13/08/2016 1:33 AM IST | Updated 23/08/2016 8:32 AM IST

Augustus, Aurangzeb And Donald Trump: Divisive Politics And Great Falls


As a citizen of the Democratic Republic of India, America, the world's oldest democracy has always inspired me. And I know from my own professional work in international relations, that it is the US to whom states turn for global leadership and guidance, and as a reliable custodian of a peaceful international order. The American Republic is perceived as democratic, based on liberty, freedom and justice; an idea that inspires millions across the globe. America, contrary to several opinions on its imminent decline, continues to be the destination of choice for millions of highly talented people across the globe, and its higher education is ranked amongst the best in the world. In 2014-15, China topped the list of foreign students studying in U.S. universities (304, 040) followed by India (132, 888). Every year, the US issues 65,000 H-1B visas. The H-1B visa program is meant to attract highly skilled foreign workers to work in the US, thereby maintaining American competitiveness by inducting a new talent pool into the workplace. The American Republic has maintained its competitive edge historically by such a process. After all, it was the controversial German V-2 rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun who went on to become the leader of America's space program and eventually built Saturn V that took Apollo 11 to the moon.

Trump's negative framing [of issues] could weaken the 240-year-old American democratic experiment.

Hence, the imagination of America is that of a country that attracts and encourages the unique talents of those who land on its shores, based on merit and individual capacity, benefiting themselves as well as the American Republic.

And now, into this imagination of the American Republic, enters Donald Trump. He, who categorizes anyone and everyone who diverges from his limited perception of the legitimate American, as someone to be frightened of, and excluded from the process of American democracy. The kind of divisive discourse that he has unleashed has rattled American allies and partners, to say the least. It is not that the issues raised by Trump -- for instance, dismal infrastructure, lack of upward mobility for millions of American families, unchecked illegal immigration, healthcare, and social security --are not real problems. It is the divisive, nasty, and racist frame within which he has chosen to highlight these issues which is downright dangerous. And this kind of negative framing could weaken the 240-year-old American democratic experiment.

And I say this with some measure of understanding of history. Here, I am not alluding to Adolf Hitler and Nazism here. I am alluding to the Roman Republic of yore, which inspired the US founding fathers, and the Mughal dynasty in India. Rome reached the heights of its glory propelled by the idea of Rēspūblica based on the Roman people being sovereign. As its boundaries extended far into the Mediterranean, Rome opened its doors to outsiders, including slaves, for citizenship. Over the years, citizen assemblies that were the strength of the Roman Republic, however, started reflecting the social inequities of Roman life, giving rise to demagogues. Tiberius Gracchus, who championed the cause of poor Romans for land rights, tried to usurp all tribunal powers unto himself and illegally ran for another year as tribune (Republican principles limited terms to one year). The division between conservative Roman senators and the populists tore at the very fabric of Roman politics. A desire for self-aggrandizement by a few at the expense of many transformed Republican Rome to Imperial Rome ruled by a dictator. Men like Julius Caesar, granted enormous military power to defend Rome, once victorious, refused to relinquish power and return to civilian life. Finally, his grandnephew, Octavian (Augustus) established an imperial structure and consequently wrote the demise of Republican Rome which once championed the idea of a free Republic.

Very similar to Augustus, Aurangzeb's religious and political intolerance wrote the demise of the Mughal Empire.

The Mughal dynasty in India followed a similar trajectory. Established in 1526 by Babur (a descendent of Turkic conqueror, Timur and Genghis Khan of Mongolia), the Mughal Empire reached the zenith of its power under Akbar, his grandson. Akbar was a liberal Muslim emperor and his strength lay in his uncanny ability to craft an inclusive political structure that embraced different religious communities into his administration. While his son Jahangir and grandson Shah Jahan continued his inclusive politics, his great grandson Aurangzeb adopted an intolerant policy towards his non-Muslim subjects. Consequently, very similar to Augustus, Aurangzeb's religious and political intolerance wrote the demise of the Mughal Empire.

Centuries later, America was founded in 1776 on the pillars of freedom, inclusion and liberty, and aimed at perfecting a Union for human progress and prosperity. And this idea inspires the rest of us. In contrast, Trump's narrative of politics is based on fear mongering, racial divisiveness, select entitlements, and irresponsible statements with regard to foreign policy; that Japan should pay more for the American military bases, or that Barack Obama founded ISIS. His statements foretell gross misuse of American power and many of us are justifiably fearful of that. While his freewheeling statements appear like a solution to American problems in the short term, be forewarned -- it could be the writing on the wall for the demise of the American Republic as we know it. History warns us that both the Roman and Mughal empires never recovered from the self-interested, power hungry, divisive policies that Augustus and Aurangzeb unleashed.

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