‘America First’ in Dishonesty and ‘Making America Great Again’ in Unilateralism’: US-Nigeria Ties under Joe Biden


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The 2020 United States (US) presidential election is very important and quite critical to the understanding of the US foreign policy as a major dynamic of global governance. The most significant aspect of the election is the factor of President Donald Trump as a candidate. The election threw much light on his person, character and personality. The second point from the candidature of Donald Trump is his political supporters who believe in his character, personality and whatever he says and stands for.

As a result of the considerable support he has, it can be rightly posited that the people of the United States are sharply divided on whatever Donald Trump stands for. But what really does Donald Trump stand for as President of the United States in the period from 2017 to date to warrant the consideration of his re-election? How do we explain the admission by many Americans that the attitude of Donald Trump is not befitting of a President of the United States, that he lacks diplomatic finesse and always demonstrates a holier-than-thou disposition in such a way that he only finds faults with all others and he is never wrong. His way and viewpoint is not only right but must be accepted by everyone, etc, and yet, many people ignore these false pretences and stillaccept to vote for him?

If truth be told, his campaign themes and policy declarations following his election in 2016. He first talked about America First, implying that, under no circumstance should the United States be in a second position, not to talk about being in the third position. This policy also means non-readiness by the United states to accept the position of others, regardless of whether others have better arguments. This is quite patriotic, especially that this doctrine of ‘America First’ is meant to apply at the level of foreign trade. In other words, emphasis should always be put on what is of interest to the people of America. This cannot but attract some other patriots.

Donald Trump also added the need to ‘Make America Great’ and ‘Making America Great Again.’ ‘Make America Great’ can first be looked at as a call on the people of the United States to unite their energies and make the country great. This means that the United States had not been great already and there is the need for it to become great. But when he talks about making America great again, he is not only implying that the United States was once great, that the status of greatness had been lost, and that there is the new need to restore the lost status of greatness? But when was the status of greatness lost? Since the end of World War II when the United States acquired the status of a Superpower, along with the former Soviet Union, the status has remained as it is, meaning that we have to seek a new and better understanding of making America great again. Whatever is the case, and whatever meaning is given to it, it appears to have entered deeply into the psyche of Donald Trump’s supporters for his re-election bid and this cannot but be most unfortunate.

‘America First’ in Dishonesty
Donald Trump policies simply reflect the silent views of Americans who strongly believe in supremacist ideologies in which there are original Americans who are superior and all others who are inferior. Supremacist Americans found in Donald Trump a spokesman. This is one major rationale underlying the racial struggle for equality and fairness in American politics. His attitudinal disposition to the crisis of Black LivesMatteris acasein point. Besides, Donald Trump’s foreign policy is largely predicated on a tripod of national security, trade vibrancy as means of ensuring economic self-reliance, and laisser-faire diplomacy that does not condone compromise.

True enough, every country underscores national security but differently in approach. As for the United States, Donald Trump wants to ‘Make America Great Again.’ He wants to completely neutralise all terrorists by carrying the war to their door steps. In doing this, he wants a more enabled American military that will be second to none. He increased the defence spending in 2017 by 10% to $639 billion. He tried to reinforce border defences and strengthen immigration controls. As good and patriotic as this may appear to be, there is no disputing the fact that the policies are largely driven by unrepentant dishonesty and rigid unilateralism all of which have brought much international hostility to the doorsteps of the Americans at home and abroad.

First, as regards unrepentant dishonesty, the personality of President Donald Trump appears to have a great dose of dishonesty, often manifested in his lies telling, saying one thing and denying the same, as if he had a loss of memory. At the level of his business life, the element of dishonesty can also be raised. When ordinary Americans paid thousands of dollars as federal income tax in 2016, he only paid $750 in 2016 and another $750 in 2017. According to the New York Times, Donald Trump did not even pay any income taxes at all in ten of the fifteen previous years. Yet, he was President of the United States in 2017 and still paid $750 as federal income tax compared to the $9,302 in federal income tax in 2018 on an average earnings of $78,635, to borrow the figures from the US Bureau On Labour Statistics.

