Over the years, America has seen a nationally growing community of minority populations. The 2016 elections caused a huge wave of anger and frustration within these communities and led to protests and action against injustices caused by lack of voter turnout and disparity in elections. People protested and voiced out their anger and fear of not having a space to grow on an equal footing as those that were privileged. These events led up to the 2020 election, a time where Kamala Harris, the first Asian-Black woman elected Vice President in the history of this nation.
South Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S with a 45% growth in the last decade. These numbers show the growing influence of Asian Americans in the electoral processes of the States. Meera Kymal reported for India Currents that though Indian Americans represent just over 1% of the US population, they have donated more than $3 milliontowards the 2020 presidential campaigns. Minority voices have demanded equality and representation in their communities. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on April 30th, John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), stated that the 2020 election saw an increase of 40% in voter turnout when compared to the 2016 elections.
The For the People Act and the John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will only give more equality and accessibility to minority communities to break language barriers and make their vote count. Both these bills seek to make the electoral process secure and prevent foreign interventions or money from influencing the electoral process and vote. They also provide better access to voting by mail and overall enhance the voting process and security.
“Language barriers are one of the biggest impediments to the Asian American vote, with 1/3rd of Asian Americans being what is called limited English proficiency” John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).
Mr. Yang further states that previous elections have witnessed a lack of translators or sign indicators for those that are not proficient in English, limiting their access to ballots. While this was taken care of in the 1965 voting rights act, a lot more can be done for those that aren’t proficient in English. “In every election poll, monitors have observed missing Asian language signage and interpreters, which limits our access to the ballot. Ensuring effective language assistance is paramount to closing that consistent barrier in national and local elections,” he stated.
The For The People Act and John L.Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act will improve and expense the voting opportunities for Asian communities making it more accessible to them. The previous election also saw an increase in turnout due to voting by mail. Such steps can be enhanced and practiced more efficiently if the two bills were to pass in Congress.
What better month to discuss this topic than AAPI heritage month! It is important to remember that the influence of Asian American communities strongly impacted the 2020 elections, and the passing of these two bills in Congress will only enhance the opportunity for better representation and understanding of the Asian American community in the States.
Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.
Forum – A column where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.
Is the GOP worse than Trump? No!
The American voters have spoken and President Trump will vacate the White House. He will be relegated to a forgettable footnote in the history of our nation.
While I vehemently reject and abhor the GOP’s religious fundamentalism, narcissism, racism, sexism, intolerance of LGBT and hypocrisy, I still believe that it is vital to our interests that the GOP survives as an opposition party, a necessary evil. A healthy two party system benefits in issuing checks and balances to the instincts of both the far left and the right. You certainly do not want the likes of Ilhan Omar, AOC, and Bernie on the left and the likes of Rand Paul and Pat Robertson on the right, to steer our national conversation and agenda. The two party system ensures that fringe agendas are defeated and the nation sticks to a sensible middle course.
I am hopeful with the generational change in the coming decades, younger Republican voters will be more tolerant, inclusive and even progressive in certain areas. We just have to endure the current GOP till that happens, while working to cleanse it.
Rameysh Ramdas is a resident of the SF Bay Area and has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events.
Is the GOP worse than Trump? Yes!
It is official that the National GOP has grown into a despicable party that has given up all pretense of governance and are focused on consolidating power beyond all else. While, thankfully, Trump has been declared the loser of this election, His erratic, selfish presidency is but a symptom of the problem. GOP is the problem.
Since the early 90s, right wing radio hosts like Limbaugh and think tanks like Grover Norquist have been brainwashing voters and spreading misinformation. Their goal has been to create a lack of confidence in the electorate about in all established norms and structure in the USA. This was codified by Limbaugh in his four pillars of deceit. Trump used social media to amplify the dog whistle into a foghorn reaching vast swaths of the electorate resulting in his win in 2016. GOP readily embraced his win to further their agenda of power consolidation. Just as they did with the rise of Tea party to tear down the tax structure and GWB before that to destroy regulations.
GOP has turned their sights onto elections the very foundation of our democracy. According to a Washington Post article on December 6th Less than 10% of elected GOP congressional delegation recognizes the results of elections that were called a month ago. In another poll by Forbes only 29% of republican voters believed the legitimacy of the presidential election last month. This the clear evidence of the corruption of our democracy by the GOP using Trump. The only way to save our democracy is to reject GOP at the polls.
Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry. He enjoys following politics and economics.
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In 1980, I read Ayn Rand’s novel, Anthem, and was struck. What a great concept: the discovery that ‘we’ was actually ‘I’, and that ‘I’ was all-important. My 20-year old self, yearning to be independent but not really knowing how, found it very alluring. But fast-forwarding 40 years, ‘I’…and I … no longer look so attractive.
Rand’s perspective seemed impressive many decades ago when it was written in reaction to communism and the USSR (where she lived the first twenty years of her life), and when the value of individualism was working to propel the US forward. However, now, taken to an extreme, that same individualism is outdated and is bringing America to its knees, both on a personal level and on a national level.
