The Revenge of the old Right
This past week will long be remembered in American and global history as the week when the unthinkable became the unavoidable. Donald Trump is the president-elect of the United States of America. All lovers of liberal democracy and its most bullish rampart must be saddened by this development. In a way this may presage the precipitous decline of America’s global hegemony, the unravelling of the nation-state paradigm and the resurgence of the ancient National Question even in the most seemingly secure nation on earth.
The auguries are hideous but intriguing. In their haste to dismiss the old establishment, the Americans handed over their country and its nuclear arsenal to a man without any record of public service and one that had been adjudged by many to be temperamentally unfit to handle sensitive matters. But the nightmare having become a throbbing reality, the daydreaming must stop henceforth. Realpolitik suggests that Donald Trump must be promptly engaged before he can do any grievous damage to his country and the world at large.
The blissful but not so innocent narrative of relentless human progress has now been dramatically halted on the plains of Middle America and in the same country where such possibility was first mooted at least in modern history. Once again, we are confronted by the fact that humankind is not a fallen angel but a rising hominid. But more important, America is sending signals to the rest of the world that the modern nation is no longer an expanded community of organic values. Everybody must find their way out of the apocalyptic cave. Picking up the pieces from this Trumpian inferno may take quite some time.
For twelve long and lonely hours on Tuesday, yours sincerely kept vigil with the American people and the American dream. It is not for a love of hyperbole that American presidential contests have been described as “the American melodrama”. It is full of strange turns and twists. It is breathless and breath-taking in sheer electrifying drama. It is not a political fare for the fainthearted.
It was a nail-chewing finale. For sheer poetic beauty perhaps nothing could beat the CNN female anchor who casually and offhandedly blurtedout that there was no more nail to bite. At 2 am Nigerian time when the tide began to turn strongly and finally against Hillary Clinton, yours sincerely decided to call several Nigerians living in the US. Not a single one returned the call. It was an ominously pregnant development. The called could no longer hear the caller. Donald Trump was about to be loosed upon the world. America will never be the same again.
Yet according to virtually all known and unknown pundits, it was supposed to be history of a different and more ennobling type that was in the making. America was all set to complete a historic double. All trends and political statistics pointed to the election of Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States. Having elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president, America was on its way to becoming a truly egalitarian society by electing its first female executive. The gender glass ceiling was about to be shattered forever.
But it was not be. History does not progress in such neat and linear geometrical order. America may now have to wait for years and even decades before such a perfect opportunity presents itself again, and probably in diminished circumstances. In a cruel irony of fate, the Obama presidency itself may now be viewed by posterity as a last-ditch effort by the American establishment to stem the tide of evil political retrogression and social anarchy; a heroic effort to circle the waggon before the whole country goes under in a tsunami of right-wing extremism leavened by ethnic and religious bigotry.
A decent, solid and dignified fellow brimming with compassion and the milk of human kindness, this is not the kind of history Barack Obama would have wished to make or the kind of legacy he would have wanted to be associated with. But as this column never tires of asserting, history often moves forward by lurching sideways. In the fullness of time and when the historical meandering has run its course, Obama would be rightly regarded as an avatar of modern American history.
Although history moves in a mysterious manner often beyond the full and immediate comprehension of humankind, there are many codes that can be enlisted in cracking the mystery. Many discerning observers have noted that there is a familiar global ring to what is happening in America. It is duly noted that the global resurgence of right-wing fascism and extreme ethnic nationalism coupled with religious fundamentalism has berthed in America and found fertile and productive soil.
The Donald Trump phenomenon in its shrill xenophobia and crude loathing of the other is all at one with the Brexit vote that has crippled Great Britain, the persistence of ultra-nationalist parties in France, the resurgence of Neo-Nazi groups in Germany and the xenophobic murmurings despite Angela Merkel’s countervailing personal heroism, Russia’s relapse into an ancient pan-Slavic nationalism and the human fiasco the Middle East has become. This is not to talk of the devastated phantom nations of post-colonial Africa. It is a broken world crying to be fixed.