When this information was made known to the general public, Donald Trump said it was fake news and that he was actually paying taxes. As he explained it, ‘actually, I paid tax. And you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns -it’s under audit, they’ve been under audit for a long time… The Internal Revenue Service does not treat me well… They treat me badly.’ If he was treated badly, why is he preventing the general public from knowing his tax status as a public figure?

Even though not making his tax returns known to the public is not a legal infraction, he is still on record to be the first and the only President that has not made his tax returns known to the public since 1970. Why? Donald Trump explained that he did not pay tax for ten years ‘largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.’ The clear message is clear here: if he could not manage well his business for ten years, and therefore could not earn enough personal income to be able to pay more tax, how does he explain the payment of only $750 in 2017? Has he not brought his insolvent business practice to the domain of political governance? Already, he is currently facing legal challenges. Donald Trump’s attitude is a manifestation of dishonesty per excellence. It does not reflect public accountability and integrity of purpose.

Second, at the level of his political life, he is dishonestly self-protective and vindictive. He has a larger self-perception than what he really is. He equates himself with the whole of America. He believes that, as US President, he has unlimited powers to govern as he wants. His understanding of the right to hire and fire is lato sensu. This is why he freely talked about illegal votes, that he had won the election without illegal votes. He talked about polls suppression, red wave in the election process, etc. He also talked about election interferences and fake polls, but all to no avail. He annoyed virtually all decent and objective Americans to the extent that owners of social media platforms have to decide to control Donald Trump’s postings in order to put an end to his misinformation.

His diplomacy of laisser faire is also a disaster. There is absolutely nothing to write home about. His unilateralist disposition, withdrawing from international organisations, dictating political directions, etc, have only created a vacuum for other competitors to occupy. The world is talking about globalism, but Donald Trump is preaching nationalism and self-protectionism. The world is much interested in sustaining multilateralism, but the United States of Donald Trump is engaging in bilateralism. There is no neighbour or partner he does not quarrel with. In April 2017, he raised the longstanding Canada-United States softwood lumber dispute, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of unfair lumber trade practices. In terms of US relations with Mexico, Donald Trump has it that ‘when Mexico sends its people, (to the United States) they’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. Their rapists…’ In fact, in the eyes of Donald Trump, the NATO is obsolete. Again, US Trade with the traditional partners in the European Union is another area of dispute since 2017.

Regarding his socio-cultural life and administrative skills, he is fantastically wicked and incompetent. His fantastic wickedness is best explained by the don’t-care attitude displayed and his mismanagement of the COVID-19 saga. Donald Trump recklessly politicised the issue of COVID-19. He first saw it as fake news for the Americans. The next step for him is to see it as an Asian virus and for which the Chinese should be held responsible. When notable and leading scientists were advising him on the need to begin to wear face masks in the public and to ensure the rule of social distancing, Donald Trump acted to the contrary. He refused to take any concrete step to mitigate the spread of the virus.

When he eventually was infected by COVID-19, he still tried to cover it up by not wanting to go out of the White House to seek cure. His medical team, comprising ten people (eight male, one of whom is black, and two females) was very economic with information about his ill-health. All that was told was his hospitalisation at the Walter Reed Hospital and that he was responding to treatment. The issues of when he actually tested positive or when was his last negative test in order to determine when the infection became contagious was made secret. The timeline for when he began to feel the symptoms was raised, but to no avail In fact, if he was improving, why was there the need for oxygen and supplemental oxygen? To all these concerns, Dr. Sean Conley, Donald Trump’s physician, could not respond.

Even still on the eve of the 2020 presidential election, he was still making a mockery of it. This was in spite of the fact that he was hospitalised for the same COVID-19. The seriousness of the virus was explained by Dr. Jim Souza, the Chief Medical Officer of Saint Luke’s Hospital system in Idaho: ‘if you’ve never seen a patient incubated on mechanical ventilation, connected to a dialysis machine, in a prone position, sedated and paralysed – if you’ve never been part of that care – it’s heavy physical labour, it’s psychological heavy work. It is just not OK to be calling into question the professional ethics of the very people who are on the frontlines fighting this fire.’ President Trump does not, on a serious note, believe in what the scientists are saying or in what the medical practitioners on the frontline are going through. It is therefore not surprising that Nancy Roberts, a respiratory therapist at the same Saint Luke’s hospital, said: ‘for somebody to not believe this is happening, it blows my mind. I cannot personally wrap my head around that… One death is one too many deaths from this virus.

