptcy, a whopping four times!. His personal business track record is an indicator for reversing the country’s current dire situation again if he wins.
To understand if he will win, we need to look at the opponents as well. And looking at the democratic party presidential and vice-presidential nominee, many democrats or liberals are not happy. Even though Biden has more political experience than Trump, but he is not inspirational candidate especially when the country needs a strongman. He is older than Trump, and his political record does not raise any more hopes that any thing better will be done if he wins. Infact, he represents the elite establishment, and observing the ongoing anti-establishment trend in politics, he is clearly the wrong guy. But more worse is the selection of Kamala Harris, for Vice-President(VP). The most shocking aspect of American public, especially the white, rural voters is the lack of belief in women at the highest position. Even though America pats its back for being champion of human rights, feminism, #MeToo etc, but when it comes to society, its still a male dominated one, and this patriarchy has been emboldened under Trump regime. That is why Hillary lost in 2016, as many women voters opted for Trump inspite of his proven misogynist history. The Democratic party is desperate to put a women president in the office, and still unable to learn the lessons from 2016, they have again played the women card, only indirectly in the form of VP. People are aware of Biden’s age, and with the considerable possibility of him serving only one term, Kamala has the chance to become the first women ( non-white) president. For the Trump supporters, more than Kamala as a women, the more pressing fact is that she is non-white. I wonder if the white voters did not allow a white women(Hillary) to become President, how in the world can they allow Kamala to become President? And her identity as a mixed Afro-American, and Indian, is not helping her much due to her highly educated parents, and her elite upbringing. Unlike Obama, who struggled in his life, worked hard and went to Harvard to study law, and is an excellent orator and professor, Kamala has unfortunately no such accomplishments to prove her merit. The only chance Democratic party to win ( maybe) was with Bernie Sanders, who could have fought a close battle against Trump, but the Democratic party system does not want a reformer, and a socialist. Hence, a good chance and candidate was lost!
When we look at Trump’s Presidency in the past 4 years since 2016 elections, the one thing everyone acknowledges is the fact that he has done what he told before winning ( or atleast tried to do). He promised for banning immigrants and he did make life difficult for immigrants. He issued executive orders for curbing immigrants from Muslim countries, for restricting H1-B workers from India, or even deporting Chinese students under the accusation of espionage. He had promised to take actions against China, and he did that in the form of Trade war, even though that might not have worked out much in favor for US. He took strict actions against Iran, and withdrawed from the Iran nuclear deal. He made Wall Street happy by reducing taxes on the rich. He hated the liberal news media, and entertained his voter base with comical press briefings and chastised New York Times and CNN as’fake news’. He entered the good books of conservative Texas oilmen, coal lobby by repudiating the Paris Climate Agreement. In a nutshell, he has done what he promised. This makes him an outsider, who is not like a typical crooked politician ( though he is lot more discreetly). His agenda of ‘doing business’ and ‘getting things done’ are one of the core American principles. Hence, this makes him more famous than ever. However, his voters are not aware of the consequences of what he has done. Even though he has fulfilled many promises, but the after effects are going to be disastrous, sooner or later. But unfortunately his followers have become myopic!
Finally, the ongoing racial protests all over America, be it with the tragic and cruel death of George Floyd and many others have become rampant. The #BlackLivesMatter protests are symbolic of the underlying inequality and racial tensions besieging America. The African Americans are tired of this hatred and biase against them by few white policemen or white fascists. They are also stunned by the fact that mere 12 years before, they had seen America electing the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, and with his victory again in 2012, they came to believe that the old America who harassed Afro-Americans as slaves was a thing of the past. They thought their centuries long struggle against racism, with the sacrifice of Dr.King, and many more, had come to fruition. But just 4 years before, with Trump’s election, everything changed. The racism and violence against them have exacerbated again. The way Trump has reversed and abashed the Obama era policies and welfare schemes has disappointed the Afro-Americans and liberals. And they now feel that this would escalate even more if Trump wins again. But unfortunately, the division along racial and ethnic lines have worsened so much that these protests, which were meant to raise their voices against inequality and racism have taken an ugly turn. The incessant violence and riots have polarized the american society, and even united the loyal Trump supporters against the BLM protests. This article shows how a white man carrying ‘BlackLivesMatter” placard had to face severe backlash from the white conservative voters. All this is going to affect the upcoming elections in a big way.
Many political thinkers and analysts are saying that America is going through a systemic change, and with reference to all the events and policies as mentioned above, it does seem to be true. Paul Kennedy had famously predicted about the American decline in his book “The Rise and the Fall of Great Powers“, and Neil Howe and Bill Strauss had mentioned about the turbulent years America will see during 2020’s. All this might be labeled as a close coincidence, but we cannot forget the fact that they did explain after researching centuries of human history, wars and empires. Indeed, America had risen to its pinnacle in 1945, and even in 1991, but the current trend shows it to be on the downward turn. BLM protests, racial tensions, Covid-19, economic recession, ineffective healthcare system, expensive education system troubled with huge education loans on students, widening gap between the rich and the poor with nation’s wealth in the hands of few silicon valley tech giants, wall street bankers and military-industrial complex, lack of people’s belief in political institutions, and thereby paving a way to elect an outsider like Trump are all the indicators of the current American decline. Electing Trump is not going to solve them but exacerbate them. The trump followers might hope that electing Trump will #MakeAmericaGreatAgain by keeping it white, patriarchal, isolated from world affairs, but this short term gain will endure in a long term pain of losing the glory of “American Dream”, of losing democratic allies, of losing the trust of the world, and losing the credibility of being the free land where everyone is welcome to work hard, innovate, and collectively progress. The American history shows that America was made by people who were brave, and free and believed in human values. The founding fathers, Andrew Carnegie, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Steve Jobs, Elie Wiesel, Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Sergei Brin, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many more have themselves or their ancestors immigrated to America, due to this faith in America Dream. Even Donald Trump’s family(including his wife) and conservative Rupert Murdoch were immigrants to America! But looking at the current condition in America, that faith has dwindled, and if this continues, sooner or later, time would come to bid adieu to the American Dream!