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Editorial: US presidential debate, from Nepal

Editorial: US presidential debate, from Nepal

Flippant comparisons are often made between Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and American President Donald Trump. Both define nationalism narrowly, it is alleged, by excluding minorities. Both are loud-mouthed. APEX is happy to argue that our prime minister, with all his flaws, appears like a saint following Trump’s coup de grâce at the first US Presidential debate on Sept 30: Far from the magnanimous leader of the planet’s sole superpower, Trump appeared like a street thug in the vital debate.

He openly lied, including on life-and-death issue of the Covid-19 pandemic. He belittled his opponent’s family. He declined to denounce white supremacists (in fact, he often behaved like their spokesperson). Trump even refused to commit to accepting the result of the US presidential election. The common reaction on Nepali social media after the despicable early morning CNN spectacle was that of exasperation. Many of those who watched the acrimonious debate had headaches (including this writer), and could not believe their eyes and ears: how could the most powerful and best educated democracy in the world elect this clown for president?

Some Nepalis said they realized their country had more to teach the US on inclusive nation-building than the other way round—so bye-bye preachy American INGOs. Others were more sanguine, as they reflected on how democracies can be brought low by demagogues, in countries rich and poor. The lunatic right-fringe Trump represents is not unique to the US. It is in fact gaining traction all over the world, including in our neighborhood. In Nepal too the trend of victimizing the victimized—be it war victims, Dalits, or other marginalized groups—has polarized the society. 

Not everyone accepts the new Nepali constitution. A small spark could again lead to a conflagration in Province 2 or in the Tharu strongholds in the far west. Having reluctantly accepted federalism, Kathmandu has done little to accommodate these diverse regions and groups. The message from the US, currently in turmoil from a spreading pandemic and race riots, is that we should not take our liberties for granted. It only takes one demagogue like Trump to roll them all back and put the country on the path of (another) civil war. Trump’s America is not so much a beacon of hope as it is a cautionary red light.