In fact, Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center has it that more than 231,000 people have died from the virus in the United States, and yet, President Donald Trump is playing politics with it, telling Americans that there would be an American-made vaccine before November 1, 2020. True, his attitude reflects selfishness and wickedness. His knowledge of how to contain the virus is, at best, very limited, and yet, he is not intelligent enough to accept to learn from those who know better than him. His myopia further ridicules him to the extent that he announced that he would fire Dr. Anthony Stephen Fauci, a seasoned and internationally-recognised expert on his own right, who has been serving as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.

It is not simply an act of incompetence for a non-initiated layman to be challenging a specialised expert, but most unfortunate to allow innocent people to die as a result of known ignorance of a leader. Which type of Americans are those saying ‘my child died of coronavirus but I will still vote for Donald Trump. Apparently, democracy in the United States does not appear to be based any longer on the logic of reasonableness and good value because of what can now be rightly described as the Trumpian virus not only in many other Americans but also in some Nigerians.
Nigerians who support Donald Trump probably do so for two main reasons. First is the factor of Christianity. Donald Trump gives the impression that he is very Christianly. Unlike the Barack Obamas of this world who support gay marriages which the Holy Bible considers as unholy, Donald Trump is staunchly against unholiness.

Besides, Nigerian Christians do believe that Jerusalem had been and should always be the seat of Government of Israel. Even though the 1917 William Balfour Declaration paved way for the creation of a Palestinian State and State of Israel out of Palestine, only the state of Israel is a fait accompli. That of the Palestinian State is yet to co-exist with the State of Israel. It is in anticipation of this that the international community decided that Jerusalem should be reserved for the Palestinians as their political capital. In this regard, Donald Trump not only encouraged Israel to take full effective occupation of Jerusalem, but also moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in order to give full expression to the anti-Palestinian accommodation in Jerusalem. Nigerian Christians appear to be happy about this.

There is also the factor of Donald Trump’s belief in the principle of self-determination. The Indigenous People of Biafra and some other Igbo people seeking autonomy want the help of Donald Trump in their struggle for self-determination. The Nigerian support for the re-election of Donald Trump cannot but be in anticipation of a reciprocal support. Whether or not he would positively reciprocate is another issue entirely. Donald Trump’s view of the black man is an issue. He is very racist and he remains a good embodiment of his supporters. This is why such supporters should not be likened to other Americans who are not and are quite great people.

Unilateralism and US-Nigeria Ties
The 2020 US presidential election results were yet to be announced as at the time of writing this column but there were pointers to the election of Joe Biden as President-elect. It is within this context that we decide to espy the likely scenarios of Nigeria-US relations in the foreseeable future.

First, US foreign policy on Africa, and particularly towards Nigeria, is not likely to witness any fundamental change. It is the implementation strategies that can change. In the United States strategic calculations, Nigeria is a partner. This explains why the United States has been making strenuous efforts to relocate its Africa Command, currently located in Stuttgart, Germany, to Nigeria. The United States needs a strong country like Nigeria to assist in containing terrorism in Africa, and particularly in the protection of oil resources in the Gulf Region. Nigeria remains in the best position. President Joe Biden cannot ignore this factor.

Secondly, the continent of Africa does not occupy any strategic position in United States’ foreign policy calculations. However, the need to respond to Chinese inroads into Africa, especially through soft power approaches, appears to be compelling for the US and cannot but place Africa on the table of necessities. Nigeria’s relationship with China is also very warm. There will be need for President Joe Biden to specially court the understanding of Nigeria.

