The race for White House

October 11, 2020

With less than a month left in the US presidential election, Joe Biden holds a steady lead over Donald Trump

Courtesy: GETTY IMAGES

As US presidential election draws near, Pakistani-Americans are rooting for their favourite candidates. Talking to The News on Sunday, most members of the Pakistani diaspora opposed Trump’s divisive policies. However, President Trump, too, has his supporters.

“His frequent statements against specific ethnic groups endanger the community. Hate mongers seize the latent justification to express that hate in a practical way, not only in the US but across the world as well,” Sardar Nasir Bajwa, a Pakistani-American living in New York, says. “The Christchurch attack is one such example. The gunman cited Trump as a symbol of renewed white identity,” he says, adding that Trump’s obsession with fake news and criticism of mainstream media is encouraging other world leaders to do the same. “Encouraged by Trump’s example, Pakistani and Indian governments have placed media censorship in place,” he adds. Bajwa sees these factors as a valid reason for minority communities in the US being resentful of Trump. “The benefit of this anger will surely go to Joe Biden.”

When the term ‘populism’ is mentioned, many of us immediately think of President Trump. Populism crept into and seemed to have taken hold of US policymakers ever since Trump’s 2016 election campaign. To attract conservative white voters, he promised a lot of things, including a ban on immigrants and border walls. Thankfully, some of these promises remain unfulfilled.

“Like every populist leader, Trump’s policies focus on boosting his popularity and on securing votes. Soon after his election, he tried to impose travel bans on several Muslims countries, but his populist appeal is about to fade out. Most of the US citizens have now found out the hollowness of his claims,” says Ehsan Ahmed Rehan, another Pakistani-American living in Washington DC.

“In order to capture voters’ attention, he had promised simple and sweeping solutions to profound problems, while neglecting careful consideration of their actual effectiveness and any potential negative outcomes,” Rehan says. He says Trump has countered any criticism of his policies with divisive accusations of some Americans not wanting to solve the problems at all.

“A majority of Americans now understand that Trump’s populist approach is dangerous. Although ethnic minorities, in general, feel insecure in the US, Muslims in the world are more secure than they were under Obama’s reign.” Rehan sees most Muslims, Chinese, Mexicans and black voters favouring Biden. “If these minorities participate fully in the elections, Biden’s victory is guaranteed,” he says. Biden might get more black votes because of having Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.

However, some Pakistani-Americans have serious misgivings about Senator Harris, the first vice-presidential candidate of Indian origin. While Harris, an African American woman, born to immigrant parents, personifies the values of diversity that most Pakistani-Americans advocate, the fact that her mother is an Indian worries some Pakistani-American voters. They fear that she might be partial to Indian interests, particularly be supportive of its Kashmir policy.

“It is not possible for me to vote for an Indian. Therefore, I will vote for Trump,” says Musarrat Jabeen, a Pakistani American based in California. Jabeen says Harris could cause irreparable loss to the Kashmir cause. “Elections are about choices. I have decided to vote for Trump,” she says.

Some Pakistani-Americans consider election as a referendum on Trump and his “regressive policies” that they say have harmed America’s social fabric by emboldening right-wing nationalists. “It is not about Harris and anyone making it about her mother’s Indian descent could well risk the democratic norms,” says Victor Gill, another Pakistani-American based in Philadelphia. He says focusing on Harris’s origin instead of her values would amount to letting prejudice cloud one’s judgment.

“Senator Harris’s rise to highest levels in the Democratic Party reflects the fantastic opportunities for the next generation of religious and ethnic minorities. The immigrant story of Harris has much for Pakistani-Americans to learn and to follow.” He says various polls have consistently shown that in terms of bringing the US together as a nation and to ensure coexistence, a majority of Americans feel that Biden’s victory is a must.

Some Pakistani-Americans have serious misgivings about Senator Harris, the first vice-presidential candidate of Indian origin. Although she personifies the values of diversity, the fact that her mother is from India is worrying for some Pakistani-American voters.

“The problem with Pakistan-Americans is that they are not organised and cannot be counted as Pakistani diaspora. The only way for them to get attention and to influence the US policies is to actively participate in elections and to show up consistently. Not showing up at elections sends a clear signal to the politicians to not take their Pakistani constituents seriously because they would make no difference to election results. If a Pakistani-American votes for Trump or does not show up, he is neither serving Pakistan nor the United States. After his re-election, Trump can impose another Muslim ban or some similarly discriminatory policy toward Muslims. If he manages to place Amy Coney Barrett, allegedly a religiously motivated judge, in the Supreme Court, who would stand up to his discriminatory policies in the legal system?” asks Gill.

On the proposed appointment of Barrett, Dr Jason Neelis, chair of the Department of Religion, Culture and Global Justice at Wilfrid Laurier University, in one of his social media posts, said that it was necessary to scrutinize how judge Barret’s social and religious background plays a significant role in her intellectual formation prior to confirmation to a lifelong appointment. “This is not a personal attack on her individual beliefs or on the Roman Catholic Church. As religious issues are closely intertwined with the conservative political ideology driving the hurried nomination process, a full public excavation of her deeply held convictions requires investigation of relevant ties to her background,” he said.

“Trump seems to be non-serious even on international issues. He tried to make the World Health Organisation and United Nations controversial. He tried to dismiss the coronavirus pandemic until he himself caught the virus,” says Pakistani-Canadian Sajid Manzoor Anjum. He says Trump has not been consistent on the virus. “By being indecisive and making poor comparisons about testing and physical-distancing measures, he has made the US the epicentre of the pandemic. How can a sane person still vote for Trump?” he asks.

Trump is also being widely criticised for his behaviour in the first presidential debate, held on September 29. Although supporters of both candidates are claiming victory, various analysts are of the view that the debate probably would not make much difference. The moderator for the first debate, Chris Wallace, also faced criticism for his inability to control the debate which often degenerated into cross talk, rancour and shouting. “Trump never missed a chance to create racist division and hatred even during the debate instead of condemning race crime he encouraged his white supremacist group,” said Richard Landau, a Canadian-based journalist and teacher. The moderator asked Trump if he was prepared to condemn white supremacists and denounce the far-right Proud Boys (an anti-immigrant, all-male group). The president initially sidestepped and then said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I will tell you what, somebody has got to do something about anti-fa (short for anti-fascist) and the Left.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates has scheduled three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate this year. According to tradition, all of the debates will be held at universities. The second debate is scheduled for October 15, but it is unclear if Trump’s illness will impact the debate schedule. The final debate is scheduled for October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville. Steve Scully and Kristen Welker will moderate the second and the third debate, respectively. The debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris was held on October 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Opinion polls suggest that Senator Biden has a lead over Trump with 27 days until election day. However, surveys from several important states show a close contest.


The writer is a senior journalist currently based in Canada. He can be reached at [email protected] and @RanaTanver

US Presidential election 2020: The race for White House