Lessons from Trump’s nonsense

DONALD Trump gave the world enough notice of what happened on November 8 but we were too arrogant to look at the sense in his nonsense. Months ago, he announced gleefully and with audacious impunity that he “could shoot someone” in the course of his campaign and “would not lose a vote.”  Murder is a capital offence anywhere, even in the wilds of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, a man seeking to lead the free world was so sure of the ground he stood that nothing, not even the commission of a capital offence, would stand in his way to wrench the nuclear code from the firm, sane grip of the American establishment. And he did just that on November 8. Trump openly ate every forbidden fruit but the granite ground he stood made him inherit the Garden of Eden. He committed every sin and got hailed for it. His win shouldn’t have been my shock. It shouldn’t have been for millions like me in all continents of the world who watched with horror the victory of Trump. He and his followers gave enough notice.

Truth is eternal, immutable. Politics, like war, has its own truth, its own logic. Its equation can only be correctly proved with its peculiar theorems. It appears the American nightmare has just started. I have seen local strains of the Trump virus before. They are always difficult, very difficult to cure. They are resistant to all conventional therapies. Trump, like his local lookalikes, understands the mentality of the disadvantaged and will forever seek their companion by forever preaching hope, forever shifting the goal post.

The American much-talked about democracy is actually a redefinition of democracy. The Athenians who gave us democracy conceived it as government of the majority. In a democracy, the winner of an election is the person with the highest number of votes. Since November 8, the figures keep changing. By last weekend, Hillary Clinton had the votes of 60,839,922 Americans while 60,265,858 backed Trump. But the system says no, in that election, some other intermediaries called electors were the ones elected, not Hillary. These electors belong to Trump in their majority, so he won. This weird experience, which has happened five times, is full of lessons which have not been learnt by the US.

Andrew Jackson had more votes in 1824, yet the system said he lost to John Quincy Adams. Same happened to Samuel Tilden in 1876 when he was pronounced the loser in the contest with Rutherford B. Hayes, although he had more votes. Grover Cleveland in 1888 lost to Benjamin Harrison, although his votes were more. Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton’s Vice-President, Al Gore, was pronounced defeated in a contest with George W. Bush although he had more votes than the winner. But why has America refused to learn and let the people elect their president directly? At the very beginning, the ancestors of today’s America provisioned that the ordinary voters should not elect the president and the vice-president directly because the people were “too little informed of personal characters” of candidates and were “liable to deceptions” by politicians. In place of the people, the system planted some masquerades called electors who are presumed “well-informed” to escape the deceptions of politicians. Centuries later, and with television and other channels of mass communication, are the people still “little informed of characters” of candidates?

Hillary Clinton’s loss last week was many people’s loss. Like many of my friends (except only three), I emotionally invested heavily in her bid for the United States’ Presidency. I belong to two WhatsAppchat groups of English Studies graduates of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. In one of my several tirades against Trump, I posted (just as I regularly did on Facebook) that Trump’s supporters were the Almajirai of America. But a friend in that chat group replied me with the alarm that Almajiraicould swing a win for whoever they backed. Of course, he talked sense and I saw the truth in the counterview but my obsession with Hillary quickly dismissed the bitter truth that in any popular election, the Almajiri holds the ace. An Almajiri (plural: Almajirai) is a street child — abandoned, ill, hungry, angry and vengeful. He doesn’t belong to himself but to anyone with enough opium to rouse him to commit any crime in furtherance of any goal. The Almajiri problem is a northern Nigeria phenomenon. The Ibos call the Almajiri “born-throway.” The Yoruba would rather pray to have one, lonely successful, master-child than have 2,000 lazy, dirty, layabouts. But democracy has proven consistently that it has no respect for quality. It thrives on numbers.  On Election Day, the mother with 2,000 Almajirai always trumps the one with a lonely, golden child. We saw it in Nigeria in the 12 million votes a brand new party got in 2011 and in the 15 million plus votes another brand new party got in 2015. We have seen it in the victory of the Trump movement in the United States.

The Almajiri has his own logic. He has his own argument which only he wins. He lives eternally on political and religious dopes. He chants what the master puts in his mouth. The Trump mob, like the Almajiri, chanted and got high on its opium. The other side thought it was wrong to reply chant with chant. “When they go low, we go high,” Hillary and her evangelical congregation sang. You do not challenge a chant with a song.  It doesn’t work with a charging, chanting mob. Chants are murderous in effect while songs rock to sleep. All religions, even the turn-the-other-cheek gospel of Christianity, hint at violent enemies snatching kingdoms and that only with violence it is taken back by the owners. I was at a campaign rally some years ago where the big boss quietly sang, urging his supporters not to fight because, with ease, victory would be won.  And the crowd yelled back, chanting: “We will fight/ We will fight/ Gentlemanliness does not win elections…”

The Almajiri lives on hope and on promise of a better future or a better life after death. He is the willing babble roused into any delirious action by the demagogue. The one with the right measure of promise and hope holds the mental code of the hungry and hopeless. We see it consistently in elections and in the violent aftereffects here.  The street child has been long condemned to eating the leftover. Now, as you take your meal, you get to know that the Almajiri sees no wrong emptying your plate into his plastic bowl. That was what happened to the American establishment last Tuesday. They lost concentration and lost their country to an army of extremist ‘deplorables’ with more than an axe to grind with the system.