Why Donald Trump Is Proving Very Useful To Those Who Were Dismissed As Fringe Until Now

20/06/2016 3:18 PM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 9:00 PM IST
MONEY SHARMA via Getty Images
Indian right-wing Hindu activists hold a celebration to mark the 70th birthday of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in New Delhi on June 14, 2016. A far-right Hindu group has previously held prayers in the Indian capital to support the Republican presidential nominee, whose ideas and campaign promises they hail, and with supporters saying he had the potential to 'save humanity'. / AFP / MONEY SHARMA (Photo credit should read MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images)

A CBS news poll says a majority of Americans disapprove of the way Donald Trump responded to the massacre at the Orlando nightclub. As The Donald tweeted "Appreciate the congrats for being right on Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance!" 25% approved of him while 51% disapproved. Too bad the poll does not include the indefatigable warriors of the Hindu Sena in Delhi. Trump's numbers might have gone up a little.

The Hindu Sena made much news for celebrating Trump's birthday in Jantar Mantar with a three tiered cake and balloons and a giant poster of Trump brandishing a gun, a poster which was lovingly fed cake.

If they cannot have common sense let them eat cake?

The sniggering is well-deserved. A fringe group is trying to ride Trump's coattails into the spotlight. But there's something we miss at our own peril. Trump is the ultimate example of the fringe morphing into mainstream and the likes of Hindu Sena are greedily watching him. Once a little-known Hindu Sena leader frothing about Islamic terrorist would not be a blip on the news cycle. Now he gets coverage everywhere because of Trump. It's a quirky story but a dangerous one and Trump is its oxygen.

"Donald Trump is speaking the entire world's mann ki baat against Islamic terror and we support it," says Vishnu Gupta. Gupta does not support gays at all and he does not care that Trump's idea of a ban on immigration "from areas of the world with a proven history of terrorism" would hardly help make India safer. He just cares that Trump says what others do not.

Trump to him is about legitimizing what could not be said openly before. As Julia Preston in the New York Times explains by proposing to bar people from certain regions rather than certain religions, Trump has cleverly "avoided the sticky issue of testing someone's faith." This is a policy a president could carry out just as they had done before for people from Asia, a policy that incidentally had kept Indians out of the United States.

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It's a clever semantic bait and switch, swapping region for religion but to the same end. We've seen it in India in the fight over illegal migration in Assam. During the riots a few years ago there was immense pressure to label the conflict there was Bodo-Bangladeshi conflict rather than a Bodo-Muslim conflict. Nomenclature matters and Trump who is often derided for inarticulate ad-libbing is actually changing the semantics of discourse by bullying bluster.

READ: Hindu Sena Leaders Celebrating Donald Trump's Birthday May Even Leave Him A Little Red-Faced

It works. The debate has quickly become about labels – radical Islamic terrorist to be precise. After the Orlando mass shooting, Trump's railed against Barack Obama for not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorist". An angry Obama lashed out at Trump without naming him.

"What exactly would using this label would accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make ISIL less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this?"

But Hillary Clinton did blink. Like Obama she said "it matters what we do, not what we say." Then she went on to say "We have to defeat radical jihadist terrorism, and we will." To her, "radical jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I'm happy to say either, but that's not the point."

donald trump

But that is exactly the point. Hillary Clinton and Obama represent a certain mainstream just as the Republican leadership in the US Congress represents a certain mainstream. But now they are both reacting defensively to Trump, the man who came from the fringe, the interloper who hijacked the GOP presidential nomination process. The fringe is directing the mainstream, shaping the contours of the debate.

Trump gloated "I have been hitting Obama and Crooked Hillary hard on not using the term Radical Islamic Terror. Hillary just broke-said she would now use!"

Obviously Vishnu Gupta is not a front runner for any political post but you can see the Hindu Sena trying to play that same game in India. He says "The BJP used to speak against Islamic terror, but after coming to power it has also become a 'secular party'." What the Hindu Sena is saying is that they want leaders who can dare to say what's in their hearts like a Sadhvi Prachi calling for a Muslim-free India after a Congress-mukt India.

The BJP leadership might tut tut just as the GOP leaders shake their heads when Trump goes overboard but he is just discarding the old the dog whistle and using a bull horn instead to say openly what was once read between the lines.

Now a Reuters Ipsos poll shows that while Clinton still leads Trump her margin has shrunk from 14.3 points to 10.7 points. And 45 percent of Americans agree with Trump that immigration of Muslims to the United States should be suspended.

What was an outlandish idea at one point, another example of Trump talking impractical nonsense, is now the subject of polls and its pros and cons discussed on the front page of the New York Times. It's a policy that would create knotty problems say experts in the article – retaliations against American citizens abroad, disruption of trade agreements and business, even compromise intelligence gathering and America's geopolitical clout in stopping wars.

But note what's happened. Even as immigration experts slam the proposal, the idea itself is no longer beyond the pale.

The likes of the Hindu Sena know that Trump probably cares little about them or their cake. But they are piggybacking on him to take their ideas to the mainstream. Whether or not Trump makes it to the White House he's already proving very useful to those who were until dismissed as the fringe.

A lot more Indians know today about the Hindu Sena than before thanks to Donald Trump.

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