Tuesday, 12 January 2021 04:46

[OPINION] United States of America: The Rich Also Cry - ALEX OTTI

“The Nigerian government is keenly monitoring the situation in the US and may impose sanctions on specific Americans and also a travel ban on President Donald J. Trump and his family. In addition, all those connected with attempts to scuttle democracy in the US may be restricted from traveling to Nigeria. We will not stand idly by and watch the will of the American people being subverted. Meanwhile, all Nigerian citizens should avoid non-essential travels to the United States until further notice”

The opening text above was a message I received from a Nigerian friend of mine serving in the US military. For a moment, I had thought the message was actually a press release from the Nigerian government but it turned out to be a joke!

 

Credit for today’s title goes to the Mexican telenovela, “The Rich Also Cry”. In the the early to mid 1990s the Nigerian Television Authority was showing the soap opera which immediately became so popular that people across all ages and gender would book a space where there were television sets to watch the different series of the programme. For some of us with humble beginnings, television was one luxury that only the rich could afford. The next best form of luxury then was having access to a home that had a television set. For better reception, the television boxes, yes boxes, which were typically locked up when not in use, to prevent unauthorised access, had long outdoor antennas connected to the sets. Anywhere, those long poles stood on top of or by the roofs, one could easily tell, was the home of a ‘big man’. Veronica Castro, the star of the 1979 soap, was very successful and the Mexicans exported it to the rest of the world with so much pride, pomp and pageantry.

For the past four years, the world has been treated to a cocktail of entertainment, embarrassment and outright absurdity. The ‘Veronica Castro’ of this soap opera is none other than Donald Trump himself. We have been front row audience to his unbelievable antics from the time he showed up as an aspirant to the US Presidential race in 2015 to today, just days to his eventual exit from the global spotlight into inevitable relative obscurity.

Trump’s emergence as a Presidential Candidate of the Republican Party still remains a mystery to pundits. There were some obviously more acceptable aspirants like Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney and the award winning neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Yet, somehow, Trump trumped them all and emerged the candidate of choice. I have heard people ask what is in a name? Well, as in this case, one could say, ‘a whole lot’! The name ‘Trump’ has a connotation that depicts everything that Donald Trump has so far turned out to be. The dictionary says that “to ‘Trump’ is to outrank or defeat someone or something, often in a highly public way. Originally, ‘trump’ implied a deceptive form of victory involving cheating, ….. and the term ‘trumped up’, meaning something that’s been falsely made up”

Trump went on to face Hillary Clinton, who emerged his Democratic Party rival in the general elections. Trump ran a vicious campaign against the highly qualified lady, insulting, abusing and making all manner of false allegations against her. Some of us felt that Trump’s conduct before and during the campaigns, was enough reason for Americans to reject him at the polls, but we were wrong. Little did we know that the mainstream Americans enjoyed and celebrated what most of the observing world felt was unacceptable, indeed very bad, behaviour. In one of the election debates in 2016, Trump was asked if he would concede defeat if he lost the election and the man simply said he would not. Again, it was strange that some whites and rural dwellers had already cast their votes before the debate and the outcome of those debates was of no consequence as far as their votes were concerned. It was shocking to to hear that Trump won the election, even with fewer of the popular votes, than Hillary Clinton, his opponent. This victory drew attention to the American constitutional provision of electoral votes versus popular votes. Donald Trump was inevitably, therefore sworn in as the 45th President of the US even with the final vote count where Hillary Clinton won the popular votes with a margin of 2.1% and actual vote differential of 2.9m. Trump had 304 of the 538 electoral votes leaving Hillary with just 234.
As soon as Trump took over power, he started dismantling whatever he saw as the legacy of his Predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump carried on as if Obama was responsible for everything that went wrong with the US. One of the first victims of his scotched earth policy was the affordable healthcare act, also know as the Obama Care without a credible alternative. He went on the war path with many well meaning individuals who did not agree with him in his Demolition Derby. These included politicians, journalists, and even the international community. In addition to these were also even his own aides, whom he hired and fired with reckless abandon. He took on the North Korean and Chinese Presidents in the same gusto as he did several long time allies of the US. He took the USA out of international and multilateral organisations at will, without any care of international niceties and the implications of such actions. He pursued his so called, “America First” agenda as if it meant “America Alone”. He placed visa bans on countries at will and mercilessly separated minors from their parents in the pursuit of unwelcome visitors from what he called “shit hole countries”. Without disguising it, he supported white supremacists and in the process tacitly encouraged violence against minorities and coloured people. His self-styled nationalistic ideals unfortunately reduced America’s influence in the comity of nations. The real impact of Trump’s actions is that he ended up representing everything America hitherto publicly preached against.

As 2020 approached, and with the advent of the Covid-19 Pandemic which he obviously handled so poorly, it was clear his prospects of a second term were uncertain. The Democratic Party nominated Joe Biden, a compassionate and thoroughbred former Vice President, as its Candidate to confront Trump. In his characteristic manner, Trump abused and mocked Biden from the very beginning, and called him all sorts of names, including but not limited to “Sleepy Joe”. I could remember a video of Trump asking his supporters what it would sound like to hear that he was defeated by ‘Sleepy Joe’. He boasted that if that happened, he might have to relocate to another country. One hopes that he is packing his bags to relocate to either China or even Iran!
After running a heated campaign laced with insults and abuses, the election finally came on November 3. Trump is not one that would contemplate, let alone concede, defeat. As the reality of the election results began to dawn on him, he raised hell and brimstone, made all sorts of allegations of rigging and electoral malpractices, all without supporting facts. He raised a team of lawyers to file scores of frivolous law suits in the courts across the country disputing the election. Unfortunately for him, the Judiciary painstakingly dismissed them all. Meanwhile, once Biden was sure that he had won the election, he moved quickly to begin transition arrangements. Trump ensured that the in-coming Administration did not receive any cooperation from government. It was only after much public outcry, that Trump agreed to fund the transition comittee.

