By Obadiah Mailafia
TOMORROW Tuesday November 3, millions of American voters will go out to vote. The world’s greatest democracy will decide between two candidates: the incumbent Donald J. Trump for the Republican Party and challenger Joe Biden, representing the Democratic Party.
When I seek a better understanding of the muddy waters of American government,I return to my dog-eared copy of Democracy in America by 19th century French aristocrat and philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville.
Tocqueville was a young aristocrat in a fast-disappearing age. He sought to understand American democracy not because he admired it but precisely because he rather despised it.
About America, Tocqueville once observed: “I do not know if the people of the United States would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.” The two American gladiators may not be “superior men”. But we cannot be so ungenerous as to say that every occupant of the high magistracy of the American republic has been an inferior man.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were nobody’s inferior men. The likes of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George. H. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were average people, but certainly not inferior.
The party machines of the American political system have spewed up Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Donald J Trump pursued a successful business career that made him a billionaire. Until 2016, he was a Washington outsider who decided to throw his hat into the ring. His vision, then as now, is “to make America great again”. He has the gruff diction of the New York real-estate dealer; without the refined manners of the East Coast Brahmin.
The political philosopher Isaiah Berlin once remarked that the fox knows many things while the hedgehog has a big idea. Donald Trump is a hedgehog. His one dominating thought is to “make America great again”. A Mr. Fix-it who treats public policy with the direct approach of the corporate manager, he signed a record dozen Executive Orders on his very first day inside the White House in January 2017.
Joe Biden, by contrast, is the quintessential political insider. He became a U.S. Senator from a relatively young age; becoming Barack Obama’s Vice-President from 2009 — 2017. He comes across as a rather colourless politician. Joe Biden is your typical American liberal who speaks with sensitivity regarding issues of race and the environment. He believes that America’s manifest destiny is to lead the world and to oversee the institutions of global governance.
If the latest polls are anything to go by, Biden is leading by 51.8 percent as against Trump’s 43.1 percent. With the American Electoral College system anchored on Swing States such as Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona and Pennsylvania, the polls indicate that the Democrats have a substantial lead of 290 as against 125 for the Republicans.
The death on September 18 of the associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, became a key issue during the campaign season. Ginsburg was a fearless judge who was well-known for her liberal views. Every President hopes for an opportunity to appoint a judge after their own heart. The battle over Ginsburg’s successor became a rather bitter one. President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic jurist, who went through so many political hoops before being confirmed.
For better or worse, we are all Americans now. Whatever happens in America is likely to influence what happens to the rest of the world. Trump is a species apart from the neo-con Roman pagans that came with Ronald Reagan, the Bushes and Paul Wolfowitz. He ascended the high magistracy in 2016 with the support of rural farmers, the rednecks of the South and conservative evangelicals who see him as “God’s chosen candidate”.
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There are many in America who feel that the LGBTQ agenda has been taken way too far. They worry about what same-sex marriage will do to the sacred institution of the family and very character and future of American civilization. Trump has restored prayer in the White House and in the schools. Unlike Obama, he insists on saying “Happy Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”.
Over the last 50 years, the ethnic and racial composition of the United States has transformed profoundly. Remarkably, a recent survey showed that Nigerians were among the ethnic groups with the highest levels of education and income in the United States.
According to some forecasts, by 2050, Whites will become a minority of 46 percent as against 54 percent non-Whites. This demographic shift is likely to alter the structure of politics in America. Some have argued that the Trump phenomenon represents a blowback against such demographic shifts.
Since Gunnar Myrdal, race remains the eternal dilemma of American civilization. More Black youths in America are in prison than in college. Police continue to kill Black people at the slightest excuse in the concrete jungles of America. Sadly, this appears to be a non-issue for Trump.
African-Americans, if truth be told, cannot escape some of the blame. Failure to raise children in harmonious families with values of hard work, discipline and virtue has been the undoing of Black communities. Failure to take responsibility combined with a pernicious “entitlement mentality” has brought nothing but ruin to the Black people of America.
Donald Trump recently declared that Americans have enjoyed “the greatest economy in the history of the world” under his tutelage. We humbly submit that he himself could not possibly be judge and jury in his own court. The American economy has continued its lacklustre growth for the third year running. It has fallen from 2.9% in 2018 to 2.3% in 2019. For the fourth quarter in a year, growth has stagnated around 2.1 percent.
The tax cuts which he religiously implemented have seen the national deficit balloon by a $1 trillion. Agreed, the novel coronavirus pandemic was not his own fault, his handling of the pandemic does not inspire confidence even among some of his own supporters, particularly White senior citizens.
The generalised lockdown has led to foreclosures, bankruptcies and trillions wiped off stock exchanges. Unemployment figures have soared. His trade war with China has not helped matters. His putting of spanners on the spokes of our own Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s recent election as Director-General of World Trade Organisation may be seen as a continuation of the trade war with China. It is unlikely to win him more friends in Nigeria, especially coming after his failed bid to unseat Akinwumi Adesina at the African Development Bank.
There has been much talk about a Trump Doctrine in American foreign policy. A Chinese expert in Taoist face-reading recently described Trump as a “blue whale”: a ferocious, domineering sea mammal that ironically has no penchant towards needless altercations with neighbours. Despite his sabre-rattling rhetoric, Trump has not behaved like his warlike forebears.
He has talked tough while engaging directly with his enemies, including Iran, China and North Korea. He does not think much of the UN and has withdrawn American funding and membership from the WHO over its alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. Africa probably does not exist in his cosmology, beyond his “sh-t hole” reference to Nigeria.
Remarkably, he has created a new initiative for the promotion of International Religious Freedom that aims to protect Royingya Muslim minorities in Myanmar as much as Christian minorities in Syria. Not too long ago, he asked General Muhammadu Buhari: “Why are you killing Christians?”
Warts and all –despite the polls — I wager my bets in favour of Donald Trump winning the elections tomorrow.
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