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Lessons from America

Between Barack Obama’s eight years’ ago and Donald Trump’s, whose victory did you consider more phenomenal? Obama’s presidential election victory was phenomenal and revolutionary in many respects. He is an American of Black descent – his mother, white while his father, black, from Kenya. America may be the richest and most powerful nation in the world and the acclaimed bastion of democracy. It isthe land of unlimited vistas and possibilities; hence the sobriquet “God’s own country.” America, all the same, is a land where racism thrives, even if in disguised and subtle forms. Now and again, this ghost that country and people have tried to bury rears its ugly head in public. It is a blight that toils and efforts have failed to completely submerge, even if they have somehow managed to conceal it. Racism receded largely from the open but dwells securely in the inner recesses of people’s hearts.

The statute books may have outlawed it and, technically, all may be deemed equal before the law but now and again we witness sad reminders that a sizeable number of whites are pretenders in this respect. Away from prying eyes, they nurse reservations about the rightness or desirability of the egalitarian society they admit and profess openly. This lifestyle of an ostrich is another distinctive American way of life…until Obama appeared on the scene with his audacity of hope or so it seemed! And it was really audacious for this “Black man” to think, even dream, of becoming the first black president of the United States. He might have been brilliant and might also have had many other things going right for him but not many gave him a chance until the lines began to fall in nice places for him, to quote the scriptures.

To cut a long story short, eight years’ ago, Obama, nay, America, made history. America elected its first black president. It was audacious; it was phenomenal. Prophecy was fulfilled as it had been told many decades before by the Civil Rights activist and preacher, the assassinated Martin Luther King Jnr. Was this the dead knell of racism in America? The world hoped so. Obama, in fact, went ahead four years’ after to win a second term but the undercurrents left no one in doubt that it would take more than the election of a black president for the ghost of racism to be fully exorcised in America. Call it a facade as racism’s legs kept popping out from beneath the ground in race-related white police brutality against blacks and people of colour, as they call them, all over the place. The election of Donald Trump by American voters last week is another sad and sordid reminder that it is not yet “Uhuru” for all true believers in the equality of races in America. That election was majorly about race.

It was phenomenal all the same. In a sense, it was a determined effort to reverse the Obama phenomenon; hence the battle cry of Trump was to “take back (our white) America” from those (the outsiders/intruders/immigrants, legal or illegal, and their offspring/the people of colour) that have usurped what belongs to the whites. Trump’s rallying point was unmistakeable “To make America great again”, meaning that America has been denigrated, made less great by those who had taken it over, regardless that George Bush Jnr. left it in tatters for Obama and that Obama had largely salvaged it and returned it to the path of greatness again. The message was couched in languages that appear harmless but the underlining currents were unmistakeable.

The Trump election exposed the hypocrisy of the average white American; it also demonstrates to the genuine lovers of equality of races that they still have a hard road to travel and a long way to go if racial equality is to truly become the mantra of their society. Virtually everyone went up against Trump; still, he won. Why? I suspect that many of those who spoke against the man openly did not walk the talk. It was not possible to accept in the open what Trump stood for in that campaign but in their inner recesses they found nothing wrong with the message. If only they had the heart; if only they had little to lose politically like Trump – had his hate message backfired – they, too, would have done likewise. But it was politically-incorrect, as they call it, to publicly touch Trump with a 10-mile long pole but once in the safe cocoon that secret balloting offered, they let the gene of race out of the bag without any fear of public censure or opprobrium. It is also easy to understand that many of those who spoke out against Trump publicly did not loathe his opponent, Hillary Clinton, less but it was deemed more politically-incorrect to take up an Establishment person like Hillary than do a similar thing to an outsider like Trump. In other words, they did not trust Hillary more than they trusted Trump. If I guess correctly, there were many who even thought a political neophyte like Trump could be much more easily tamed than a master of the game like Hillary.

