Francis Fukuyama, the celebrated Japanese-American intellectual, who saw the end of the Cold War as the “End of History” but a “Clash of Civilizations” as the next stage, has explained the accession of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States as “the rise of an American strongman (being) actually a response to the earlier paralysis of the political system”.
The thesis also applies perhaps to the rise of another outlier, Narendra Modi, to the top of the pole in India. While Fukuyama believes the checks and balances of the American constitution have resulted in gridlock with nothing moving because elements in the legislature or judiciary (or both) opposed to any departure from the norm have always been able to thwart forward movement by the executive acting on its own, the paralysis in India – which Fukuyama has not studied – was on account of a collapse of the will to govern in the final years of UPA-II. Whatever the underlying reason, the eventual outcome was that in both countries, strong men arose from nowhere who not only bucked the leadership of their own respective parties, but went on to win electoral victories that have left the establishment in both parties stunned into silence and acquiescence.
In consequence, the comparison does not end there. Something in their character drove them to seize the opportunity and because the forces of history were on their side, they coasted to their respective victories. As Herodotus, the Greek progenitor of all history, said, “Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances.” Yet, those whom circumstance selects – hero or villain – tend to share many traits of character. It is their character that determines the unfolding of their destiny. So who, as persons, are Trump and Modi?
Let us begin with Trump, as the American media in recent weeks has subjected him to microscopic scrutiny. Frank Bruni, the New York Times correspondent, has been perhaps the most scathing of all. Trump, he says, “is a legend in his own mind.” Modi is not far behind. Both are like “the cock crowing at its dawn”, not acknowledging that one is PM with a minority vote of under a third of the electorate, and the other is President with ten million more Americans having voted against him than for him (3 million for Hillary and 7 million for other candidates). Instead of recognizing that it is not the unvarnished mandate of the people, but quirks in the electoral system – in India, “first-past-the-post” and in the US the Electoral College votes – that got them elected to high office, and, therefore, displaying a becoming humility, both are “braggarts”. If Trump “compliments himself out loud and lavishly on everything from the magnitude of his wealth to the majesty of his phallus”, Modi never lets go an opportunity to attribute his exceptional achievements to his exceptional virtues, spinning tales of his humble origins as a tea-vendor when the truth of the matter is that he is from a middle-class family that held the contract to run a canteen at the Inter-State Bus Terminal in Ahmedabad. Modi compliments himself out loudly and lavishly on the magnitude of his alleged poverty.