(78): Rationalising the Trump Phenomenon

Muhsin Ibrahim

This is a Herculean job. I have read and listened to several political commentators saying that Donald Trump’s triumph is a logic-defying, demystifying puzzle and a record breaking event in the political history of not only the US but the world in general. For those not very familiar with this character, Trump is a bigot, racist, protectionist, misogynist, an Islamaphobic, and, above all, a very ignorant billionaire businessman. That is why, perhaps, almost all pre-election opinion polls indicated that his opponent, Hillary Clinton would win the election, but he did.

A particular disgruntled analyst, Tom Freeman, has gone to the extreme in his quest for meaning of Trump’s victory. He wrote an article that contains only a word all through: F**k. The writer couldn’t be more descriptive and rational, for this is just it. Yet, curses, yells, despair, etc. cannot change the reality that Trump is the president-elect of the world’s super power, the mighty United States of America. Needless to mention, the US is a country more than a country. The value of its currency, the dollar, for example, affects the lives of billions around the world; thus, its politics is the world’s politics. What goes on in the US does not only stay there; it spills over into your room, your market, your school and virtually everywhere else.

But, is this victory accidental, coincidental or incidental? It is, as far as I can see, incidental. In other words, the victory was due to a number of things, some of which I will discuss below. 

Humans’ Desire for Change
In Nigeria, for instance, President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned using the slogan of “Change”, and that appealed to the millions who voted for him. Donald Trump deployed the same scheme. He said: “Let's Make America Great Again”. Semantically, America was once, according to that slogan, a great country, but not any longer. Thus, Trump calls on the people to come together, to vote for him and he will rejuvenate the country to its lost glory, to a great nation, again. He will change the status quo.

Patriarchal World
Nobody captures this better than my favourite NYTimes columnist, Nicholas Kristof. He says “Lots of voters had a mental paradigm of a president as a man, and for them it was easier to see Trump as presidential than Clinton”. But there is more to this. Americans could be fool as everyone else can, however their preference of Trump over Clinton could be aligned to what has happened in their neighbouring countries of Brazil and Argentina. In both, female presidents were recently ousted, and with the popular and executive supports. Again, Angela Markel of Germany has not been faring well. Her chancellorship is, in fact, soon coming to an end and in a humbled way. She is daily becoming more unpopular for her sympathy towards immigrants.

For long, there is a political commentator (or is he a religious scholar? I cannot recall exactly) who, in a lecture, expressed a strong opinion on gender politics and sexuality from global perspective. According to him, the Corporation and the Establishment of the US would not allow a woman to lead the country, at least not in our lifetime. I outright disagreed with him then. It is now I see what he saw years back. I personally do not consider women less human beings, but I am also of the opinion that certain jobs are better carried out by men. Women – and they too know – have more frailties than men.

Swimming against the Current
The world is a dynamic place. We are today in an era where people swim against the current more often than ever before. There are more than several examples to cite. For instance, in Nigeria, Engr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso did that in 2011 and won the governorship election of Kano state, defeating the anointed candidate of the then highly popular governor, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau. Many political commentators and analysts thought that Engr. Kwankwaso would not even get his party’s ticket to contest. The current Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi did the same by challenging the dynasty that ruled the country for decades, though he is from what Indians would call a “low” or a “middle” class family. Trump, with no background in politics whatsoever, now tried his luck and hit the jackpot. The similitude between him and Kwankwaso and Mr. Modi is so unmistakable.

The trio are very bold, up-front, fearless, and they express their minds, not paying attention at how silly or impractical are their ideas or promises perceived by others. For example: the then governor of Kano, Malam Shekarau allocated plots to some top-notches and aristocrats of the state at an area called Fegi at Kofar Naisa in the metropolis. During his campaign, Engr. Kwankwaso boldly declared that whosoever is in possession of any paper/certificate indicating ownership of those plots possesses a worthless paper as good as a spoilt paper used by kebab sellers. In his case, Trump plans to build a wall on the US-Mexico border to bar ‘illegal’ immigrants from entering America, and Mexico will have to pay for that; he vows to ban Muslims from entering the US; he engaged a Gold Star family in a media brawl; he threatens to imprison his opponent, Clinton; he groped women and was proud of that as he is rich; etc.

Undisguised Honesty
The word “honesty” has a positive connotation, but not in Trump’s situation. Yes, he is very honest but only for baring his mind to his supporters. He tells them what he stands for, and that is what most of them also stand for. He believes in the Whites’ supremacy. He is unapologetically Islamaphobic, and this is an era of Islamaphobia with the rise of ‘Islamic’ terror attacks in the US, Europe and many other places around the world. This way, Trump gingers up his supporters in a no small measure. That is why for the first time in a long time in the history of American politics, the white working class came out en mass and cast their votes for a candidate. The blacks and Latinos were largely hopeless, thus cast less votes than anticipated by Mrs. Clinton.

There are many other reasons, but I think the aforesaid are some. As a Muslim, black and African, I don’t think I have anything to lose by either his victory or that of Clinton. I am today wiser. I often laugh at myself whenever I remember how I spent a night following the US election during Obama’s first contest in 2008. I was filled with hope, optimism and excitement that a ‘fellow black’ was about to make history. He made it, but what does it mean now? What has changed? Things have in fact deteriorated today. The US-African relationship has not improved at all. The Middle East is more chaotic, messy and dangerous than before his presidency. Israel got a record fund from his administration. Black lives even on the US soil matter less today. He does not fulfil any promise such as of shutting down Guantanamo bay prison, or withdrawing the US military from Afghanistan, etc.

In a nutshell, the US is a country governed by the Corporation, not an individual. It therefore does not matter, in a long run, whether or not one is a Democrat or a Republican president. There is a blueprint which you must work with, while you are given only a sort of liberty to do what you want. Some things, for instance, the US-Israel “special relationship” will remain constant forever. There is, thus, less than little to worry over the Donald Trump’s presidency. Who knows? He could even turn out to be a better leader than the duplicitous Obama.


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