By Anupma Mehta
Gone with the Wind
When Margaret Mitchell wrote her epic saga on the American Civil War circa 1866, little would the world have known that her depiction of racial and provincial undercurrents would be so eerily mirrored in the ‘United’ States of America, 150 years later.
The hard-fought and acrimonious election campaign of 2016 ending in a convincing victory for the Republican candidate Donald Trump last week was a sordid reflection of the deep divide existing across American society from Washington to Pennsylvania, and Minnesota to Florida. Mitchell’s novel had showcased the same fissures emerging from the ravages of Civil War and Reconstruction. The most glaring evidence of this analogy is manifested in the celebration of Trump’s triumph by members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the tweet by former KKK leader, an avowed White supremacist and Louisiana Senate candidate David Duke, “God bless Donald Trump…It’s time to take America back!” As the results of the election started trickling in, Duke also exultantly called it “one of the most exciting nights of my life”.
The rise of White Supremacism in America
The KKK was the expression of white rage against the defeat of bastions of slavery in the South during the Civil War when it was founded in Tennessee in 1866. Those who gained from the devastating war were allegedly the marauding Yankees or North Americans, and so-called ‘carpetbaggers’ or pro-Black Republicans who were instrumental in winning the right to vote and political and economic equality for the Afro-American population. The KKK was essentially born as a reaction to the numerous outrages on women and fears about wives and daughters’ safety. It drove Southern men to take the law into their own hands when lawlessness prevailed across the decimated country.
The root of the first two words of the organisation’s name (Ku Klux) is the Greek word ‘kyklos’ meaning circle. Does Donald Trump’s victory indicate that social stratification has actually come full circle in America today? The war cry of KKK in 1867 to build an ‘Invisible Empire of the South’ rings in a sense of déjà vu in 2016, reinforced by the announcement of a grand celebration of Trump’s election and holding of a “White Pride” rally by KKK members.
However, the parallel between the ‘wild nation’ of the 1860s and the USA of 2016 may well end there. The economic realities of a post-globalised world are slowly seeping in even before President-elect Trump assumes office. Discontent at Obama’s alleged failures in recession-hit states, may well have been a reason for the Democrats’ loss. Ironically, this very economic disaffection could sweep away the gains of social polarisation reaped by Trump’s team. Social unrest and economic decline have, in fact, always had an uneasy relationship in the evolution of American society. The Great Depression in the 1930s had depleted KKK’s membership ranks, leading to a temporary dissolution of the organisation.
Woes head south
This time around, the South has borne the brunt of the recession’s impact. Economic recovery has been elusive from the Mississippi coast through Alabama, Tennessee and the coalfields of Kentucky. Unemployment rates have reportedly been the highest with more than 75,000 manufacturing jobs gone over the past few years. Interviews conducted by Reuters during campaigning showed that Trump was attracting even evangelical Christian voters nursing apprehensions about immigrant workers. According to Census estimates, the region also has the lowest share of foreign-born residents (fewer than 4%) and Hispanic residents in America. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Trump polled most strongly in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.
Protectionism on the rise
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly cited India and China’s high growth rates to compare them with America’s economy.
“So I just met some high representatives of India. They are growing at 8 per cent. China is growing at 7 per cent. We are growing [since] our last report came out, [at] 1 per cent level. And I think it’s going down”, Trump said.
While the growth rate of 8% attributed to India by Trump may seem rather ambitious, it is not very far from the 7.6% GDP growth rate for 2016-17 (at constant 2011-12 market prices) predicted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in its recently published Mid-Year Review of the Indian Economy 2016-17. The NCAER Report is believed to be one of the most comprehensive and independent assessments of the Indian economy in the months leading to the preparation of the Union Budget. The Trump administration will definitely have to take note of these figures for the US to move in tandem with rapidly growing Asian economies instead of seeking to subjugate or isolate them.
Trump has also openly accused American companies of shipping jobs to India, China, Mexico and Singapore. Beyond protectionism and racism, however, lies the complex reality of international relations, economic entente and business strategies. After all, America and India account for a major share of imports and exports to each other. Will the incoming administration be willing to upset this mutually beneficial apple cart to appease voters?
Thus, amidst impassioned celebrations of victory by volatile supporters like the Ku Klux Klan, Donald Trump and his crew may have to temper the jubilation and rhetoric with economic expediency for reviving growth and generating jobs. Margaret Mitchell’s chronicle of war-torn America may still invoke nostalgia for a bygone era but it is also a poignant reminder of the fact that the American dream really seems to have ‘gone with the wind’.
Anupma Mehta is Consultant Editor at the National Council of Applied Economic Research. Views expressed in this article are personal.
Featured Image Credits: PBS