This recent spate of “right wing” victories which includes Brexit, Trump, and the European nationalists is part of the same global phenomenon which produced Modi.
It almost seems too obvious to point out how similar Trump and Modi are but I haven’t seen many people in my circles saying it. Probably because I hang out mostly with Americanized NRI liberals in the Brahmin class (as per Moldbug’s schema, not Chaturvarna). These people love Modi and hate Trump and want to avoid finding the obvious similarities and connections. There are some articles tracing out the connections. Mostly in condemnatory tones. But some sources are saying the exact opposite as well, which is totally ridiculous. So lets go over some of the basics.
Victory of the Edgelords: The first major similarity is their negative public branding, and the material causes for why that sort of branding was possible in the first place. Trump and Modi both are both considered bigots by their liberal opponents (particularly in English language media which has been totally captured by leftist establishment forces), and have garnered support from right wing radicals. In Trump’s case this mostly centers around his rhetoric, though he is also favored by far right groups like (numerically and politically insignificant) KKK or the (much more numerous and significant) Alt-Right. In Modi’s case it derives from his institutional connection with the RSS and Hindutvadis in general, and his role in the Gujarat riots. In both cases this seemed to have damaged their reputations and election chances at the time. They were considered outsiders with hickish attitudes by their own liberal countrymen, and scary nationalists by neoliberals in other countries. Remember how under Obama the US denied Modi’s visa? Well Trump narrowly escaped the same fate at the hands of the UK parliament. Ultimately in both cases this politically correct negative branding failed to stop the candidate, as what the media establishment portrayed as a negative and bigoted campaign was interpreted very differently by the voting public.
Weak Opposition: There is also a sense in which both Trump and Modi were helped along by the fact that their opponents were so despised and electorally weak. Under different historical conditions they probably would have fared somewhat poorly. But in India the population was so fed up with the status quo that the normal Congress coalition has been splintered omnidirectionally. In the United States the Democratic base was pretty unexcited about Hillary, and didn’t come out to the polls for her in the requisite numbers. Some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters actually ended up going to Trump, or just staying home. Third party voting was up. The left in Europe is flagging too, which will probably help right wing parties if they can just preform merely adequately.
Nationalism, Culture, and Borders: This one can be done quickly as well. Both candidates were openly nationalist and have made border issues a priority. “Make in India,” “Achhe din aane waale hain,” “Make America Great Again,” and “America First” are all different manifestations of the same impulse. Modi has made some progress on the Bangladeshi border issue, but he will have a difficult time actually addressing the immigration problem because of how federated India is, and how uncooperative Mamata Banerjee is. Nevertheless based on the border issue he has activated the Hindu vote of Assam, and many are suspicious about the emergence of a Hindu vote bank in Bengal for the same reason. Both feel no need to apologize for supporting the majority demographic, especially in opposition to radical Islam.
Social Media: Another quick one, and related to the above point. Modi (2) and Trump both use social media avidly themselves. But their supporters are even more passionate and unfiltered online. Trump won the troll vote. He had 4chan on his side, and he had legions of volunteer twitter propagandists. Modi achieved the same thing in an earlier time. He activated social media to his advantage and has loyal legions of Bhakts and “internet Hindus” on Twitter. In both cases the harsh and sometimes abusive words of internet brigades were the source of accusations of bigotry on the part of the candidates themselves. The trolls don’t care about political correctness, even if it reflected poorly on their candidates. In both countries the majority has felt shamed and guilted needlessly for their identity and decided to lash out online in a chaotic and offensive manner. “White Guilt” and “Hindu Guilt” are perfectly analogous in this context, and the brazen character of the reactionary online movements against these concepts is quite similar.
Shifting Class Coalitions–Modi: Class is ultimately the most vital factor to observe in these elections. They both won in part by appealing to lower class members of the dominant demographic group in their country. Populist majoritarianism of a sort. This is their most important similarity, as it is probably the material basis of the broader shift towards right wing parties around the world. Modi made a strong effort to expand the BJP’s portion of the Dalit vote. Ramdas Athawale, former leader of the Dalit Panther Movement defected from the Congress alliance and now serves on Modi’s cabinet. From the Times of India in 2014:
“Bahraich, Shravasti, Kaiserganj, Gonda, Balrampur, Dumariyaganj, Basti and Gorakhpur have a sizable chunk of OBC voters (17-21%). These voters are highly influenced by Modi. The party candidates have also realized the Modi impact and are busy projecting Modi as a person with simple living and high thinking like Sardar Patel.”
“From Basti and Dumariyaganj to Gorakhpur, backward voters have been enthusiastic about Modi. Kailash Nath Verma of Basti said, “In assembly elections, I backed SP. But now the wave has changed. I am supporting the ‘chaiwallah’ of my caste.” Shivkumar, a dedicated Congress worker till last year, is now a BJP activist. He said: “Modi is the acceptable leader of backward class.” He further said, “Congress is a party of king while Modi is a ground leader.””
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence like this to suggest that Modi secured a larger portion of the lower class Hindu vote than the BJP would normally have gotten. This is not immediately obvious when you examine poll results for support by educational attainment and income:
But keep in mind two things. Firstly, look at the rural/urban divide which is an even more relevant barometer of class in India than it is in the United States. Secondly, compare these numbers to voting numbers from the 2009 election and prior elections. The general trend of rich people voting BJP and poor people voting Congress has persisted until the present, but the difference is much more shallow than it used to be. Secondly, compare these numbers to the numbers in prior elections. I realize this is an imperfect comparison as we are going between different polls, and comparing favorability ratings to vote counts, but data seems to be scarce on this subject (send me your data and I’ll correct this if its wrong). I’m ok with doing this because the difference is so huge that I can’t imagine another data set showing a contradictory result. The source is “India’s 2009 Elections: The Resilience of Regionalism and Ethnicity” by Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers:
Modi also seems to have overperformed amongst Muslims, which somewhat conflicts with the narrative I’m building in the sense that Modi is not as divisively communalist as Trump. But there are bound to be minor differences between India and the U.S. in respect to class composition and loyalty. In any case seems obvious then that Modi overperformed amongst the lower classes. Trump pulled off something similar with middle-lower class whites.
