Triumph of the Nasty


On the triumph of Donald Trump, most of us in the liberal media and society were wrong. I have since been reflecting on this historical accident and felt in good company: The New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, Financial Times, The Cable News Network (CNN) and indeed the entire gamut of influential media and world leaders; we all gave the real estate merchant with a discoloured patch skimpy chance. But see what we have? Donald Trump is US president imminent. As Garrison Keillor wrote in The Washington Post of 9th November, “Raw ego and proud illiteracy have won out, and a severely learning-disabled man with a real character problem will be president.” Easily one of his signature verbal indiscretions was at the final debate when he interrupted Hillary Clinton: “Nasty Woman!”
Every now and again in history, democracy delivers an illegitimate child. Adolf Hitler was one. Closer to this copy is Silvio Berlusconi, another licentious and noisy moneybag. Here comes another, Trump, a loud mouthed and unstable Manhattan real estate mogul with scant knowledge of government except as a target for unrelenting vitriol and abuse.
Yet, the fact of winning the election to the presidency in America by a laser thin electoral college margin does not in itself absolve Mr. Trump of the heinous negatives that have become the trademarks of his nasty campaign, dubious identity and even more surprising triumph. The man remains a racist, bigot, misogynist, merchant of hate and unscrupulous businessman. The best that can be expected from his presidency would be a deliberate reversal of these etchings. But even ahead of formal inauguration, the man prefigures a stubborn unwillingness to course correct.
He has continued to blame and threaten the American media, accusing them of inviting the nationwide protests against his thin electoral victory. He has threatened to invoke a non-existent national libel law (a threat to the First Amendment of the US Constitution) and to sue media houses under applicable state libel laws if they remain critical of his illiberal methods. He has proceeded to appoint his Campaign Chief, the racist propagandist, Stephen Bannon, as his Chief Strategist come January 20th. Clearly, Mr. Trump is more likely to want to rule than govern America. If that fear holds true, this will be the first time that American democracy will produce a Third World type autocratic ruler, a development that will test the institutions and traditions of that democracy to the limit. What is historic about the emergence of Mr. Trump is that the American political system has literally defied the founding vision of the country to deliver this nasty fellow as its next president.
There also lies the glimmer of redemption. The faint belief is that the very Washington system against which Mr. Trump relentlessly railed and cursed during the campaign would either bend him to tow a rational path or show him the way back to Trump Tower in New York.
Perhaps the Trump affront is America’s headache first and foremost. The ongoing street riots, the deep divisions along racial, ethno-national, class and sectarian lines that threaten to engulf America remain domestic headaches. But the resurrection of ancient antagonisms and primal negativism long buried under the rubble of nascent civility ought to keep the American ruling class awake. Power transition is good if those who must rule can find a quiet followership to command. But when the reign of an accidental sovereign is greeted by endless riots, racial conflict, religious uprising and even an intensification of existing terrorist headaches, then democracy and the structures and pretensions that sustain it are critically endangered.
Beyond the borders of America, Mr. Trump’s imminent advent embodies developments that could endanger the symbolic integrity of the Statue of Liberty. Such developments can only unsettle a world that has got used to seeing America as the recourse of immigrants from all corners of the globe. The world thrives in peace when the lonely lady on Ellis Island braves the waves of the open sea to continue to beckon and welcome the hungry, the distressed, the oppressed of all nations to partake in the gift of hard work for reward which America promises. But clearly, Mr. Trump is against America’s defining exceptionalism of diversity and multiculturalism. He and his fellow white bigots have a narrower definition of America, one that would rather exclude people that look different, worship differently, feel free to love and belong differently. Between this mean shrinkage notion of America and the diverse essence of over two centuries of inclusive history, Mr. Trump’s ascent may inaugurate a season of prolonged tension the end of which may unsettle his troublesome presidency.
