Fareed Zakaria on e-expressions: Kamala Harris as Vice-President will excite a lot of people but will make some apprehensive

What Biden's cabinet largely represents is that governance is hard, it's important, that people of competence and experience matter, said Zakaria
Pic: Express
Pic: Express

America electing a woman of colour as their vice-President will definitely excite people but there will be some who will be apprehensive, just as they were during former President Barack Obama's tenure, said Indian-American journalist and author Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria was speaking to senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai during The New Indian Express' e-expressions on life after the US Elections.

There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton faced some degree of opposition just because she was a woman, said Zakaria. "You can see this in the vote for (Joe) Biden. He gets a certain number of white suburban voters who didn't vote for Hillary. Clearly, something was going on there. The truth is, Kamala Harris has not cut a very large figure on the American stage, but I don't think it is her fault — we've had a pandemic. Normally, you assert yourself by travelling around the country with a lot of media — all that has been curtailed. It is fair to say that she hasn't had an impact yet," he added. "I think it will all change as we are approaching the post-pandemic world with the vaccines. And once that reality of a female Vice-President, a woman of colour, is asserted, I think it will excite a lot of people. But what the Obama case shows is that there will be other people who will be apprehensive," said the host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS.

What Biden's cabinet largely represents is that running a government is hard, it's important, that people of competence and experience matter, said Zakaria. "You don't choose someone you met at a cocktail party or somebody you think looks good or somebody you heard defending you on television — this is how Trump would literally choose his cabinet. Biden is picking low-key people who have a lot of experience in governance. The same is true in India. It is very hard to get the government right," he added.

Talking about Kamala Harris and her Indian connection, Zakaria said that Harris is regarded more as a Black American more than an Indian-American. "But the truth is that she has both identities and that's part of the reality of America today. You have these mixed, multiple identities and she can emphasise one or the other depending on where she is. She was raised by an Indian mother. So it's fair to say that the Indian influence, at least in a cultural sense, is very much there," he said.

The debate about whether Trumpism will leave America as Trump leaves the White House has been raging for quite some time. "The way I would put it is, Trump was never personally very popular. There was a part of the country that was crazily devoted to him. But his average approval rating is among the lowest since the late 1940s. But he became a tribune for a certain group of people in America who feel disposed, who feel as though the world is leaving them behind. And they feel this for a number of reasons — some feel that this wave of globalisation and technological change has left them behind but another part of it is cultural. It is very important to remember in life that culture matters," he added. "I think for a large number of less-educated White Americans who live in rural areas — they are very good people, but they are less educated, they live in rural areas, and most of them are white. They look at the new world of multi-cultural, urban, cosmopolitan America with a great deal of anxiety and fear. And Trump weaponised that. He was able to say, 'they are the enemy, they are the reason you are doing badly, they sold you out to the avatars of globalisation'. That feeling is still very strong, and I think Trump uniquely represents it because he is seen as a fighter and as someone who would take on the establishment. But I don't know how much it will translate. My guess is that Trump will continue to dominate the Republican party but others will struggle to have the kind of hold he had," said the political commentator.

The two forces that have dramatically changed the world over the last 30 years are globalisation and the information revolution, said Zakaria. "The effect has been to dramatically produce growth and change in societies. But the people who have benefited from this are disproportionately educated urban people who have some technical knowledge. But the others have not. So you have created an extraordinary class divide — in every society. Modi has taken it and weaponised it in an even more dramatic way. Because he has turned it into a story of a new India. then he has weaponised it very specifically against the Indian Muslims. It is always easy for people to believe that their problems are because of somebody else. That allows you to focus on one thing rather than the complexity of life. Eventually, I think, the diversity and plurality of India will assert itself. But so far, what Modi is doing is politically working for him," said the journalist, who was originally born in Mumbai.

Zakaria also added that since the death of Rajiv Gandhi, India has not had a powerful storyteller, who could drive this kind of narrative (like Modi). "Modi is the first person since the 1980s to have captured the high ground that Nehru established in the 1950s. India has this tendency to want strong men and powerful images," he said.

Commenting on the way countries dealt with the Coronavirus pandemic, Zakaria said that it was nothing short of a tragedy. "It has been badly conceived, badly executed and as a result, India may have the worst economic fall out from COVID-19 in the world. There was no reason why it should have. It has a strong international market. It was just bad implementation. I hope at some point people will ask why we got it so wrong. A lot of economists and public health experts were saying that in places like India where so many people die of other diseases and poverty, one has to be very careful about the kind of lockdown you do. India acted too hastily," commented the Peabody Award-winning journalist. "The first mistake was the extent and length of the lockdown. There should have been all kinds of exceptions. It was brutally implemented. Since then there has been no thought given to the economic measures need to boost the country. I hate to put it this way, but Pakistan's Imran Khan did very little, but they haven't suffered that much. By doing relatively little, he may not have helped the situation but he did not hurt it. Whereas, the evidence is that what India has done has produced more deaths because of non-COVID factors, (social) crisis and the economic crisis," he added.

The countries who have handled this the best were not the countries with the largest governments or the most dictatorial ones, said Zakaria. "The real stars are Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and even Hong-Kong. What did they have in common? A relatively small government but an efficient one. The whole culture and ethos is of technocrats who have agencies that have authority and very little corruption, and thus have the trust of the people. India could learn this lesson more than any other country," he said.

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