Shifting Class Coalitions–Trump: An objection might be that the Trump voters’ median income is higher than the median income of Clinton supporters. Fivethirtyeight.com reports:
The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.
I’m a little skeptical of this poll because it took place during the summer and comes from Nate Silver, but lets accept it along with the rest of Nate’s work for good measure.
The response to this objection is as follows: Firstly, although the income of his voters was still higher as a median measurement than Clinton’s, the broader shift he is a part of is towards a reversal or evening out of high/low income party affiliations.
Furthermore, Mencius Moldbug laid out a class/caste system for the United States which doesn’t just rely on income but also on race and most importantly education. This is perhaps as key as the rural/urban class divide is in India, which reflects where most capital is held in each economy. If you haven’t read Moldbug on class and caste before, you should do so immediately. He is one of the few western thinkers to appreciate the validity and utility of caste as a way of understanding culture and politics. For his work in this area he deserves to be an honorary Aryan. His Brahmin-Dalit-Helot VS. Optimate-Vaishya schematic for class conflicts is one of the easiest ways to understand American politics in general, and the Trump election in particular. Be careful though, these caste labels have a different meaning than they do in the Indian context.
An educated person (a Brahmin) with a somewhat low income (for example, a professor or fine artist) and an uneducated person (a Vaishya) with a higher income (for example a successful but uneducated small business owner) are in very different classes. They have different friends, different levels of cultural influence, different hobbies and passions, and most importantly have different collective interests and degrees of class privilege. Trump won the uneducated white vote in spades. (“I love the poorly educated!“). He leaned hard on the Vaishyas, and it basically worked.
Nate Silver provides us with a few additional graphs which solidify this narrative:
Hindus for Trump: Do I even need to point out the popularity of Trump amongst Hindu Nationalists, and the role of NRIs within the Trump campaign, and the Modi campaign? Actually I probably do. NRIs played a major role in the Modi campaign. They donated massively, and held a huge public event for him in Madison Square Garden.
But what is so unique about the situation is that for the first time Hindu Nationalists, (or borderline Nationalists) actually went full throttle for an American candidate. Hindus for Trump was an active online community over the course of the election, not just on Facebook but everywhere Trump was being discussed. Ivanka celebrated Divali at a mandir in Virginia. Eric Trump visited a mandir in Orlando and performed aarati in advance of the election. Then there was the Bollywood themed Trump event held in New Jersey, the proceeds of which went “toward the Hindu victims of Islamic terror in Kashmir and Bangladesh.” And don’t forget the “Ab Ki Bar Trump Sarkar” ad which came out of that event. This is all pretty unprecedented, and liberals whites and Hindus alike seem to be largely ignoring it out of embarrassment.
What is the reason for this attraction? Well this is sort of crude and perhaps cynical, but one reason is purely aesthetic. Trump has the aesthetic of a charismatic strongman, and he is without a doubt “high energy.” He is an inspiring guy, and though leftists and establishment conservatives criticize his tactics as “third world,” they do seem to work particularly well on people actually from the third world who haven’t bought into identity politics, or who haven’t yet linked their particular brand of identity politics with the Democratic party (not just Hindus by the way. I’ve also met a fair number of Muslims, or third world Christians who supported him for seemingly no reason other than the aesthetic presence he has). To get a sense of this type of support, watch this song and video “Trump Ka Mania” by Baba Sehgal, a Punjabi rapper. He isn’t even a Trump supporter as far as I know, he just likes the high energy of the campaign and Trump’s big personality. The very things which make white and Hindu liberal cosmopolitans cringe.
Some of this support is due to the obvious overlap between Modi and Trump’s policies, especially as regards radical Islam. Remember the Hindu Sena events which took place in New Delhi to celebrate Trump’s birthday, pray for his campaign, and celebrate his victory? That was just a more public and low-culture display of the way conservative NRIs feel about Trump, and it was pretty obviously centered around a shared animosity towards radical Islam. The Islam question, the aesthetics, and Trump’s promise to bring India and the U.S. closer are probably the biggest factors behind Hindu support for Trump in my estimation.
I’m not sure what proportion of Hindus supported Trump. It is most likely quite low. Polls conducted in June-August put support for Trump amongst “Asian Indians” at around 7%. However, that poll doesn’t disaggregate Hindus, was a bit far from the election, and also included Sanders (who got 23% of the support, to Clinton’s 60) so I would expect Trump’s actual support amongst Hindus to be a bit higher than 7% in actuality.
But like the Jews (who also vote overwhelmingly Democratic), the influence of Hindus is perhaps more accurately measured in dollars. In fact the Republican Hindu Coalition seems to consciously model its efforts on that of those Jewish community. Shalli Kumar apparently personally donated $900,000 to Trump’s campaign. I’m assuming he wasn’t alone on this given how much attention Trump gave to the Hindu community. Regardless of your view of Trump, this is significant as it represents a major step for the Hindu American community. It is now putting its money and organizational power forward to advance its political interests in a very targeted and direct manner.