My fellow Indian Americans, I am here to warn you that Donald Trump is a threat to you, and he is certainly not your friend. He has put your life at risk in two distinct ways: 1) by mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic, and 2) by fanning racial tensions in the country. That, combined with his xenophobic immigration policies, makes Joe Biden the clear choice in November.
Trump’s visit to India, the welcome he gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the “Howdy Modi” event, and his ingratiation to the Indian American community has led many Indian Americans to consider voting for Trump in 2020. However, Indian Americans should be skeptical of Trump’s shallow gestures, which are clearly aimed at their votes and pocketbooks. Instead, Indian Americans should assess whether Trump has been a positive force in their day-to-day lives.
The most glaring failure of the Trump presidency is the unmitigated spread of the coronavirus across the U.S. We have by far the most cases in the world. We account for about 26% of the worldwide deaths from the coronavirus, despite the fact that the U.S. only has about 4% of the world’s population. In a matter of months, over 120,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. That is more than twice as many American deaths during the nineteen year-long Vietnam War. Let that sink in for a moment.
As with every community in the U.S., Indian Americans have lost lives and livelihoods. Trump is not responsible for the virus, but his administration’s gross negligence has been at the root of the mass death and economic destruction. He did not take the virus seriously, and even downplayed it, going so far as to say it would “miraculously” disappear one day.
According to the New York Times, this was despite multiple advisors warning him of the virus’s catastrophic potential. Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, first briefed him about how serious of an impact the virus could have on Jan. 18. On Jan. 29, Trump was warned by his trade advisor, Peter Navarro, that the pandemic “could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.”
Yet, Mr. Trump refused to recommend social distancing measures until mid-March and started talking about re-opening the economy well before the virus could have possibly been contained. Experts have said again and again that more testing is key to controlling the virus. Despite this, Trump has tried to pass the buck for testing onto states. Furthermore, at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump said that he directed his administration to slow testing down so the coronavirus numbers would not make him look bad. His staff tried to claim he was joking, but Trump himself later admitted he was serious.
The coronavirus is not kind to incompetent governance. Even a country such as South Korea, which was seen as a model for containing the coronavirus, is now seeing a resurgence. In the U.S. no one knows what a second wave will look like given that the first wave is still ravaging our country.
But there is more to fear from the Trump administration than incompetence. Trump stokes hatred, and that directly impacts Indian Americans. For example, it was reported that instances of hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric was up by 45% against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Easterner, and Arab communities in the U.S. – in other words, against anyone who looks Indian – in just the first year of Trump’s presidency. Twenty percent of perpetrators invoked Trump in some way. 2018 saw the number of attacks on Sikh Americans triple, and it was also the deadliest year for hate crimes since Sept. 11, 2001.
Indian Americans continue to be a target of this hatred. A New Mexico man named Baljit Singh found his restaurant vandalized on June 22. There was graffiti on the wall that said, “White power,” “Trump 2020,” and “go home.” Trump is so admired by bigots that a Ku Klux Klan newspaper is supporting him in his 2020 re-election campaign. My friends, I have news for you: you will not be welcome in the America Donald Trump is creating.
Then there is immigration. As early as 2017 Trump’s administration began dismantling the work-based visa system, “aggressively” denying H-1B applications. Now Trump is using the coronavirus as an excuse to freeze green cards for new immigrants and has suspended H-1B visa applications until the end of the year.
Indians make up more than 70% of those on an H-1B visa in the United States, so our community would be disproportionately affected. But this has been in the works from the start of Trump’s administration – he and his supporters on Capitol Hill have continuously advocated for curbing legal immigration. Biden, on the other hand, publicly states that he wants to welcome immigrants into the country. His immigration plan says immigrants are a source of strength. He has even recruited six Indian Americans to the Biden-Sanders unity task forces. Who do you think really wants Indian Americans here, Biden or Trump?
Finally, do not be fooled for a moment into thinking Trump is better for U.S.-India relations than a Democrat. President Obama made strengthening economic ties with India a priority. Trump on the other hand put tariffs on Indian goods, and his recent state visit to India failed to produce a trade deal. The U.S. has indeed sold some arms to India under Trump. But that pales in comparison to the fact that Biden was Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement was ratified.
Look at your own self-interest and do not fall for Trump’s show boating. Rife with disease, unemployment, and hate, is America a better country for you and your children today than it was four years ago under the Obama administration? Given Trump’s track record, do you really think he deserves another four years in office?
(Ankur Shukla is a veteran of international and U.S. presidential campaigns. He holds a Master of Public Policy from Harvard University.)