“A TRUMP INDICTMENT WOULD be a national disaster. …This will mark a dark moment in American history and will undermine public trust in our electoral system itself.” Who said these words to whom? If you haven’t guessed, let me extend the quotations and the clues: “It is un-American for the ruling party to use police power to arrest its political rivals….Principles go beyond partisanship. Let the American people decide who governs.”
Still in the dark? I wouldn’t blame you. For the speaker is somewhat of a dark horse in American politics, both figuratively and literally. Few have heard of him although he is running for what is possibly the most powerful job in the world—the office of the US president. The speaker is Vivek Ramaswamy, not yet 38, who entered the US presidential race only last month, on February 21. And his words were addressed to the American people, perhaps to the whole free world.
Vivek’s parents moved to the US in 1985, a little before he was born, from Kerala. His engineer father, also well-versed in law, worked at General Electric as a patent agent. His mother is a geriatric psychiatrist. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and raised as a Hindu, Vivek was first sent to a state-funded public school. After he was beaten up one day, his parents moved him to a private Jesuit school. He did very well in high school, graduating at the top of his class.
This was the push he needed to get into Harvard, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s in Biology in 2007. He was a very good tennis player, and also briefly a rapper as an undergrad. Always a good musician, he also played piano at nursing homes for Alzheimer’s patients. After Harvard, Vivek went to Yale, getting a Doctorate in Jurisprudence in 2013. Even while at the university, Vivek was involved in several start-ups. The cofounder of Campus Venture Network (2007-2009), he was also a partner at QVT Financial (2007-2014).
His big break came when he became the founding CEO of Roivant Sciences in 2014. Though the company failed to produce a viable Alzheimer’s drug for which it raised large sums of money, Ramaswamy’s own fortune swelled. He made over a hundred million dollars before stepping down in 2021. So far, Vivek’s story is the typically extraordinary tale of an immigrant’s winning at the Great American Dream sweepstakes. But this is where the similarity ends.
It was while running his pharma company that Ramaswamy made the decisive turn in his intellectual and public life as an ‘anti-woke’ writer, thinker, and activist. According to Ramaswamy, corporate America embraced political correctness as a calculated and hypocritical move to make profits out of causes it did not actually believe in, let alone, espouse. He exposed and expounded these ideas in his first and bestselling book Woke Inc.: Inside America’s Social Justice Scam. The book marks a turning point in his life when he quit corporate America and entered public life.
The book begins rather dramatically: “MY NAME IS VIVEK RAMASWAMY, and I am a traitor to my class.” Before the ritual retelling of the everyman immigrant success story, he justifies it in the very next line, “I’m going to make some controversial claims in this book, so it’s important you know a bit about me first.” With such self-conscious wit, one begins to feel well-disposed to Ramaswamy already.
Very soon, he sets out to expose the corporate con game using a quotation from Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. Like any magic trick, it consists of three parts—the pledge, the turn, and the clincher, known as the prestige. When it comes to windfalls, US corporations resort to something similar, according to Ramaswamy: “First, the Pledge: you find an ordinary market where ordinary people sell ordinary things. Second, the Turn: you find an arbitrage in that market and squeeze the hell out of it. Arbitrage refers to the opportunity to buy something for one price and instantly sell it for a higher price to someone else.” But it’s the pledge that really takes the cake: “pretend like you care about something other than profit and power, precisely to gain more of each.”
Much of the rest of his book illustrates how such ‘wokeism’ works in corporate America. Is a way to police and cancel rivals, browbeat and bully targeted individuals or companies into compliance and subjection, and eventually, make the victors plenty of money, in addition to virtue signalling ‘brownie points’ for being the guardians of corporate ethics and public morality. In the process, we come across the fascinating vocabulary, not to mention strategy, of the woke enforcers. “Deadnaming,” “microaggression,” and “intersectionality,” for instance.
Exemplifying the modus operandi is the Fearless Girl statue staring back at the iconic Wall Street bull. “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference,” the placard at her feet declared. But this, as Ramaswamy shows, was a trick; the Fearless Girl was actually an advertisement gimmick for an ETF which had the same acronym ‘SHE’. But the “prestige” of this trick is the “jujitsu-like move where big business has figured out that it can make money by critiquing itself.”
How Ramaswamy will fare at the hustings does not at all seem encouraging right now. But that is not what he or American politics is about. At least, not entirely. It is about good ideas finding a voice and an ear, no matter which quarter they come from, or which colour they represent
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How? “First, you start praising gender diversity. Next, you criticize Wall Street’s lack of it, even though you’re Wall Street. Finally, Wall Street somehow gets to be the leader in the fight against big corporations. It gets to become its own watchman and, even better, get paid to do it.” In light of this book, even the anti-caste legislation to muzzle Silicon Valley Indians may actually be a way of paying off critics with a new and lucrative position of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) watchdog.
Ramaswamy has followed Woke Inc. with a follow-up, Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence, released last year. The subtitle explains it all. At the end of the book, Ramaswamy flaunts his Hindu roots, revealing that he is named after Swami Vivekananda. ‘Reincarnate’, the title of the book’s Conclusion, is a perfect tribute to the Hindu idea of rebirth.
Using the examples of Shankaracharya, whom his brother was named after, and Vivekananda, Ramaswamy makes a passionate plea for America’s rebirth as a nation. No more the temptations and traps of victimhood: “Victimhood identities have become like magic words. Invoke the right ones and you get into college, get a good job, get respect and status, get heard.” No more magic words and shibboleths. Instead, “Reincarnate. Understand. It’s time to be reborn; we Americans aren’t ready to become nothing.”
Am I convinced? Well, not entirely. But for lack of better choices, would I, if I were American and Republican, give my vote to Vivek? Why? Not because I think he’ll win, but because he has a point to make and is very sincere in his mission to make America great. Once again. But let alone Republican, I am not even an American. How Ramaswamy will fare at the hustings does not at all seem encouraging right now. But that is not what he or American politics is about. At least, not entirely. It is about good ideas finding a voice and an ear, no matter which quarter they come from, or which colour they represent.
To me, the very possibility of a Vivek Ramaswamy is one of the things that makes America great. In that sense, it is indeed an Indian moment for the world. Rishi Sunak is the prime minister of the UK, the country of our erstwhile masters. On the other side of the porous border, Indian origin Leo Eric Varadkar is Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister. Across the Atlantic, Kamala Harris, the Indo-Jamaican, is vice-president of the US. And now a young Hindu, Vivek Ramaswamy, along with Nimarata Nikki Haley (née Randhawa), is in the 2024 presidential race. Not to mention rumours that ex-Democrat and practising Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, maybe Donald Trump’s running mate in his re-election bid. And to top it all, India is the president of G20 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm.
To return to Ramaswamy, his announcement, “I’m running for president,” was rather unusual too. No promises on jobs, healthcare, tax cuts, or sops. Instead, to restore national character and pride by ending identity politics. In an interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Ramaswamy actually likened affirmative action to “cancer”. Also, as jocularly observed, “Ramaswamy will go down in the record books as the first major party presidential candidate to mention ‘ivermectin’ in an announcement speech.”
Refreshing, to say the least, when it comes to taking on the captains of Capitol Hill? Capitalist Punishment: How Wall Street Is Using Your Money to Create a Country You Didn’t Vote For, Ramaswamy’s third book, is expected very soon. Let’s see how America’s anti-Woke CEO, now a Republican presidential candidate, will fare thereafter. Even if he fails as a politician, his future as a writer and influencer looks very bright indeed.