On a personal level, we have long enjoyed Hollywood’s long-running love affair with the lonely hero and visualizing ourselves as one. I don’t know about you, but advertisements have repeatedly told me that I’m worth it. Whitney Houston’s song, The Greatest Love of All struck such a chord with us because we were already in love with ourselves. And lately, a plethora of ‘I’ technologies (including hardware like mobile phones and software like Facebook) has allowed us not only to express our self-love but also to create our own silos of information. Somewhere along the line, we transitioned from a me-first society to a me-only society. We now see ourselves as individually all-powerful, invincible even, and feel we should be able to solve every problem alone. We’re in an echo chamber of one.
On a national level, capitalism – practiced in an unchecked manner and without socialist protections – has proved to be an exemplary ‘I’ concept, resulting in a growing and destructive social inequality. Strangely, this seems acceptable to many. In international relations, the US has become more isolated by pulling back from several collaborative agreements (e.g., the Iran Deal), joint ventures (e.g., Paris Climate Accord), and cooperative institutions (e.g., UNHRC, UNESCO). American culture and media have glorified the individual to such an extent that ‘we’ and concern for the group at large is thought of as weak and wimpy.
This unquestioning belief in the singular power of the ‘I’ can be delusional, leading to a vast number and array of psychological, social, national, and global problems.
Having drunk the Koolaid for the past 40 years, I do not want to be bothered to wear a mask or social distance or indeed in the future take a vaccine because ‘I’ am invincible. And I certainly don’t want to do it to save the lives of others because ‘I’ am most important. My right to carry guns not only makes me look super cool but also supersedes your right to live. If pushed, I may empathize with those of my country people who vote like me and look like me. I may extend that to those who pray like me because after all, I have God on my side. Since I am the ultimate, I do not want others around who are different: read, inferior. And while I’m at it, I do not wish to vacate the White House if I lose the election because rules do not apply to me. The individual uber allies.
And what do I care about what is happening over the border or across the ocean? I’m not there.
Eighty years ago when Rand wrote Anthem, she saw the world of ‘we’ as dystopian. Today, our world of ‘I’ is dystopian. Different perspectives are appropriate and indeed necessary at different times. We need to swing the pendulum away from the extreme ‘I’ and back towards a bit of ‘we’, and we need to do it now. It requires a difficult and fundamental shift. Fortunately, as ‘I’s, we have agency. We can act to move ourselves and our society towards ‘we’ by focusing on shared values and building a foundation of shared information.
Covid-19 could be just the first test to see if we can do that. And so far, given over 200,000 dead, the US seems to be failing it. In addition, there are many global issues looming on the horizon – like mass migrations, pandemics, and climate change – that desperately need a ‘we’ perspective and approach if we are to survive.
As I grew older, I realized the importance, the strength, and the necessity of ‘we’: family, friends, the local community, and the global network. It’s time that America grew up too.
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and commentator. She divides her time, energy, and passion between North America and Asia.
Humans are pattern-seeking – something that doesn’t agree with the nature of reality since it is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. Anything can happen. There is a perfect blend of beauty and terror in the ambiguity, but it’s the reality we live with and keep tucked away in the backs of our minds every day.
This year has been one of pure uncertainty (in case the advertisements haven’t told you that “these are uncertain times” enough). We joke that 2020 can’t get any worse, so go ahead and add another disaster to the pile forming in the corner in the same way national debt does. It’s not normal to be as numb as we are to the concept of uncertainty. Global pandemic? Economic recession? Protestors getting shot down? The election of a decade? At this point, I could’ve added alien invasion to the list and no one would be phased.
In the year 2020, the only certainty is uncertainty itself. This year has been a breath we’ve been waiting to let out. When will it be okay to breathe? When will it be okay to feel like the crisis is over? When will we be okay?
Until then, we hold our breaths, twiddle our thumbs, and try not to hope too much in fear that something worse will roll along in response.
And here it is: this year (of all years this could possibly happen) incidentally is the year of the general elections.
Red vs. Blue
Elephant vs. Donkey
Democrat vs. Republican
We make decisions on who makes decisions for us. One of the cornerstones of democracy is free and fair elections. Take your ballot and drop it in the box as all votes are counted accurately.
But not this year. No. Like everything else this year, voting is a bit different. Mail-in ballot voting. The concept itself is not all that foreign and has worked on a smaller scale in the past. But this year (to use an overused phrase) there seems to be some controversy surrounding this. Mail-in ballots are voter fraud. We might not know the results until later. The post office sucks. You’ve heard almost everything on this by now if you’ve tuned into even half an hour of news a week.
It’s hilarious. I’m laughing right now as I write this because of the utter hypocrisy of it. I get it, the post system isn’t always perfect, but neither is our political system right now, and it seems the same people criticizing mail-in ballots seem to be glossing over the faults of our government. We keep talking about how fair it is to have mail-in ballots. Can we trust it? What if everyone’s votes don’t count? It’s not an accurate representation. It won’t make everyone’s voice heard.
Has it ever counted? Think about it. No really. Think. Way back in ye olden days, women couldn’t vote, people of color couldn’t vote, the impoverished found it difficult to vote. Was that accurate? The voice of the people was the voice of straight, rich, property-owning, white males.
Oh, but we’ve evolved from that.
Have we though?
Remember: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. That’s the equivalent of saying that starting to think about giving rights to the LGBTQ community can fix homophobia. That’s not how that works.
We’re not that much better today than we were centuries ago in terms of free and fair elections. Why? Voter suppression exists. Who are we suppressing?
Who are the people who are suppressed in all aspects of the American government? Minority groups.
