Lessons from America’s undemocratic tar

It was in one of our political science lectures in my undergraduate days at the University of Ilorin, over three decades ago that late Professor Arthur E.Davies, had asked the class the question: “Can military coup occur in the United States of America?” To most of us who have never read of such about America, even in moments of its turbulent racial conflict, we not only described the occurrence of such as an abomination, but also felt it was a needless question. However, the Professor insisted that, military coup could occur in the US if the conditions for such political action loom. The invasion of the US Congress days back by President Trump’s supporters with the intention of disrupting the process of granting ultimate imprimatur to the election of Joe Biden, was not only a tar on America’s democratic credentials, but also had almost the features of coup d’état the late professor had said was possible.

Indeed, the obstinacy of the outgoing President and his sympathisers, has aggravated the fear and uncertainty of the fate of the American democracy in post Trump foreseeable future. It is very unfortunate that America which has for long been regarded as the leader of world’s bastions of democracy has momentarily ceased to be. To dictators and pseudo democratic states, America has become their example of falsity and democratic imperfections. Trump has of course stripped the country naked of its tolerance, democratic temper and the mythical elite consensus which one believed had facilitated alternation of power and peaceful transition of power for centuries.

Trump has indeed, used a little fart to spoil his bum and pollute the American political environment. Only time can tell how and when the US will recover from this opprobrium provided it is not even escalated. In this undemocratic tar and its fall out, are lessons to learn and lessons not to learn by Nigeria and its political actors. First is that, that America has faltered in its democratic journey should not be taken as alibi by Nigerian political actors to persist in their antidemocratic behaviours. No matter the shortcomings of the leading democracies, autocracy and undemocratic antics will not help grow and consolidate our democracy. Two, with this manifest imperfection of the American democracy, Nigerian political gladiators and civil society organisation should desist from rushing petitions to foreign embassies for their intervention in Nigeria’s affairs at the slightest political discord. Such calls are not only unpatriotic, but also amount to open invitation to foreigners to come and undermine our sovereignty and also a symptom of our political incompetence and immaturity none of which Americans have demonstrated in this circumstance.

Three, the Trump phenomenon has in the last four years also, thrown up the need for adequate check of the temperament and the gamut of the personality traits of political gladiators before getting them to power. Though the American state has all the wherewithal to do this, but that such check must have been viewed with emotional lenses, is a lesson for Nigeria and other developing democracies. In the course of Trump’s subversion, he attempted to pervert the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and security agencies. But, in every move, the individuals manning the institutions stood by the rules and proved the unquenchable strength of their institutions. They refused to succumb to the whims and caprices of one man who at best is a passing phenomenon. They acted their consciences and enforced their rules. For these some were sacked; some even resigned voluntarily. They refused to be part of what some Americans may record as a dark chapter in American history.

If American institutions have been described as strong in the face of tyranny, these were the men and women of valour who proved it. In other words, American institutions are strong because the public servants that run the institutions are strong in their commitment to rules, regulations, and the ethics that govern the conduct of public service and the larger American society also subscribes and promotes such ethos . Herein lies the biggest lesson Nigerians in all spheres should learn from the fall out of Trump Presidency. Obviously, by our attitudes and conduct, Nigeria falls into the class of states Gunner Myrdal in his work titled Asian Drama, has described as soft states. It is a concept he coined to describe societal indiscipline that permeates the Asian countries and the rest of the developing states. He captured such states as those in which there exist,” all the various types of societal indiscipline, which manifest themselves by deficiencies in legislation, and in particular law observance, and enforcement, a wide spread disobedience by public officials and, often, their collusion with powerful persons and groups…whose conduct they should regulate. Within the concept of soft state belongs also corruption.

“It is said that, a shrine or sanctuary is made sacred by the thoughts and conduct of the worshipers. As with shrine or sanctuaries, so also it is true of the strength of a state. Nigerian institutions are weak because they are run by men and women of weak characters or integrity. We have zillion laws, but they are disobeyed zillion times; the political class and the bureaucrats are largely partners in sleaze; the traditional institutions exert their influences to promote primordial sentiments; everyone seems to have lost his conscience; “prebendal” politics rules the land; many lack the courage to resign in the face of subversion, we rather acquiesced. The citizenry looks alienated from its own government and the government too behaves as if it is governing aliens. Yet we all admire the strong American state, its institutions and its officials. The take away from this is that, if we are serious in exiting the class of soft states, and rank with the US, we need to honour our laws and ethics more in obedience than the breach and get more patriotic.

And this little digression: with this tar and the consequent erosion of American soft power, who else can lead global crusade of democracy? Can Britain that has just exited the European union to re-launch itself as a global leader lead the evangelism? Or will post-Trump America sin no more and remains the front liner? Time, no doubt, will tell.

Dr. Adebisi writes from the Federal College of Agriculture,Akure, Ondo state.

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