Thirdly, it is not likely that President Joe Biden will want to support secession in Nigeria unless compelled to. The MASSOB and the IPOB have been counting on US support under Donald Trump. Joe Biden cannot enjoy or reliably depend on Nigeria’s support if the US works against Nigeria’s own interest by aiding and abetting the dismantlement of the country.

Fourthly, Nigeria can take advantage of the coming to power of the Democrats who are on record to be more sympathetic to the African cause, unlike the Republicans. The challenge for Nigeria is at the foreign policy level because Nigeria’s foreign policy, as it is today, is reactive and not programmatic. It lacks strategic focus in all ramifications, and therefore, Nigeria cannot be expected to be prepared for the challenges to be imposed by the Joe Biden presidency.

Fifthly, Joe Biden is most likely to seek restoration of good relationship with the traditional allies of the United States, a situation that has the potential to impact positively on Nigeria’s relationship with the United States. For instance, if the United States normalises its relationship with the UNESCO, the WHO and the WTO, and by so doing, begin to pay its assessed dues and again making voluntary contributions to the development projects of the organisations, there is no way Nigeria will not directly or indirectly benefit from it.

Sixthly, how to give meaning to the lip-service strategic partnership between Nigeria and the United States is a desideratum. The partnership is, at best, meaningless if it cannot be applicable to the anti-Boko Haram insurgency in the North East or to the armed banditry in the North-West. The contractual agreement on the purchase of Tucano fighter aircraft remains another issue to be taken more seriously with Joe Biden

Seventhly, there is no disputing the emerging Cold War between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese, like the United States, cannot but want Nigeria’s understanding. Nigeria’s policy of non-alignment should be brought to play in deciding how to align, if need be. Non-alignment in Nigeria’s foreign policy is about the sovereignty to decide whether or not to align. It does not mean that Nigeria should not align Nigeria cannot be the friend of one and become the enemy of the other. There will be need for a balancing of error omission in planning, terror of commission in execution, and horror of implication in outcome in policy making.

Eighthly, and perhaps most importantly, nine Nigerian-Americans who contested for election did so under the Democratic Party. Three of them were elected. First, Ms. Esther Agbaje, representing District 59B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. With her election, she is the first Nigerian American to be so elected to the House. Mr. Oye Owolewa was elected as a shadow member of the House of Representatives from the District of Columbia. He polled 164,026 votes and defeated the incumbent who only scored 18,600 votes. Nnamdi Chukwuocha was re-elected to represent District 1 in the Delaware House of Representatives. He was first elected in 2018. He was the only candidate in the 2020 election. How do we explain their successes? If they are in Nigeria, would they have been elected? Are there any lessons to learn from the election of the three Nigerian-Americans in the 2020 US elections?

Observers and scholars of US elections have always asked if there are lessons to be learnt by Nigeria from the 2020 US general elections. Many people believe there are. This belief presumes that Nigeria has the capacity to do so, but to which I do not subscribe. If nine Nigerian-Americans presented themselves for election and three of them were elected, it is because their political environment was conducive and devoid of political chicanery. One of them contested as an independent candidate. In Nigeria, the environmental conditionings are inclement. Independent candidacy is not provided for. There is no nepotism in political governance in the United States. There is in Nigeria. Contesting in the US does not require being a billionaire. In Nigeria, one must either have a godfather or be a millionaire if not a billionaire.

Corruption is a way of life in Nigeria. It is not in the US. In essence, seeking to learn lessons that will be inapplicable in Nigeria serves no purpose. If any lesson is to be learnt in spite of Nigeria’s inclement environment, it cannot but be to take electronic voting more seriously to reduce organisational costs, prevent recurrent dissipation of energy and time. Lessons can be learnt from the management of crisis emergencies for electoral purposes. It was because of the fear of COVID-19 spread that greater emphasis was placed on mail-in voting. More important, there is also the lesson of votes that count, tolerance and patience. However, Nigeria is not likely to be able to learn and develop to the level of the US with her intolerance of free speech, gagging of the social media, and killing peaceful protesters. Development is tolerance and sharing of ideas and not waging war against it or against patriotism.