This administration is known to suppress minority groups. Throwing them in cages, threatening deportation, building a literal border wall, shooting protesters, and just sowing hatred. Not to mention how difficult it is to even be able to vote if you have a criminal record. The Shelby County vs. Holder trial didn’t help either. Democracy lost 5-4.
There are tactics and chess pieces being moved to silence people that we aren’t even aware of.
The worst kind of uncertainty is the uncertainty in whether or not your voice is heard. Am I represented? Am I equal? Am I cared for? This type of uncertainty is almost existential in nature and deserves a definitive yes. These shouldn’t be things we have to worry about, but such is the state of reality at this point.
There is a way to change this. Vote. You’ve probably already heard this one, but I’m serious: if you can, then do it. I’m not saying vote for any particular candidate but just vote. The best way to predict the future and eliminate as much of this malicious uncertainty as possible is to vote.
Vote. You can be certain in your own opinions, actions, and decisions. Once you master that, the rest shouldn’t bother you much. You have to voice your opinions and speak out against injustice. It’s hard to pinpoint definitively what is wrong and right, but the important thing is to try. It’s all anyone can do. I can say with complete certainty that trying has more of a chance of succeeding than not trying at all.
Reema Kalidindi is a junior at Lower Bucks High School and a lead volunteer at Bharatiya Temple’s school for children.
Anooshka Kumar’s grandparents voted for the first time in the US, this past week, at the age of 76 and 81. Anooshka sat them down and went through each proposition on California’s Santa Clara County 2020 Ballot – not an easy feat.
Her civic duty extended beyond just her own participation. She started an intergenerational dialogue and the outcome was pleasantly surprising. “They were excited to vote! They now understand how important this particular election is and want to bring in a new leader that actually cares for communities that have been marginalized and discriminated against,” Kumar pridefully said.
Anooshka’s hopes for a better country rely on the democratic process of voting. In order for the future that she envisions to be a reality, she educates herself and the people around her on candidates, their policies, and the propositions on the ballot. “I’m nervous and excited,” expressed Kumar, looking optimistically at the potential future, “We filled in our ballots at home then dropped them off at a ballot dropbox. We want to make sure our votes are counted in time!”
NPR had a segment of airtime addressing people’s anxieties about the election…which inevitably led to more anxiety about the election. Anooshka and her grandparents want their votes to be meaningful, but will they?
Not everyone feels as optimistic…
Diego Osorio, a Mountain View resident pressed, “I wanted to go vote in person because I personally believe that Trump will try to steal the election anyway he can. Recent reports are claiming that he may attempt to throw away mail-in ballots. I want to set an example. If you can vote in person…go!” As a person of color, Osorio is concerned about voter suppression.
A quick survey of the India Currents’ readership reflects that our readers were less likely to use the Vote By Mail option. Of the 150 -160 million expected to vote this year, 70- 80 million of them will Vote By Mail. Vote By Mail will be twice what it was four years ago, with 82 million absentee ballot requests.
“We know the number of [mail in ballots] will be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands but that would not be unique to this election. The pace of mail balloting and the actual time it will take once [a vote] mails their ballot will be the same as it was in 2016,” assures Dr. Persily and continues, “You can take that as good news or bad news…No one was reporting on the hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots that were late in the last election.” Local postal officials feel like they have it under control.
So close to the election, discouraged voters should not be afraid to vote in person. This year there are larger voter centers but long lines are to be expected. The length of the line at a polling place is not directly linked to the length of wait time, since social distanced practices will be observed for safety.
How to View the Election Day
When disseminating information, check to see if the problem is isolated or systemic to a locality. For example, there may be absent poll workers with COVID-related illness, inadequately trained poll workers, or voter intimidation at a specific center but the problem is not systemic unless you see statistically significant rises of such events in a particular locality.
“Get rid of the notion of precinct reporting,” advocated Dr. Persily. Absentee ballot collection precincts may or may not be part of the number of precincts reporting and can skew results. The biggest faux pas would be to declare a winner or use predictive results as the final result on the day of the election.
Patience is key.
“What makes a count official is the certification but the Chief Election Officer in a state,” emphasized Dr. Persily. Most states will not have an official ballot count on election day but check states like Florida that should have nearly all votes counted on election day.
Interested in data and research and want to share that with your network? Always explain the share of vote counted over the expected vote, explain geographically where votes are coming from, and report results in fully reported jurisdictions as a comparison to the 2016 results in the same jurisdiction. Such modeling has already been done by Citizen Data and can be used for accurate insight into the election results.
After Polls Close
Prepare for unwarranted claims of victory by candidates and an onslaught of disinformation relating to voter fraud, destroyed votes, and malpractice.
However, to use our President’s words, “Stand back and stand by…”
Even though we are all anxious, Dr. Persily has confidence in the system. Anooshka, her grandparents, and Diego will all have their votes counted in the 2020 Election.
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
Featured Image by League of Women Voters of California LWVC from USA and license here.
On social media and in real life, we all know friends and family members who complain with good reason that there is little sunlight between establishment Democrats and Republicans on many matters of policy such as race, immigration, and use of U.S. power in foreign affairs. They argue that in dealing with these challenges, the Democrats and Republicans are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, peas of the same pod. They would, for example, argue that under President Obama, more people were deported than under any other President (including George W. Bush); that drones during his eight-year Presidency killed many innocent civilians; and that Obama sent 60,000 additional troops into Afghanistan.