There are many useful lessons to take away from the American election. Whereas democracy has been described as the best form of government available unto mankind, people’s loss of confidence in it is growing. More and more voters are willing to try other options if they are available. Despite that Trump repeatedly assailed democracy; that did not turn people away from him. His railings against the system appeared to have endeared him more to those who hold the same system responsible for their plight. People’s distrust in mainstream politicians is growing. The belief is growing that politicians cannot be trusted. Trump ran not as a politician but as a businessman; Hillary was the consummate politician, as they call it. Political parties are becoming less relevant in who wins or does not win elections. Despite that his party and important party men virtually abandoned him, Trump won. We may have entered the age of the mavericks for good or for worse. Today more than ever before, you need a message that is clear-cut and easily digestible by the people. Gone are the days of long epistles as manifestoes. You also need the messenger and both must align. The messenger must believe in the message and deliver it with panache and passion. Politics is getting more passionate and sentimental. Appealing to sentiments, even if base, is on the ascendancy. This does not appear any more to be the age of enlightenment or reason. The gift of the garb and of oratory is on the rise, again, for good or for worse. It helped Obama even as it had helped Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini before him. It has now helped Trump. Your message must resonate with the people; however unrealistic and unachievable it may seem. Politicians these days must learn to speak directly to the people over and above the head of power brokers, godfathers, and the political mafia. If need be, swim against the tide. Be audacious like Obama. Take on the Establishment like Trump. Bypass the party and its henchmen if need be and take your case directly to the people. That was how, eight years’ ago,OlusegunMimiko dared then President OlusegunObasanjo, left the ruling octopus, the PDP, pitched tent with the unknown Labour Party, took Ondo state by storm and everywhere, it was “Iroko, gbas’ibe” (Mimiko’s rallying cry). He uprooted the incumbent and became governor. AyodeleFayose performed a similar feat in 2014: Standing alone, taking on the powers-that-be; swimming against the tide; daring all obstacles and challenges; breaking all taboos and ultimately surviving where none gave him a chance. Truly, all politics is local; politicians must henceforth take this very much to heart.

Political decisions may have escaped from the boardrooms into the streets. Less emphasis is being placed in political parties these days; personalities are now on the ascendancy. Taking a cue from this, our Constitution should immediately accommodate independent candidacy. This way, we will be able to avoid the embarrassment that was KogiState as well as the ongoing debacle in OndoState. People are voting for change everywhere; disillusionment is driving people to take greater risks. Economic hardship especially is the graveyard of many governments, especially those who downplay its importance, as David Cameron appeared to have done in Britain and he burned his hand with BREXIT. President MuhammaduBuhari should watch it here. Trump may or may not make a good president; when Americans get to that river, they will cross it. For the moment, it is enough that he spoke to their fears and they listened and acted. This was the same way the APC spoke to the fears of Nigerians last year and they listened and acted. Today, many are in deep regret; they will have their chance to speak loud and clear again in 2019.

The last election, however, has also shown that there are no perfect systems or voters anywhere. Technicalities can make or mar a candidate. The gruelling primariesand the alienation especially of the supporters of Hillary’s main challenger, Ben Sanders, took its toll. The American electoral system, where a candidate wins the popular vote but still loses the election, puzzles many while Trump could as well qualify as our own fawning OzumbaMbadiwe (aka “K.O. is okay”) or the vitriolic RemiFani-Kayode and his boss S. L. Akintola. The on-going street protests of “Trump is not our President” in many U. S. cities remind us of the protests we witness here after every election. Two events, however, poignantly stand out. One: Despite the aspersion cast its way by Trump, the election was free and fair. Two: The Buhari-type “baboon and monkey will be soaked in blood” incendiary statementis missing. Like Hillary and Obama said post-election and as ex-President Goodluck Jonathan demonstrated here last year, defeat is painful but the hallmark of statesmanship is to accept it with equanimity in the overarching interest of country and people.