Voters in the US made sure on November 3 that they would not get hit twice by the same absurdity called Donald Trump, says Toyin Falola*
DONALD Trump is the worst joke democracy ever told, and by some demonstration of that famous resilient American spirit, the men and women of the US, of every race and creed listened, and let us hope we heard it well.
America had made some progress in its role as the world’s shinning beacon of hope and democracy, and except for some infrequent cloudy days, it was still looked upon to intervene in world issues as a voice of reason. One of such bright days of American democracy, a lot of people will agree, was the inauguration of the first African American, in the person of Barack Obama as President of the US.
This occasion was not only going to be a sign that America had just successfully shown the world how effective democracy was as a socio-political model of societal organisation, but also that its electorate had matured enough in proving that racism cannot deny them the possibilities inherent in common sense.
Obama represented possibilities for America, but all these were soon to seem like the heady days of youth; thanks to the political space-drop that were the last four years with Trump piloting the affairs of the US.
Like a bad movie playing out but with a little uncertainty, there was a piece of very disturbing news for the average American after the 2016 presidential election: ‘demonic’ Russia might have influenced their elections and contributed to installing Trump. After investigations that led to the sacking of James Comey as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director, there were some internal political shuffling that resulted in an ambiguous verdict that ‘exonerated’ Trump, and American democracy lived yet another day.
But a long and precarious journey filled with presidential scares was to follow. On this phase of the journey, our self-acclaimed protagonist decided to open up migrant detention facilities where undocumented and overstayed guests were locked up. They were separated from their kids who were shut in metal cages while the parents awaited the verdict of their immigration status.
This grew into attempts to build a wall round most of its southern border and have Mexico pay for it; issuing visa bans on mostly countries with sizeable Muslim populations; engaging China in trade wars; befriending North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un; and ordering missile strikes on Syria in search of ISIL. And as if in a shock induced trance, the rest of the world watched the staggering giant lumber on in fear of enemies both real and mostly imagined.
Things seemed to take an even worse turn when four officers of the Minnesota Police Department wrestled down and choked the life out of an African American in broad daylight. His name, George Floyd, would resonate around the world calling attention to that ever patient, in-house American enemy that has kept it divided, and always finds ways to embarrass and almost tear it up from within.
Racism which has been in America from the very day it was christened, was yet again stirring up disruptive protests and looting that threatened to collapse law and order in the union. The president rose to the occasion in his usual brash, entitled white male manner to declare the protesters enemies of the state and deploying the National Guard.
But as things deteriorated, and even in the White House members of staff were either being summarily fired or resigning with amusing frequency, die-hard Trump supporters still pointed to economic indications to chant: ‘This is the best American economy in a long while’ with the unemployment rate at 3.5 per cent. But, 2020 was to come bearing its own lessons for Trump.
Early in 2020, coinciding with American election year, the world was greeted with news of a sci-fi sounding acronym, Covid-19, a virus allegedly spreading from China to the rest of the world. With the scale, and restriction (to animals) of a prior virus also ‘made in China’. most people assumed it was just another regular new year scare, until cases of mortality (among humans) started to spring up rapidly around the globe and everything was shut down.
Trump responded with attacks on the World Health Organisation (WHO) whom he alleged was colluding with China to spread ‘fake news’. This was followed with numerous other conspiracy posts on Twitter, Trump’s conduit for spreading rumour, unfounded conspiracy theories, and poorly veiled public attacks on anyone who dared speak critically of himself or his administration’s behaviour.
He totally discredited the world acclaimed immunologist and foremost authority on communicable diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, who seemed to be the only one around him telling the truth about the danger of Covid-19. In the end, his ‘remedy’ for ‘combating’ the virus was flawed: flaunting preventive measures, prescribing bizarre ‘medications’ and claiming immunity after having been treated for the virus.
Then the elections came and Trump the showman, donning on his Make America Great Again cap, embarked on another round of salesmanship. But this time, with over 12.6 million out-of-job people at an unemployment rate of 7.9 per cent, a case against public healthcare subsidy (‘Obamacare’) in court, and a fellow septuagenarian, Joe Biden, were going to give him a run for his money.
In the subsequent election debates, Trump who was to field questions on the last four years of his turbulent presidency, turned the event into a Trump-only affair, interrupting and turning it into an incoherent occasion. The world waited in tense anticipation while voting commenced, waiting to see if Trump could pull another 2016 and have the electoral college come to his rescue like it did with Hilary Clinton.
In the meantime, Democratic candidate Biden, an experienced public official with six elections to the Senate and eight years as Obama’s Vice President, was armed with a mixed-raced, female Vice-presidential candidate in Kamala Harris. Together they stood to expose the Trump farce for what it was, a dangerous game with a shallow, self-indulgent poser in charge of powerful tools for good and destruction.
They stood alongside the American people to say: no to abuse of power and office; no to the demeaning of the American image; no to forces of division and hate; and most importantly, no to another four years on the brink with Trump. And now that the verdict is finally out, that Trump’s mostly conservative republican crowd could not save him from the truth of his actions, America can continue building; fixing its image and the damage done to its internal social as well as international relations.
Also, at this time when the US has successfully terminated its contract with bad rubbish, the circumstances that brought Trump to power should be a lesson; if we let down our guard, right in front of our very noses, we shall end up with one error that can send us and everything we worked for and believe in into oblivion. That is how close we came.
Some might argue that Trump was exactly what the world needed in this period, but they never could have been farther from the truth. Trump represented the end of effective round table diplomacy and a misguided notion that America’s status as the ‘sole superpower’ meant that it was not answerable to the rest of the world.
In fact, Trump took pleasure in associating these other parts of the world with debasing titles like ‘shit-hole’, among instances of verbal diarrhoea. One person who also seemed to appreciate the fact of Trump’s unsuitability was his predecessor, Barack Obama, who came out to warn voters about what the brash acts of egomania and a reputation for telling lies could mean to the name of the American people.
Another four years with characteristic madness in the White House could only be imagined. Certainly, another second term of Trump would have definitely been hard for Americans to stand. Even more, a second term would have been an endorsement of his uncouth rhetoric, a seal of approval for his racism, global discrimination, international terrorism, and other tomfoolery unbecoming of a POTUS.
Indeed, there is something to be merry about in 2020: the exit of madness, and restoration of a bit of sanity.
*Toyin Falola is University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Humanities Chair at The University of Texas at Austin.