Following this logic, some people might even propose that there is not a huge difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and that Trump has been in fact a strong leader on trade and economy.
At the same time, we need to recognize that politics is ultimately the art of the possible and the choice we make every four years does have consequences for the U.S. and for the rest of the world. More than ever before, we simply don’t have the ostrich-like option to sit out this election or vote for a third party candidate. Indeed, if we view Donald Trump as a serious danger to a fully functioning democracy in the U.S., we must seriously consider voting for Biden/Harris ticket. Not voting for Biden on November 3 is effectively another vote for Trump.
None of our Presidents in the past would meet our highest standards in every imaginable way.
Thomas Jefferson played a major role in shaping our constitutional ideals of life, liberty, and happiness for one and all, but then there is the Sally Hemings story along with his contradictory views and actions on slavery.
With the partial exception of Abraham Lincoln (who grew in ethical stature while in office), no major U.S. President has been without blemish or has met our radical criteria or expectations.
Franklin Roosevelt created societal safety nets (including our hallowed Social Security system), brought us out of the Great Depression with compassion and empathy, and helped the Allies to rid us of the scourge of fascism in WWII, but he was also the one who placed 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps.
Lyndon B. Johnson would get an A-plus on Civil Rights (on par with Lincoln in many ways), but he would probably get a D-minus on the Vietnam War. But here is the reality check on our frequently limited choices: the country and the world would have definitely been better off under Albert Gore than under George W. Bush. At the very least, the Iraq War would NOT have happened and the trillion-plus dollars spent on that senseless war would likely have gone into building infrastructure and fighting climate change in the US. We need to learn not only what happened in the past, but also from the might-have-beens of history.
We believe without a doubt that the U.S. and the world, our healthcare and environment, our civil rights, and civil liberties will be much better off under Biden than under the imperious, narcissistic Trump in his second term. Biden’s decency and sense of empathy can help to heal the divisions and wounds that have been inflicted upon us since 2016. Also, let us not forget Biden has evolved on many important issues surrounding race and law enforcement and has openly expressed regrets for some of his earlier regressive policies and views, in the process of embracing some of the more progressive positions on education and healthcare.
This perspective is not without relevance to the current situation in India too. The BJP could not have won majorities in 2014 and 2019 with the support of hardcore RSS cadres alone. Indeed, voters who subscribe to “soft Hindutva” are largely responsible for the electoral success of BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Some academics and intellectuals in urban centers of India tend to rationalize their support for Modi by exclaiming: “Do you see anyone else we could have voted for? At least we voted for someone who is a strong leader.” Such a focus on a strong leader, away from democratic values and ideals, is eerily reminiscent of how Germans described their choice in the 1930s.
In the U.S. context, we hope that the Biden/Harris team find a way of accepting the challenge of defanging the military-industrial complex that has insidiously kept almost all 20th Century Presidents from both parties in the grip of huge defense budgets and dispensable military adventures abroad. No one spoke more clearly and accurately on that foundational problem of “America” in relation to the world than an Army General, a Republican President named Dwight G. Eisenhower. No President in the past six decades has heeded the prescient warning Eisenhower had issued in 1961, at the end of his eight years in the White House:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Of course, Eisenhower remained fully immersed in the logic of the Cold War. John F. Kennedy too could not shake that off. And even in 2020, we have still not weaned ourselves from the logic of competing superpowers. We hope the Biden/Harris team, when inaugurated on January 20, 2021, will pay heed to Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of building a “beloved community” at both home and abroad, pursuing peace and prosperity for individuals and groups within the U.S. and between nations around the world. We will all need to work hard to keep them honest during the next four years.
Amritjit Singh is Langston Hughes Professor Emeritus at Ohio University and lives in Austin, Texas.
Nidhi Trehan is a sociologist focusing on minority rights and political mobilization and is co-founder of TheySeeBlue’s Austin chapter, part of an all-volunteer network of South Asians across the US dedicated to getting out the vote for Democrats.
My earliest “memory” of America is of my father telling me about the moon landing. “John F Kennedy said we will put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Americans did it.” As a little girl growing up in India, I imagined a country called America whose presidents were visionaries, whose people believed in science, and whose spirit was ambitious.
My second “memory” of America is reading about WWII. “Roosevelt told the American people not to fear, and it was under his leadership that the Allies won the war”. I imagined this president who had suffered from Polio himself; his determination forged in the crucible of personal trials, and I imagined Americans as a courageous lot, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.
My third “memory” of America is of watching the news about the first Gulf War. “The US presidentGeorge H.W. Bushis a Navy pilot himself, who flew 58 missions in WWII”. By this time, I was fascinated by American leaders – full of enterprise, conviction, and personal courage. And my heart was full of respect and admiration for this far-off place.
That America; the country of my imagination is what I immigrated to as a young woman. I came to America because I thought it was the best country on the planet, and I came to offer it the best I had. I came to America because I believed in the ideals that I thought were seeped into the soil of this great country. I am not the only one who came for that reason. Many of us who grew up in countries around the world imagined America to be a receptacle for the best one has to offer, a place where dreams and ambitions came true, a shining city on the hill.
