‘If democracy were a poison, many are excited to see America swallow it’: The view from Kenya
And they are callously ethnic, perhaps even more so than us. Just listen to the rhetoric. It’s “pitchforks and torches time”, according to conservative Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke, who previously called the #BlackLivesMatter crowd “the enemy”. But there’s a positive side to this upheaval. America may be awakening to itself. People can see its endemic corrosion. At the very least, having some self-awareness is better than not having any.
Each time I have woken up to watch the presidential debates, I have been disappointed. Not because of Trump – he is mad. His mental illness has been left untreated. His diehard supporters will maintain their support to the end. I am disappointed because of this idea that it is the poor and disadvantaged who have backed Trump’s message. It is as if he is only picking up the angry, impoverished vote and that this somehow validates his ideas through the sanctity of poverty. This is nonsense. You know that actually on average his supporters are fairly well-off, especially compared with those of failed Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. Lower in educational attainment perhaps… but well-off.
So these economic arguments are for the birds. It’s about values. As Trump battles his many hungers like a rhino in riot gear, I am tempted to send the Republican grandees a copy of Ahmadou Kourouma’s satirical novel Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote. This is the story of Koyaga, the president of fictional Gulf Coast in West Africa, who through violence, treachery and sorcery destroys his country and starts to believe in his own infallibility. A master of the absurd and a slave of the occult, Koyaga rides wave upon wave of crisis and crushes real and imagined enemies by pulling off the most macabre of stunts, including chopping off the genitals of opponents and stuffing them into their mouths, ostensibly to ward off evil spirits. Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote would be a great read for Republicans, not least because Koyaga epitomises the leadership deficit that’s the bane of the world today. His ideology is also not unlike Trump’s.
I am disappointed in Hillary because there are some things that she does not seem to get, and perhaps she never will. So that’s too bad. She has the benevolence of the patroniser, but better some kind of benevolence than none at all.
On social media, many see the election circus as an inevitable consequence of too much reality TV and celebrity-worship. That the owner of the Miss Universe beauty pageant and the star of The Apprentice TV show should be a candidate to run the country speaks to this. Now politics has joined the realm of virtual reality, and there’s little room for introspection in America. Winter in America, as Gil Scott-Heron might have said, has not given way to a springtime of tolerance and understanding.
Then there are the conspiracy theorists: Hillary staged the Republican nomination to ensure that she would be up against an unbelievably empty white man. Or, Trump is a paid Democrat plant. Or, the Elders of Zion have scripted everything to ensure Israeli dominance continues.
Still, up here in the cheap seats, many are excited about the death of American exceptionalism. Hear me out. A deranged clown is a heartbeat away from the presidency. Doesn’t this undercut the other America, the one that has been lecturing the world about probity and competence in public office for decades?
In the run-up to the 2013 elections in Kenya, when two of the candidates were facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, America told Kenyans that choices have consequences. Then enter Trump, and the irony of it all is too obvious. What consequences will the United States have to pay? What consequences will all of us have to pay should Trump get elected?
Scandal maketh a man and woman, does it not? There was a time when voters would desert a candidate on a whiff of scandal – not any more. Hillary’s and Trump’s ratings are surging, seemingly fuelled by a sea of scandal. What does this say about American society? The fact that it is only when Trump actually admitted on tape to being a sexual predator that Republican allies deserted him doesn’t speak to some Damascene conversion.
Indeed, if democracy is intrinsically supposed to give us the best man or woman for the job, what do democracy-promoters in Africa and Asia say when it privileges the scums of politics? If democracy were a poison, many are excited to see America swallow its hemlock concoction publicly.
There is only one winner: Trump. Whether he beats Hillary or not, he has redefined the American political handbook. A victory would not only put him in good company alongside Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Yahya Jammeh, Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-un but would also debunk the ideology of order that has shaped the world since the Second World War. On the other hand, a defeat would still leave his indelible populist imprint on mainstream politics. Rumours continue to circle that Trump is looking to launch a new television station to lock in the millions of loyal supporters he now has. The most likely partner for such a project is alt-right media supremo Stephen Bannon, chief executive of Breitbart News, a website that panders to the white supremacist corner of the US electorate, and also of Trump’s presidential campaign. But that is beside the point.
Beyond tilting at windmills, the political paralysis in America is relevant because one of the issues, if not THE issue here, is this problem of white supremacy. Some politely call it ‘Western hegemony’, but maybe it translates to the same thing. As one observer told me: “Currently, we have to remake ourselves into their image in order to be successful. That is what ‘development’ means. That is what ‘education’ means. What is happening in America is a result of the shift in demographics. Such that the ‘other’ can now assert itself and question ‘whiteness’ as the default.” Trump may be a misogynist, but he’s no accident. We should all be interested in the outcome.
• Denis Galava is a former editor of the Daily Nation