Throughout his two terms as president, Barack Obama invested considerable energy into strengthening U.S. ties to India. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrive in India tomorrow, they’ll find a country that’s grown more skeptical of their American allies.
As the New York Times reported, Donald Trump hasn’t helped.
There have always been irritants in relations between India and the United States. But few have been as perplexing to New Delhi, or left as bitter a taste, as President Trump’s tendency to mock Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s accent in English.
A video of Mr. Trump imitating Mr. Modi has gone viral in New Delhi. So have reports that Mr. Trump often mimics his Indian counterpart in internal discussions.
The list of challenges between the two countries includes several substantive elements, including the Trump administration’s pressure on India to curtail its purchases of Iranian oil and Russian military equipment.
But it’s Trump’s reported interest in the Indian prime minister’s accent that got me thinking: the American president’s preoccupation with accents sure does seem to come up quite a bit.
Last week, for example, Politico reported on Trump’s growing disdain for his own attorney general, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions. The article noted that the president has come to resent Sessions for a variety of reasons, complaining to aides “that he can’t stand his Southern accent and that Sessions isn’t a capable defender of the president on television – in part because he ‘talks like he has marbles in his mouth,’ the president has told aides.”
I’m also reminded of this report from three years ago, just a couple of months after Trump launched his presidential bid.
After making fun of Jeb Bush on Twitter for clumsily offending Asians with his Asian “anchor baby” remarks, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump used broken English and a bad accent to illustrate his past experience with Asian business partners.
“Negotiating with Japan, negotiating with China, when these people walk into the room, they don’t say, ‘Oh, hello, how’s the weather, so beautiful outside, isn’t it lovely? How are the Yankees doing? Oh they are doing wonderful. Great,’” said Trump, Tuesday night at a rally in Dubuque, Iowa. “They say, ‘We want deal!’”
I can’t think of another modern American politician who’s demonstrated so much interest in others’ accents.