Living in America, I came to know more about its history. I learned that the truth was far more nuanced, the country far more complex, its policies and leaders far more flawed than the little girl had imagined. Yet with all its flaws and complexity, it was a country that, to my immigrant eyes, appeared to forever strive to become a more perfect union, a place where people hardly cared about where you came from but were always interested in where you were going, a place where mastery of craft was valued over superficial achievements, a place where what you knew was more important than who you knew. I felt at home in such a place.
I saw the twin towers fall on 9/11 and cried alongside hundreds of thousands of Americans – the gaping hole in the NYC skyline left a hole in my heart too. When yelled at by a bunch of white teenagers in a car next to me telling me to f*** off, and go back to my country, I was shocked at first, but quickly understood it to be misplaced anger of young Americans who also had a hole in their hearts. I was against the war in Iraq, and so I marched alongside thousands, participating in the finest American tradition of non-violent protest – the tradition that brought India its own independence from the mighty British Empire, the tradition that had made its way from Thoreau to Gandhi back to MLK Jr. in a karmic loop between my two homes. I felt dismayed at the cacophony of fake debate around climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry and perpetuated by the likes of Fox News. Although I couldn’t vote yet, my heart swelled with pride when Americans elected their first black president, and when that president corralled every single country on the planet into the Paris Climate Agreement, in an effort to save the world from imminent climate disaster, I told friends and family back in India – this is what American leadership looks like, it’s still alive! They didn’t need to be told, they knew it too.
Nothing prepared me for the shock of Donald Trump. I remember when I first heard Donald Trump as a candidate – I was caught speechless at the parallels I saw and heard between what he said & how he behaved, and the politicians I had grown up listening to & watching in India. Nothing about him felt “American” to me – no vision, no courage, no brilliance, no statesmanship, no building of bridges. All I heard was hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and showmanship of the worst kind. Having grown up in a deeply sexist country, it was Donald Trump’s treatment of and rhetoric on women that told me that sexism is not only very much alive in America but is now acceptable in American leaders.
I couldn’t believe what else I was learning about candidate Trump – the fraud his businesses indulged in, the thousands of lawsuits he was embroiled in – many of which he openly gloated as bullying tactics against people far less powerful than himself – when did fraud and bullying become something to gloat over in America? Unlike other presidents before him, Trump neither served in the military nor showed respect for others who did, calling John McCain a loser. He rallied his followers into obscene chants to lock up his political opponents and brandished the possibility of an armed revolt if he happened to lose the election. I was awestruck – American democracy and its political landscape were devolving in front of my very eyes.
The idealist part of me couldn’t believe that Trump could possibly win the hallowed office of the American presidency. But another part dreaded what it innately knew from having a lived experience of a far more corrupt, dog-eat-dog political system – people like Trump win, and often, not despite their hateful rhetoric but because of it. There are leaders who call for us to be guided by the better angels of our nature and not give into fear – great visionaries like Lincoln and FDR. And then there are those who give permission to act out our worst inclinations, goad us to fall for the lowest common denominator. I saw many such politicians win elections over and over in India. I thought it wasn’t possible in America – my shining city on the hill. I was wrong.
November 9, 2016 – I knew in my bones that American democracy had been dealt a severe blow, I felt in my heart that the American promise of democracy – with malice towards none and charity for all had been ripped asunder, I saw the promise of America fade for friends & family abroad, almost overnight. I could only hope that President Trump would be a better man than candidate Trump.
Four years of his presidency proved that hope false. Every day I see a president, who refuses to rise to the stature of his office, lies ad nauseam, insults the military, denies science and disrespects scientists, surrounds himself with criminals and when they are convicted pardons them, keeps petty scores & tweets against ordinary Americans and American businesses. A president, who brazenly indulges in nepotism; his appointment of family members to cherished positions in his administration acutely reminds me of the nepotism rife in Indian politics. A president who had promised to “drain the swamp” but has instead turned the government into a cesspool of corruption like never before, with every department headed by industry lobbyists, pillaging people’s money for private profit.
Friends and family around the world marvel at what my fellow Americans bought into but I have no answer to them. I am not sure if ordinary Americans are able to see how much this country has changed in the span of 4 years. If the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” is something to learn from, we have fallen very far indeed. I see signs on lawns around where I live saying “make liberals cry again”; emblematic of a country full of hate and division, and I wonder how it came to pass, that happiness to some is to make their fellow Americans cry. I see signs at white supremacist rallies saying “Diversity = White Genocide” and I realize I am being told that my very existence as a brown person is a threat to theirs, that this country belongs to white people & white immigrants – meaning my white immigrant husband is welcome but I am not. I remember those kids in the car after 9/11, telling me to go back to my country. Except that this time, it is the American President himself saying those words, for that is what he tells me when he calls those white supremacists “very fine people”.
For 4 long years, Donald Trump simply refused to be my President. He refused to be my President when he refused to govern with any manner of decency or grace. He refused to be my President because he refused to inspire Americans to come together in a common purpose, instead pitting them against one another, so they are more divided than ever before since the civil war. He refused to be my President when he put immigrants – asylum-seekers & their children; the proverbial “tired, poor and hungry” in cages – is this how America treats its immigrants? He refuses to be my President when he undermines the work of medical professionals, scientists, and state governors, even as 200,000+ Americans have died under his watch. He refuses to be my President when he refuses to acknowledge the enormity of Climate Chaos, squandering what could have been another “moon-shot” moment for America, willfully pushing Americans and the world closer to the edge of disaster. He refused to be my President because he could not ascend to the stature his office behooves, warranting a spirit of humility, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Instead, he has turned the country I was proud of, into an object of pity around the world. So much for the promise of making it great.