But in order to do this we must get certain myths out of the way. As we have seen with the current demographic crisis in Europe and the revolt of the right in America, all human societies no matter the development and the sophistication behave in the same manner when faced with want, hunger, generalized fear and insecurity. They turn their xenophobic fury and paranoid resentment on those who do not belong to their ethnic and religious categories. Even in racially homogeneous societies, they pounce on those who do not share clannish commonalities with them.
The notion of a lunatic fringe is one of the comforting myths of modern civilization. The lunatic fringe is not so much a fringe of lunacy as it is a glimpse into the darkness of the human heart in which subliminal impulses common to all are given free expression or acted out by a few. When the chips are down, the fringes disappear but not the lunacy. The genocidal Hutu tribesmen of Rwanda, the old German middle class that acted as Hitler’s compliant executioners, the implacable isolationists who voted for Brexit in Britain and the millions who have just voted for Donald Trump cannot be regarded as belonging to a fringe of the society. They are the mainstream acting in errant communality.
To be sure since its inception as a nation, America has always boasted of such extremist, murderously xenophobic groups: White Aryan Resistance, the Ku Klux Klan, White Order of Thule, the White Knights etcwho might have been responding to the wanton brutality and savagery that accompanied the birth of America as the most modern nation the world had seen.
Yet the notion of American Exceptionalism inheres in the fact that by coming up with rules, laws, institutions and ideals which should nudge the sweltering commonwealth of disparate souls to a higher telos, the American founding fathers and many of their successors have managed to restrict the savage contrarians to their primeval forests and the antediluvian margins of American society.
These American titans were far from being perfect. In fact some of them were morally culpable while one or two were psychologically flawed in a profound manner. But their fundamental nobility of spirit and considerable intellectual talents enabled them to rise above their own human failings to envision a better and more humane societyand one to be guided by the finer ideals of civilization. The brotherhood of humanity, irrespective of race, creed and social status is one of these ideals.
But where hunger and want prevail, where inequity and inequality of staggering and idiotic proportions persist, the prospects of a better and more humane society evaporate and the brotherhood of humanity disappears. The result is a hopelessly divided and bitterly polarized society which paves the way for the emergence of a reactionary right-wing huckster and hustler like Donald Trump. It is all so eerily reminiscent of the rise of NAZI Germany.
If there is a silver lining in this cloud that has descended on the greatest liberal democracy the world has seen, it is that no society can afford to take its own goodness and greatness for granted. Donald Trump is a mere symptom of a more fundamental human malady. This is where the death of good old socialism as a countervailing global force against the grosser moral and political absurdities of savage capitalism must be regretted.
Given the fallibility and frailty of human nature, the communist dream of a paradise on earth may represent a phantom impossibility. But while its writ was in place in vast swathes of human space, it compelled and committed the capitalist world to momentous social re-engineering which birthed a more humane and compassionate society in leading capitalist countries.
For these nations, the fear of a communist take-over was the beginning of wisdom. With the collapse of the socialist world, the capitalist order has reverted to the sadistic prototype of the Dickensian bleak house. History works in mysterious ways and without realising it, humanizing capitalism may well have been the main historic leitmotif of the socialist challenge.
After the collapse of socialism, America has not been helped by the intellectual and ideological quietude from other global epicentres of knowledge production. Beyond the early stirring of Negritude, all has been quiet on the African intellectual front, except the jejune mimicry of western ideologies of the right and left by its jaded middlemen of ideas. It is only in South America where an alternative narrative to western modernity has evolved, where the concept of No-Capitalism has been developed and where Liberation Theology flourished among its Jesuit intellectuals that there is a stirring of redemptive hope for humanity.
Do we then say so long America? It may be too early to count out God’s own country. For one, its major state institutions remain in place as the seamless transition from Obama to Trump attests. The funeral of a lion is not a spectacle for domestic dogs.As the most powerful nation the world has seen, America must now find it within its soul and spirit to recover the essence of American Exceptionalism and the repudiation of its finer ideals which the ascendancy of Donald J Trump represents.In the interim, welcome to trumped America.
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