So, I talked Trump on Indian TV back on February 14th. It all started when a former student of mine arranged for me to give a presentation at a leading New Delhi think tank, the Observer Research Foundation. This led to what we thought would be a subsequent five-minute televised chat, which turned out to be a 30-minute interview on the Indian network WION.
Though the Observer audience and WION interviewer were all very sharp (no surprise there), their questions still struck me as uninformed about Trump in a crucial way that reflected not on them but on the nature of foreign news coverage of Trump. That is, they understandably focused on how the new administration would handle China or terrorism or H1B visas, by which many India tech workers come to the United States. What they didn’t seem to get, and what I tried to educate them about, was how this president differs from all others in terms of his personality, his views on democracy and what those might mean for the United States and the world.
The think tank talk and TV interview were in turn educational for me. It’s natural for foreigners to focus on a U.S. president’s policies that affect them, rather than the rather unnatural nature of this presidency. I’ve learned that explaining our politics and policies to the world has become even tougher in that regard.
The interview was also a learning experience for me in more mundane ways, including not to do such things when sleep-deprived and practically right off the plane with jet lag. Still, I made it through without slurring my words and hope I imparted a bit of insight in the process. Here’s the interview.
The Observer talk was the more galvanizing discussion, given the give-and-take with the group. Unfortunately, the only record of it is this rather inaccurate write-up (and pre-talk photo, taken before about 50 participants crammed into the room).
Some memorable moments? The moderator’s suggestion that Trump’s praise of Putin might be motivated not by shady Russian business deals, but by a shared white nationalism – to which I responded by asking him to consider the implications of that plausible theory. Unlike almost all Americans, one participant knew precisely how little time major U.S. broadcasters put into policy coverage. And, as with the WION interview, there was an assumption that the U.S. public knows far more about India and its prime minister than is the case.
I gave the talk and interview before the United States experienced a wave of attacks on Indian Americans, one of many possible ripple effects of the Trump presidency. India and the world, like America, are only beginning to learn what’s hit us.