Donald Trump is anything but a man of few words.
Especially on Twitter, the US president scarcely restrains himself from reacting to a range of events. In the last few days, for instance, his official Twitter handle @POTUS and personal handle @realDonaldTrump have produced the usual flurry of tweets, covering everything from fake news and the leaking of confidential information to a museum visit and shootings in Chicago.
Yet, the voluble president hasn’t uttered a word on the shooting in Kansas that killed 32-year-old Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injured two others. Kuchibhotla and his colleague, Alok Madasani, were grabbing a beer at a bar in Olathe when they were attacked by 51-year-old Adam Purinton, who apparently mistook them for Middle Eastern men. Ian Grillot, a patron who tried to intervene, was seriously injured.
“Get out of my country,” Purinton allegedly shouted, before opening fire.
So far, the Trump administration has said precious little. When White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about a possible link between Trump’s rhetoric and rising racist violence, his response was this: “Obviously, any loss of life is tragic, but I’m not going to get into, like, to suggest that there’s any correlation I think is a bit absurd. So I’m not going to go any further than that.”
Trump’s silence is unsettling—and infuriating—for more than one reason.
By choosing not to openly condemn the attack in Kansas at a time when the US is deeply divided along racial lines, Trump risks giving the impression that he cares little for America’s influential Indian immigrants—or Indians in general.
“If the situation in Kansas were reversed, if two Indian immigrants attacked a group of white patrons to intimidate the larger community, there’s little question that Trump would respond with anger and condemnation,” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote last week.
Such a stance flies in the face of Trump’s pre-election proclamation that the US and India would be “best friends” if he made it to the White House. “If I’m elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House, that I can guarantee you,” he said last October at a campaign event organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition in New Jersey.
Indian-Americans are among the most successful and educated minority groups in the US today, with a particularly strong presence in the technology sector. And a legion of middle-class Indian engineers—some of who have risen to the top of Silicon Valley—have bolstered the community’s grip on the industry, while raising its profile globally.
That is why the attack in Kansas—and the lack of a response—has touched a raw nerve: If a well-educated, law-abiding, and legally-employed immigrant can’t work in the US without fearing for his life, who can?
“The situation seems to be pretty bad after Trump took over as the US President,” Madasani Jaganmohan Reddy, Alok Madasani’s father, said last week. “I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the US in the present circumstances.”
India’s $146 billion information technology (IT) industry, the main exporter of Indian immigrants to the US, already fears that Trump’s clampdown on work-visa programmes might make life difficult. So, the lack of empathy from the White House after the Kansas shooting will only add to the anxiety.