Despite his self-proclaimed greatness, comparing himself to Lincoln and asking for his face to be added to Mount Rushmore, Trump has left the American spirit and its moral ascendancy around the world in tatters. He is already ranked by historians & scholars, and seen by much of the world, as one of the worst American presidents ever. In its nearly 250-year-old history, America has had 45 presidents, all of them powerful for a brief period, yet most of them forgotten soon after. That’s the nature of history; it turns the once-mighty into nothing but dust, it is poised to do the same to this one.
But from the eyes of this immigrant, Donald Trump would forever be seen and remembered as the President of the Divided States of America.
Swati Srivastava is a film-maker, an environmentalist, and a first generation immigrant in the USA. She can be reached via Linkedin and swati@TiredAndBeatup.com
A household with four people – two parents and two children – is akin to the sea. There are high tides and low times, turbulence, and quiet days. Now morph the kids to teenagers and the picture becomes more chaotic – the same sea analogy, but with more stormy days than pleasant ones. But throw in an election where the members are on opposite sides and you get – the perfect storm.
Our household is as normal as it gets, given that all four of us are very vocal about our feelings and thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Over the past four elections, life was relatively normal as we were all on the same side, more or less. Up until 2008, we weren’t US citizens, so elections were mostly a spectator sport. Granted, we discussed them so much that our little ones lisped ‘Haba Dean’ when Howard Dean made his short but memorable run, and spoke about ‘Superdelicates’ during the much-contested 2000 election, but that was about the extent of it.
We got our citizenship in February 2008 after a long wait, just in time for the elections. That April, I had surgery for ACL repair and had to be on crutches for a while. Just then, Barack Obama came to a rally in a city nearby. Of course, we went, kids, crutches and all. Seeing me on crutches, a volunteer-led us to seats right behind the podium. Listening to a presidential candidate speak, and that too someone as articulate as Obama, was awesome. We shook hands with him afterward, and our vote was sealed. No contest there. He was our two-term president, no question about it. I even volunteered during the run-up to the elections, making calls to people in our state of Montana. They must have thought that they were receiving calls from a call center!
Then came the election of 2016. Here we ran into a weird problem. No one in our family, including our two young daughters, liked either of the main choices. After some discussion, we voted for an independent candidate with heavy hearts. It felt like we were throwing away our votes.
And now comes the election of 2020. This year has seen so much drama that everyone is buying next year’s calendars in September, in hopes of seeing this year-end. Politics too has played no small part in it. There is so much bad blood, so much hatred, fear, and nastiness that the country of the United States of America stands divided like never before …
And so does our family!
For the first time, our family is split in our votes. Also, for the first time, all four of us can vote, so we began to have discussions as soon as the candidates were announced. And that was when the cracks in our household began to show.
Well, nobody liked one candidate, that was for certain. We might all have voted for the other candidate if he had been younger or more dynamic. As matters stood, some in the family felt that the obnoxious one may be a better choice to fix the economy, seeing as how the other one seemed almost out of it. They also disliked the way in which the liberal media was openly taking sides. One of the family, however, just couldn’t stand the obnoxious one, so that person’s vote was headed elsewhere.
At the beginning of October came another shocker. Both COVID-19 and the elections, which had been cutting parallel paths through the year, suddenly merged, with one candidate contracting the disease. Honestly, if anybody had written a fictional piece like this, they would’ve been laughed out of the publishing business for having Kafka-esque imagination. It has also become obvious to all that however these elections end, whichever candidate wins, it is going to be a knockdown, drag-out, ugly mother of a fight, and the repercussions of which will last a very long time.
As for my family, we are still having discussions/arguments/fights over these elections. Luckily, we don’t take these skirmishes seriously. Hey, we may even unite to vote for an independent candidate. Therefore, hopefully, our house will still be standing after the elections.
As for the country … only time will tell!
Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.
We are in the throes of another election season. A season necessarily filled with promises, policies, initiatives, and a fair amount of fluff. There are no initiation courses for politicians. No training. No solid requirements or certifications to do the job. The various forms of media are especially active during this season, amplifying their candidate’s voice.
There have been disturbing trends towards dictatorship in the past few years in our dear country. We have grown used to being lied to, we are more divided than ever before, and the versions of the truth fluctuate wildly depending on which network or newspaper reports it, it is increasingly hard to determine what the truth is.
Just a simple search for ‘Media Bias Charts 2020’ is enough to drive home the point:
These problems have always been there. 2000 years ago, the world’s greatest democracy of the times, modern-day Italy, then the Roman Empire, witnessed turmoil that resulted in the decline of democracy. Things took a slower time to do so 2000 years ago, but with accelerated advances in technology linking us faster than ever to ‘breaking news’ and social media amplifiers for everyone, the waters have become noisier and murkier.
Several times in the past few years, I have gone back to reading a fine essay, The Baloney Detection Kit, written by eminent physicist, Carl Sagan. We have been living in a state of dubiety (The state or quality of being doubtful; uncertainty).
The essay starts off by empathizing with the human condition. Why are we, as humans, willing to believe in things whether or not there is any sober evidence for it?