The political consequences of rising populism are everywhere in evidence. Before Brexit, there was the uprising in Greece which rode on the back of a thrashed economy to prop Syriza to power. Briefly, all manner of rabble-rousers including my friend the economist Yanis Faroufakis came to power with no idea of how to run a government. Many of them fled after a few weeks of prime time television grandstanding. Then came Brexit with itinerant noise merchants like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson whose activities have sent the British economy hovering at the brinks of a major crisis. Similar populist pressures are mounting in France and Poland. The defining mantra of these populist movements is ‘change’, an opportunistic exploitation of pent up frustration with the established political status quo by persons with scant notion of government. They ride on the wagon of change to come to power and then do practically nothing except worsen things. I wouldn’t know how today’s Nigerians relate to this new global fraud of exploiting ‘change’ to mess up things.
Outside America’s borders, a global order that has held sway since after 1945 is about to be upset. A Russian favourite candidate is about to inhabit the White House. Except his handlers shorten his leash, Trump may destabilise NATO, send Germany and Japan back into the nuclear arms bazaar, unleash Iran on its Arab neighbours and encourage Saudi Arabia to buy nukes off the shelf. Israeli hawks will be happy to do in the open what they have always done undercover because Trump’s followers also include anti-Semitic elements.
An emboldened Russia under an ambitious Vladimir Putin may now feel free to insist on a sphere of influence stretching from the Baltics to the outer fringes of the old Soviet republics. Putin may even claim a right to help Assad of Syria to exterminate his opponents in a return for a permanent foothold in the Middle East. China with new wealth and power will encircle South East Asia and garrison the South China Sea, unhindered by fear of US reprisals. Europe, splintered and weakened will collectively seek the protection of The UK and France and ask Germany to pay for their collective security. Under pressure from a new isolationist America, the Eurozone may just melt away as leaders in the mould of Trump and the Brexit bunch sprout all over Europe.
For those of us in Africa, Trump has no idea of ‘where the heck Africa is’ on the map. A racist American president who holds the liberal media in disdain and hardly reads any books is clearly a tragedy made in hell. Trump sure knows about Africa especially Nigeria but only as the source of thousands of aggressive undocumented immigrants who are all over the United States, having taken jobs from Americans. President Muhammadu Buhari was among the first six world leaders to congratulate Trump. He called back 10 leaders within a few days and was yet to call our man back at this writing.
It is easy for some of our Nigerian elite to feign indifference to the rise of Trump. Some have even counselled that we should also retract inwards and ‘forget America’! But if Trump the campaigner translates into Trump the president, Nigeria may not fair too well. There is an estimated $7 billion in annual inward transfers from diaspora Nigerians living in the US. Income from Nigeria’s trade with the US is another estimated $12 billion. Of our 21 odd banks, 20 have correspondent banking linkage with major US banks without which we can hardly trade with the rest of the world. Undocumented Nigerian immigrants and their families in the US could be anywhere between 85,000 and 100,000 of the estimated 350,000 plus Nigerian Americans. Not to talk of the children and dependents of the immigrants in schools and colleges or at work all over the United States.
But America is not an ordinary nation even though this uncouth outcome has exposed its rough underbelly. On a normal day, what irks America troubles the world. Trump will aggravate the ripple effect of America’s global import. If he makes good his myriad apocalyptic threats, the echoes will reverberate from Beijing to Mexico City, from Tehran to Lagos, from Brussels to Bhutan. From America’s untidy past, frightful images of the KKK, of race riots and waves of intolerant behaviour will return. Already, a section of American school kids misguided by Trump’s rhetoric are shouting ‘Build that Wall’ in class. The contrary voice is even louder: ‘Not My President’. The latter voice has spread unto the streets of major cities. The repercussions for the American society and for the rest of the world can only be imagined. Between combatting the repercussions of his divisive rhetoric and incendiary ideology and settling down to create the prosperity he arrogantly promised Americans, Mr. Trump may have his work all cut out. The real excitement of the moment is to await the actual onset of the Trump presidency- a season of endless drama of the unknown.