The electoral college met on December 14 and at the end of their voting, Biden expectedly won the election with 306 votes against against Trump’s 232 votes . Still, Trump would not concede. He employed all sorts of tactics that the world would have sworn could not happen in America. He filed more lawsuits and the more lawsuits he filed, the more he lost. Interestingly, several of these lawsuits were thrown out by judges that he himself had appointed. His desperation was to lead him to attempt rolling out the military as reported by the media. Again, that also failed. Just last Wednesday, January 6 2021, Trump mobilised thousands of his diehard supporters to disrupt the certification of the electoral college votes at the Capitol, a constitutional requirement in which the Congress approves the results to pave way for the transfer of power. Ordinarily, this certification exercise, is a mere formality, which usually does not last more than an hour. Trump had earlier tried to blackmail his Deputy Mike Pence to truncate the process since Pence, as the Vice President, constitutionally doubles as the President of Senate. As was widely expected, Pence ignored him. So much physical and psychological damage was done by Trump’s mob attack. About five lives were reportedly lost in the attack. In issuing a statement to contain his supporters, Trump shockingly treated the domestic terrorists he had created from his actions and speeches, with kid gloves. He justified their action and assured them that he loved them. It was not until this barbaric action was condemned by the whole world and he saw that his empire of sand was finally crumbling, that Trump issued a terse statement assuring an orderly transfer of power on January 20, 2021. After over four hours of violence, congress defied all odds, reconvened and completed its job, certifying Biden and Harris as winners of the 2020 election.

Not a few people are intrigued, even outraged, by the whole saga. Actions that were usually associated with the poor countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America are now the hallmarks of Trump’s America! Some people have tagged what happened at the Capitol as an attempted coup. In protest, many hitherto Trump ardent supporters started jumping ship. White House staff and aides began turning in their resignations. The Police Chief at the Capitol and the Sergeant At Arms, have also resigned. Democrats and a few Republicans as well including Vermont’s Republican Governor, Phil Scott have called for Trump’s immediate resignation or impeachment, even though he has just about 9 days to the end of his tenure. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all suspended his social media accounts with which he spewed hate and falsehood. The ignominious end that Trump inevitably crafted for himself and truly deserves, is playing out in a way that he never anticipated. However, I don’t see that Trump will voluntarily resign going by his antecedents. I don’t also see that the impeachment process, even if initiated, can be successfully completed, given the limited time available. But a lot of lessons must have been learnt by America and I believe that the country will need to immediately begin some democratic reforms to ensure that another Trump does not emerge in future and take America and the rest of the world for a ride, without a car.

America prides itself as the beacon of democracy. But this claim is challengeable. For instance, the basic foundation of democracy is the principle of one man one vote. One can understand the reasoning behind setting up the electoral college by the founding fathers. However, one can say that even that reasoning itself, was rooted in inequality based on education and exposure. But things have since changed. I am fully convinced that it is finally time to scrap the electoral college and apply the doctrine of universal adult suffererage and equality of votes. This is the case with other democracies in the world. If this reform had been made before 2016, a Trump Presidency would probably not have happened in the first place. Closely related to this is the doctrine of Separation of Powers. A situation where the Vice President is the President of Senate negates that hallowed doctrine. If Pence had behaved like Trump or if a Ruddy Giuliani had been the Vice President, the event of the 6th of January would have left a permanent damage on America. Again, the constitutional provision requiring Congress to certify electoral votes may have a been a formality in the past, but Trump has made everyone realise that democracy could be unraveled from that simple process. Of course, if the electoral college is scrapped, there will be no votes to certify in the first place.

All told the strong American institutions prevailed over strong men . The US has many firm and courageous individuals to thank for rescuing her democracy. Men and women of the Judiciary, for instance, stood their grounds and must be fully complimented for this. The military also sent a clear message that it was loyal to the constitution and not to any individual. The electoral officers refused to budge even under pressure and threatening direct phone calls from Trump. The media even yanked him off air in the middle of a press conference when it realised he was dishing out lies to the public. Many congressmen and women opted to side with the truth, instead of succumbing to hollow party loyalty. I know someone would be wondering what my interest is with America when my country has not fixed even the most basic of its challenges. My response would be that if the country from where we copied our constitution and one which we see as our model decides to slide downhill, then it means there is no hope for us. America is a role model for democracy and rule of law. The whole world is inspired and guided by the American experiment, which has lasted over two centuries. It must not fail at this time when many of the world’s countries are being drawn towards democracy and are using it to promote peace, security and economic prosperity across the world. Having successfully managed that thin line with astounding results for the rest of the world to copy and benefit. America must continue along that glorious, even if tortuous path. In the resultant sustained success of the American society, I still believe that there remains hope for the rest of us.

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