It isn’t unheard of to believe in things supernatural, or falling for false advertising campaigns with exaggerated claims, or believing models wearing Doctor’s coats, or blindly believing religious zealots who spout hypotheses with confidence. As human beings, we have been doing this for centuries, and in most probability will continue to fall for some sort of questionable practices.
As long as there are those who are willing to take advantage of the vulnerable with little or no consequence, these will persist.
While we enjoy the occasional myth or fib, it is important to know the difference. For an adult to attack Harry Potter for instilling witchcraft is worrisome for this very reason. As part of growing up, we want children to outgrow the myth of Santa Claus. Knowing to distinguish fantasies from reality is a necessary tool for survival.
Which brings us to why we must have a version of Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit for us to use.
It has been a saddening realization to find that Science has not been embraced when it is needed the most. I was reading a book on the greatest inventions of mankind in the past 2000 years. It is a book collating the answers from philosophers, researchers, and professors from various fields. One of the answers given was the framework of Science. I couldn’t agree more. The ability to think, weigh, design experiments with control and test groups, and sift empirical evidence has resulted in the very least at :
Saving millions of lives, that in previous generations, succumbed to the disease.
Figuring out how to feed a planet that grew from 1 billion to over 7 billion within a generation.
For those who would prefer a straight jump to the Baloney Detection Kit, here it is quoted from the essay:
Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
Arguments from authority carry little weight—“authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.*
Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)—not just most of them.
Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable, are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle—an electron, say—in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
As we move towards an election season amidst the Covid outbreak, economic hardship, and so much more, I hope we can keep reminding ourselves of the Baloney Detection Kit and apply it for ourselves.
Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.
I am an immigrant who has never failed to vote in ANY of the elections since my citizenship. Moving from India to the USA, I transferred from one Democratic country to another.
I remember when India got to be a free country and the first election we had after that in 1951-52. I was a high school student tenaciously engaged in helping out our first election as a volunteer. There was a historically mammoth turn out of people waiting in line to vote. I remember so many older people unable to walk who were assisted by volunteers like myself or who came by oxen driven carts, some running out of breath but nobody will return without voting.
Nobody used the convenient excuses of inconvenience like long lines, heat, etc. to abstain from voting. The tradition has continued until today. People were determined to vote patiently, quietly, and ungrudgingly. Democracy brings its own challenges and hardships but to be able to vote is its ultimate reward and quieting relief. Peoples’ dissatisfactions get a chance to be resolved, dissolved, or diluted.
Democracy is our elementary right provided it is executed in an elemental way. Yes, majority prevails in democracy but how do we ascertain that if the majority of people do not vote or vote responsibly?
Perhaps everyone may not agree with me but our journalists are doing a job as well as humanly possible to enhance our power of responsible voting. If we want democracy to survive and thrive, it needs our commitment and loyalty. We also have to redefine our loyalty.
“A healthy loyalty is not passive and complacent, but active and critical,” said Harold Laski, the astute political Philosopher from England. Voting without discretion will only perpetuate anachronism. We, therefore, have to shake off our sleepy confidence and restore our lost glory.
“Success is not the position where you are standing but which direction you are going,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., once an Acting Chief Justice of our unique country. When our leaders do not operate discreetly under “unfettered freedom”, the voters can and should. In Democracy, voters can control and should modify their leaders. All the columns and letters published in our media reverberate the feeling of “ our happiness” rather than “my happiness”.
Let our leaders take this life-saving hint while time is still permitting. Any deviation that leads to personal or party interests will be lethal to both this country and its leaders. True democracy means everyone breathes without effort. A shudder went down my spine when I read a quote by Winston Churchill, “Democracy means that when there’s a knock in the door at 3 am, it’s probably the milkman.”
Senility versus sanity in the choice of our next President…
It was perhaps not entirely fortuitous that within a span of a few hours I came across two thought-provoking articles: One on “Age and health both on the ballot” by Charles Blow and “Elder Statesmen” in Psychology Today by Christopher Ferguson, Professor of Psychology at Stetson University. They both expressed concern about the septuagenarians’ battle for the highest office of our country. Both candidates, while in their seventies are likely to be engaged in the “younger than thou” approach to fulfill their political ambitions.
How critical are the age and health factors in choosing our President?
We usually apply the criteria of statistics and science to evaluate them but they both are soft. They can provide crude estimates but not a perfect portent. This is because health is fickle and beyond prediction. Let us look at our own Presidential history:
* John F. Kennedy: had Addison’s disease with chronic back pain, needing occasional use of crutches.
* Ronald Reagan: Alzheimer’s disease started manifesting in the later parts of his Presidency.
It may, therefore, be an exercise in futility to predict the consequences related to the age and health of our elected President.
Accordingly, I do not think the age or health of our future President (although we will pray for his health) is a decisive factor. If we cast a glance at the age of our illustrious world leaders, some of them were chronologically old, but a young and open heart to serve humanity was throbbing in them. “Young men know the rules, but old men know the exceptions, “ said Oliver Wendell Holmes. Jr., our insightful ancestor. It is open to question at the same time if old age is invariably associated with wisdom. Sometimes old age can come all by itself.
