The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was regarded as a fluke by most American mainstream media. A deeply flawed candidate (Hillary Clinton), a polarized population and the perceived Russian interference had made it possible for a realty TV showman to win the presidency. It would be a matter of time, they said, before Donald Trump and his policies, derisively known as Trumpism, would be repudiated in the next election. ‘It’s not who we are,’ they said.
Yet in the election that was held last Tuesday November 3, 2020, Donald Trump not only increased his overall share of the vote from 2016 by a whopping 4 million votes but doubled his support among all minorities including African Americans, Latinos and the LGBT community. That a more ‘responsible’ candidate, Joe Biden, barely defeated him speaks volumes on the nature of America, the media and the neoliberal worldview spouted by America’s media titans and its thinktanks.
America prides itself on being the ‘leader of the free world,’ a ‘shining city on a hill.’ But ‘American exceptionalism,’ the idea that America, in its inherent goodness, is a nation unique and noble from other countries is a lie as old as the republic itself.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the preamble of the American declaration of independence in 1776 that “All men are created Equal…”, he was keeping hundreds of slaves at his plantation home, and throughout the country chattel slavery was a way of life of the country and would remain so for 100 more years. Blacks would not have the right to vote for 400 years, thousands would be lynched, and American would be segregated for a couple hundred more years. Efforts at equality forced upon the country by the civil rights movement would be scuttled for decades after decades.
The Electoral College, a system born of a compromise between slave-owning and non-slave-owning states to disfranchise blacks, and has ensured, on 5 occasions that the winner of the popular vote doesn’t necessarily win the election was part of the subjugation project against black people. A black person in this ‘compromise’ was considered three-fifths of a person.
When finally the country elected a black man as president, a first, in 2008, the event was heralded as a marker of post-racial America. And yet shortly thereafter, good ol’ America would elect and nearly reelect an Al Capone clone, a crime boss with no regard to rules, human rights, or democracy, a pugilist with no ‘manners.’ He threatened to jail journalists and created a post-truth utopia in which ‘alternative facts’ ruled the day. He tinkered with nuking hurricanes and couldn’t speak in coherent sentences.
Donald Trump embodied the impulses of imperialist America in Colour! The vestiges of racism that had been covered up by the election of the first black president came right back into view. That his victory chances in 2016 were dismissed and pollsters failed to predict his shock win speaks to how out of teach the neoliberal elite was, and the fact that they once again missed his late surge in the recent election confirms that the 2016 lessons were not learnt.
American has slowly tried to perfect the union but Trumpism showed how far away that effort still has to go. Joe Biden may have defeated Trump in the 2020 election, but he has not defeated Trumpism. For Trumpism is as American as apple pie.
And yet despite the checkered history enumerated above, there are still some things to admire about the country. Its free-market system has made the country the envy of the world. The ruling party candidate did not jail his opponent, the military didn’t interfere in the vote, and they are likely to have a peaceful transfer of power. On that front, it would be disingenuous to deny the potency of American institutions. But Trump has shown that even that is shaky. He has thus far refused to concede the election, complaining of irregularities and fraud in the vote, and some wonder whether he will leave before January 20th.
Since the Second World War, America has used its wealth and military power to bully the rest of the world into following its dictates. It has funded coups and the destruction of countries, invaded countries across the world leaving death and mayhem in its wake. Trump, in his informal, unsophisticated manner lay before the world the true nature of America’s vainglorious arrogance. He withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, the WHO, sanctioned the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court even as his government continues to use the court as a tool to bully poor nations into submission, etc. There is nothing he has done that his more ‘responsible’ and ‘statesmanlike’ predecessors did not do. It might even be said that his skepticism of military adventurism may have saved many American soldiers’ lives and those of poor peoples in far corners of the world.
You would think that given the history above, America should, moving forward, exercise more humility when lecturing Africa and the rest of the world on democracy. I won’t bet my money on it.
Joe Biden and Africa
So will Biden’s Africa policy be any more beneficial to us than those of his predecessors?
Africa is always an afterthought for many American presidents whether Republican or Democrat. However, there have been some rare exceptions. Some past U.S presidents have instituted consequential policies on the continent, and, surprisingly, most of them were not the supposedly worldly, ‘citizens of the word’ democrats.
The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is perhaps one of the most effective policies towards Africa by a U.S president. Introduced in 2003 by George W. Bush, it has saved countless lives and given many vulnerable people a second chance at a productive life. The Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the President’s Malaria Initiative, were all fairly well thought-out policies by Bush 43.
Joe Biden is not likely to significantly alter America’s relations with the continent. The above programs will likely continue. The billions of aid might continue to come in, with minimal impact as usual, while hundreds of billions of illicit financial flows will be stolen from Africa to the U.S and other Western destination. Biden may resurrect Obama’s smug attempt at cultural imperialism by pushing gay rights in some African countries, an idea Trump, who arguably cannot point out any African country on a map, was not interested in.
In the end, I hope Biden has learnt that Trump was in part a creation of his and Obama’s overreach and will tread more carefully. Most importantly, I hope he has seen the messiness of his country’s democracy and will from now onwards[k3] acknowledge that Democracy is a highly contextual concept that can’t and shouldn’t be expected to be exercised in a one-size-fits-all manner.