An Uncanny Anxiety Stalks America

Deep inside, in the social conscience of the nation, especially among the educated young, there is an uncanny anxiety about the future. Before and after November 8, it is this dark theatre, which is going to play out for the world to watch, writes Amit Sengupta from Boston

November 8 will mark a day of reckoning, if not redemption, for the United States of America (USA). Till then, every day is loaded with suspense and disbelief, and if my reporter’s instinct and objective assessment is even remotely right, a prolonged spell of depression stalks the beautiful landscape. A large chunk of the US is going through a certain protracted sense of the beginning of the end, even as Halloween arrived and went, with its celebrations, with a pumpkin outside every house. And, yet, this was no stress-buster. Perhaps only the kids who celebrated it with abandon, breaking the infinite silences of the hinterland and the suburbs, have not realised the stress which has come to haunt the adults of the nation, especially those who are not Trump supporters.


Win or lose, this is a testing time for the American people across the spectrum.  The white supremacists and Hillary-haters are backing Donald Trump, while the liberals and democrats are fully behind Hillary Clinton.

Either way, as the poll margins narrow down between the two, especially after the latest email controversy triggered by much speculation, the bad press and public opinion generated against an unrepentant and aggressive Trump on his misogynist, racist, anti-immigrant or insensitive statements have been reduced into an enigma of pulp fiction.

In the swing states of Ohio and Florida, Trump seems to be scoring, despite women, including among the republicans, moving en masse against him after his sexist statements and locker room conversation was made public. The white working class, it seems, is steadfast in supporting him, caught as they are with the mass phobia generated by him that ‘immigrants’, illegal or otherwise, are taking up their jobs, or cutting into their future prospects, and that of their children.


Indeed, the US is currently walking a tightrope walk, which might or might not end in a catharsis after November 8, even as Barack and Michelle Obama have unleashed a sustained campaign to boost Hillary Clinton’s chances.


The dilemma with Hillary, her 30 year plus ‘experience’ in the establishment, including as first lady and Senator of New York, and her being widely perceived as a favourite of ‘Wall Street’ hawks (much before the Wikileaks leak) has not helped her cause, even among committed Trump-baiters and haters. The huge chunk of ‘undecided voters’ too is miffed with this kind of track record.

Her biggest challenge has been to rope in the committed supporters of thousands of the young across the campuses of the country, who backed Bernie Sanders to the hilt in the primaries, and continue to do so.

Many of them have openly staked their support for Green Party progressive Jill Stein, knowing too well that with her 2 per cent support base, their vote might go waste and give an advantage to Trump. A young MIT scientist in Boston told this reporter that since Massachusetts is safe for Hillary, he might still pitch in for Stein, to appease his conscience, a view shared by several academics and progressives who had backed Sanders earlier. His wife, who has republicans in her family, however, remained steadfast in her support for Hillary, saying that the latest speculation on her emails has nothing to prove, either way; there is no new evidence.


Indeed, among the Sanders supporters, especially thousands of the young and students, across the spectrum and across several campuses, Hillary continues to be an establishment figure, who his held responsible for the war in Syria, Yemen and the ‘murder’ of Gaddafi in Libya.

The millions of refugees, and their infinite suffering as a ritual, has been cited by them again and again, even while they believe that the wall street hawks and corporates are backing her. Indeed, despite their deep distrust and animosity towards the politics and posturing of Trump, they continue to remain in a dilemma, days before the polling.


This is a generation of the educated young and students who have marked the politics and aesthetics of hope and a progressive vision, which is strikingly refreshing in the run-of-the-mill political paradigm in the US, which has not been marked with great radical shifts. This generation had earlier voted overwhelming for Obama also, hoping for a paradigm shift in US civil society and politics.

The young are overwhelmingly ‘socialist’ in the American social-democratic sense, anti-war and anti-empire, anti-racism and xenophobia, feminists and ecologists, against climate change and global warming, against the corporate control of the economy and the social fabric, and they strongly back the right to education, health care and women’s empowerment across the frame, especially for those who cannot afford it.

This huge chunk of the popular and educated vote has pushed Hillary to back some of Sanders positions, including subsidy in higher education, which remains inaccessible to the lower income groups, and raising the minimum wage for workers. There is a strong opinion that, if elected, Hillary will have to take into account the strong feelings and opinion of the educated young, because this is the restless and idealistic generation is going to fast-forward the new shifts in ‘American way of life’ in the days to come, and will be decisive to her, if she chooses to run for a second term.  Indeed, the most optimistic aspect of the current scenario is that the young and educated, especially students in the campuses, have chosen idealism and humanism, unilaterally, and thereby mark a sign of hope in the future, both for America and the world.


It is in this context, that it is widely hoped that the last minute tight-race, might ultimately be decided by the young Sanders supporters and it is they who will finally decisively vote for Hillary to defeat Trump.

A student in Boston told this reporter that with Trump controlling the nuclear button, “the world will finally be destroyed”. He, like many others of his age, seemed to be terribly depressed about this possibility. Others, who call themselves ‘progressives’, including from science backgrounds, are unanimous that Trump must be defeated come what may. Across the US, thereby, this undercurrent is still playing out.


However, with Trump neck-to-neck with Hillary in the latest polls, even leading in the swing states, the phenomena has cast a spell of doom among liberals and democrats, including sections of republicans who are truly wary of Trump making it to the White House.

Among intellectuals and academics there is widespread fear that the forces and currents unleashed by the Trump campaign will have long-term consequences, the fissures will continue to dominate the landscape, and social divides and polarisation will mark the simmering wounds of the body-politick.

There is an underlying fear of the possibility of violence too – driven by xenophobia or racism. The misogynistic language becoming legitimate, is part of this depressing phenomena; this is becoming apparent and entrenched in the ‘political unconscious’. The fear is this discourse acquiring a certain hidden and expressed legitimacy, whatever be the outcome of the elections.


Surely, this is a twilight zone, which is waiting to unfold in the days to come. It is at once a moment of introspection for the nation, as much for the world, even as the country’s foreign policy has spelt mass suffering, destruction, death and displacement across conflict zones around the world, especially in the Middle East. In the vast emptiness and beauty of America, the word ‘ISIS’ might look like a false metaphor, but television has brought it in every home, including the tragically relentless stories of the human suffering Aleppo and Mosul.

On the face of it, everything seems normal and ritualistic in the endless silences of this vast and beautiful country, even as the fall brings a kaleidoscope of colours and unpredictable seasons. However, deep inside, certainly, there is an uncanny and nagging anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

Before and after November 8, it is this inevitable theatre, which is going to play out for the world to watch.

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students' Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people's movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. Till recently he has been a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

1 Comment

  • Reply November 8, 2016

    Ramesh dutt

    Deft..forthright..honest..superb analysis Amit… Hillary committed mistakes…Trump will commit blunders..Soar high in the sky..its all urs..get ready to be the first Hillary….Duayein..Dutt

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