At this point in time in our current world, we are fortunate to have an assorted group of young and senior world leaders assisted by a caring cluster of experts in all fields. Our challenge is to create a chorus of coordinated talents that are unswervingly dedicated to the welfare of the Globe at large. Effective leadership in the present and future will undoubtedly be consisting of teamwork. No single leader, no matter how brilliant, can handle the complexity of the rapidly changing world. His success will depend on the company of advisors he keeps and parts from. The term “Third world country” is now replaced by “developing Country” and even that term is fast being replaced by the term” developing world.” We are all developing, hopefully cohesively and cooperatively to make our globe inhabitable if not glorious.
This election extends to us a chance of creating leadership that our country benefits from and the world is grateful for. Anything less than that is less. America still provides a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
Let us all vote with a vision. Not to vote is sacrilegious. To vote without the welfare of the world in mind, ours and everyone’s, is self-destructive in the long run.
Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
COVID-19 is hitting everyone hard, including Caltrain, the Bay Area’s commuter train line.
On Nov.3, Measure RR will give voters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties the opportunity to bring Caltrain back from the brink of closing down.
Before COVID, the train system was carrying 65,000 riders – 4,600 per hour each way, on average – between its 32 stations on tracks stretching from Gilroy to San Francisco. By doing so, it was replacing an estimated four freeway lanes’ worth of traffic and 400 million driving miles every year.
On a daily basis, that’s 10,000 vehicles on Bay Area roads and 200 tons of carbon dioxide in the air that Caltrain’s presence eliminates.
But with COVID, Caltrain has lost 95% of its ridership, and is in danger of having to shut down.
With their fares, passengers provide about 70% of Caltrain’s operating budget. The rest comes from San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, all of whom are facing their own economic struggles this year and are not obligated to contribute. The funding formula is based on matching contributions from each county augmented by a calculation of the percentage of Caltrain riders from each.
That arrangement was made when local governments took control of the system after Southern Pacific decided to opt out of the commuter train business in the 1980s and was considering closing down the system, the seventh-largest train system in the country and a fixture of Bay Area transportation for more than a century (1863).
A slight majority of Caltrain riders identify as Asian (40%), Latinx (12%), or Pacific Islander, American Indian, Middle Eastern or other, with the remaining 48% white, according to Caltrain’s most recent survey, in November 2019 (https://tinyurl.com/CaltrainRiders).
The popularity of commuter trains has risen and fallen over the years. For instance, although ridership doubled between 2005 and 2015, Caltrain had to make cutbacks during the recession in 2010, but the availability of public transit has been key to planning decisions on where to build housing on the Peninsula, and helpful in an era of growing concern over climate change.
Passing Measure RR will require support from two-thirds of the voters in San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco combined. It calls for an eighth-of-a-cent — .0125% — increase in sales tax for the next 30 years, with food and medicine exempted, along with other necessities.
Measure RR is expected to provide $108 million annually. Currently, Caltrain is running an $18.5 million deficit after receiving $41.5 million from the federal CARES Act earlier this year.
Surveys show that at least 70% of Caltrain’s passengers expect to get back on board once the pandemic recedes, but if the train system does shut down, getting it restarted will be costly and time-consuming – more than two years and $150 million, according to one independent estimate (https://tinyurl.com/CaltrainRestart).
Advocates point out that most transit systems already have “dedicated” funding sources that Caltrain does not, and that providing one such as Measure RR proposes will enable Caltrain to keep running and eventually proceed with plans (https://caltrain2040.org) to modernize, expand the frequency and geographic reach of its trains and provide greater access via reduced fares for target populations such as students, seniors and working-class passengers, who disproportionately rely on public transit.
Caltrain is currently offering low-income riders a 50% discount in a pilot program that Measure RR funding would allow to continue. The funding would also allow Caltrain to expand the train system’s utility to underserved communities by running more trains at midday and other non-peak commuter times, improving access to other transit systems and to bicycle riders and by staving off future fare increases.
“Caltrain is an absolutely critical part of the Bay Area transportation system, and shutting it down would be catastrophic for our economy and our working families,” said Assemblymember David Chiu, who represents San Francisco. “It’s our responsibility to ensure that Caltrain isn’t another casualty of this devastating pandemic, and do whatever we can to preserve public transportation for all of our citizens.”
Measure RR has garnered endorsements throughout the communities and businesses Caltrain serves – from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Brisbane, Burlingame, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, San Carlos, Portola Valley, Los Gatos, to the Sierra Club, Sustainable Silicon Valley, the South Bay Labor Council, the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area and the Bay Area Council and more (https://tinyurl.com/MeasureRREndorsements). Also on board are newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Mateo Daily Journal and San Jose Mercury News.
CALTRAIN— a vital lifeline for commuters between San Francisco, the Peninsula and Silicon Valley — is on the brink of shutting down. It relies largely on fares, and ridership has plummeted because of the pandemic. But thousands of essential workers who don’t have the luxury of working from home rely on it every day, and once the pandemic ends commuter demand for Caltrain services will return.
Measure RR would provide Caltrain with a dedicated funding source, help provide faster and more frequent trains and ensure it remains an affordable option for all types of riders. Measure RR will also reduce traffic congestion, removing thousands of cars from highways every day. Fewer cars on our roads means less pollution in the air we breathe.
Measure RR is a 1/8 cent sales tax. If approved it would add a penny to an $8 purchase of gas and generate $108 million annually. It requires 2/3 support from voters in all three counties—Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco. If approved it will last for 30 years and can only be renewed by voter support.