US Presidential Election

Bangladeshi immigrants and the discontents of normal

Nafisa Tanjeem | Published: 00:00, Nov 17,2020 | Updated: 22:55, Nov 17,2020


WITH the victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 US presidential election, many in the USA and all over the world are hoping to ‘return to normalcy’ (USA Today, November 7, 2020). The ‘normalcy’ promised by the Biden campaign evoked the post-World War I nostalgia of the landslide win of the Republican presidential candidate Warren Harding who ran against Woodrow Wilson and said, ‘America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment…’ (Klein, May 20, 2020). The hope to return to a so-called ‘normal’ has relieved many people in Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi diaspora in the USA who have been shocked by and suffering from the incredible violence the Trump administration posed against ordinary Americans and specifically marginalised communities. The weekly Bangalee, a New York-based Bangla newspaper, featured the headline ‘Trumper dombher shomapti January 6’ (‘Trump’s arrogance will end on January 6’). The Weekly Ajkal, another New York-based Bangla weekly, quoted a few Bangladeshi immigrant speakers who said at a local celebration event in Bronx, New York City, ‘The victory of Biden means the victory of immigrants… the victory of Muslims and the victory of working-class people’ (Weekly Ajkal, November 14, 2020). The celebratory narratives from the Bangladeshi diaspora make total sense as many of these immigrants bore the brunt of the Trump administration’s ruthless anti-immigration policies. They are counting on Biden’s plan on signing a series of executive orders, including repealing the ban on almost all travels from some Muslim-majority countries and reinstating the Dreamers programme, and the plan to begin the process of terminating the ‘public charge’ rule that was implemented by the Trump administration to deny green cards and immigrant visas to applicants who relied or could rely in the future on government benefits  (CBS News, 11 November, 2020; Weekly Bangalee, 14 November, 2020). Many are rejoicing the rise of Kamala Harris — the very first female, Black, and Indian-American vice president-elect — and hoping for a stronger focus on the South Asian and the Bangladeshi community in the future.

While the hopefulness of the Bangladeshi diaspora, as well as the liberal political sect in the USA, is expected, it is essential to remember that ‘the normal’ before the Trump administration created an abundant ground for the rise of Trump and Trumpism. The normal created a crisis of neoliberal capitalism that promoted mobility of capital, technological interventions and automation, greater labour market flexibility, and free trade agreements, undermining labour rights and exacerbating the growing income inequality and poverty (Organ 2017). The normal let Trump seize the economic anxieties and anger and establish himself as a right-wing authoritarian disguised as a saviour to ‘Make America Great Again.’ The normal is neoliberal. The normal let Wall Street dictate over the lives of ordinary working-class people. The normal made it impossible for progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to win the Democratic presidential race, fight for transformative changes, challenge what bell hooks aptly called ‘imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.’ The normal will let the Biden administration work (or better to say ‘not work’) within institutional limits set by its powerful corporate campaign donors, the Congress, the corporate media, and the conservative Republican-led Supreme Court. The normal made it okay for the Democratic establishment to chastise Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young woman of colour and a progressive member of the US House of Representatives from New York’s 14th congressional district, who is a strong critique of the corporate overtaking of neoliberal US, and to cheerlead for the tokenised representation of establishment-friendly Kamala Harris who is more of a moderate and has a long problematic history of advancing criminalisation of marginalised communities including the Black community, sex workers, and incarcerated transgender community, appealing a judge’s decision to deem California’s death penalty unconstitutional, and working against an independent investigation of incidents of deadly police force.

It is important for the Bangladeshi diaspora to recognise that Trump and his followers are not going anywhere. And many domestic and foreign policies of the Democratic establishment were not all that ‘normal’ anyway. For example, Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, which was dumped by the Trump administration even though the accord is very loosely binding and filled with modal verbs like ‘should,’ ‘shall,’ or ‘may.’ However, Biden does not support the Green New Deal — a progressive plan that proactively addresses climate change through securing jobs, housing, health care, and broad social justice. He will not ban fracking, which has documented evidence of poisoning groundwater, polluting surface water, and threatening wildlife. The Trump administration moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, suspended aid to Palestinians, declared legal support for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and backed out of the Iran nuclear deal. While Biden was critical of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, he said he would not revert it to Tel Aviv, and he is unlikely to undo all of Trump’s initiatives (Washington Post, November 8, 2020). Biden’s policy platform does not include the word ‘occupation,’ whereas progressive Democratic candidates like Sanders and Warren both suggested reconsidering the $3.8 billion aid package that Israel receives from the United States every year (The Cairo Review, October 20, 2020).

Conflating Biden’s victory with the victory of immigrants, Muslims, and working-class people in America — a sentiment which is fairly common among many Bangladeshi immigrants — is not a very productive approach as it does not look beyond an overly narrow focus on policies regarding immigration, health care, or social security affecting lives of Bangladeshi immigrants in the United States and does not consider how broader structural concerns — for example, student debts, lack of access to universal health care, the dysfunctional criminal justice system, racial injustice, climate crisis, or imperial foreign policies — perpetuate systemic suppression of marginalised voices. We need to stop being content with the normal as the normal is the one that resulted in the Trump presidency in the first place and that will continue some of the problematic domestic and foreign policies of the Trump administration in a liberal camouflage in the United States and around the world.


Nafisa Tanjeem is an assistant professor of gender, race, and sexuality studies and global studies at Lesley University, United States.

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email