Joram Nyathi Spectrum
A psychic Indian fish easily picked Donald Trump for the 45th American president. Charismatic Nigerian “prophet” TB Joshua picked Trump’s losing Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.He was endorsing the views of a phalanx of media houses and analysts who gave Trump only a slim chance in the gruelling race for the White House while Clinton was seen trotting comfortably for a second stint, now as the ultimate Boss in Washington, DC.
Given the sobriquet Chanakya II, the fish was given three chances to make a prediction and Trump scored 100 percent. In the event, Trump won 289 against Clinton’s 218. We were all upended.
Not that some of us cared one way or the other, except that we had a bone to chew with Clinton. The last two candidates in this US presidential race were equally unlovable. It was not a matter of who was better between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It was more of who was less bad, less unlikeable. Thus the outcome would be a close call, with the fairer sex less bad, the media told us.
Trump was a misogynist, a racist, too crude, unknown. Couldn’t win. Clinton had her foot in the door, the learned seers in Washington told us.
True enough, images of the two making their closing remarks just before election day seemed to confirm this: Trump appeared tired and resigned even as he made his final appeal to voters to “Make America Great Again”. Hillary Clinton was ebullient, insouciant and full of zest about “restoring our values”.
Thanks to the analysts, some of us here had resigned ourselves to a world dominated by a woman who gave Zimbabwe Zidera and celebrated the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and the destruction of Libya in pursuit of a false ideal called democracy. (We know better now, so do Libyans who now sorely yearn for their murdered leader in the face of unending killings, shortages of everything except death and the looting of their oil.)
The margin of Trump’s victory against all expert predictions, projections and prognosis, including a last minute dose of TB Joshua’s prophetic ordination of Hillary Clinton, should be humiliating to members of the journalism profession. We are given to the pretence that we are always closest to, and speak for, the people. My primary school teacher used to say “you goofed”.
The pollsters, the analysts, the journalists. Run for cover.
Perhaps the aquatic vertebrate is closer to the hearts of ordinary people than the experts who spend their days in high-rise, air-conditioned ivory towers, or take bribes to sex up people’s unpalatable views. Like Zimbabwe’s Baba Jukwa who gave Tsvangirai an unassailable electoral victory on social media in 2013, only to vanish into thin air, his magical spin sustained by another media invention, christened Nikuv.
It’s a wish being father to the thought.
The crude lesson: elections are not won by experts, nor by those who make the loudest noise on social media, or mainstream media for that matter. The result is often decided by men and women of flesh and blood.
Unsophisticated Trump defeated an establishment which had deployed a media corps to do a hatchet job on him. The voters rejected incumbent President Obama’s tale that Hillary was the “most qualified person” to be the next US president.
Trump talked to people’s anxieties. The immigrants coming to take their jobs, to gobble part of their social welfare. He talked to the unemployed as government allowed manufacturing firms to relocate overseas in search of cheap exploitive labour and supper profits. People were left in ghost towns, with an estimated one third of America’s 360 million people without a job, according to the Trump camp.
Trump’s atavistic appeal to make America great again resonated with those millions who felt unaccommodated in the preferred narrative of the blue bloods who traditionally rule America. The media missed it and thought Trump was mad.
It is the same misreading of unexpected and unpopular sentiment which led to the shock about the British voting to leave the European Union earlier this year. It was believed inconceivable. Only we realise late that nationalism is not a disease of the primitive peoples of the Third World. It is native to every nation, only at different temperatures depending on issues at stake.
The American people voted for Trump because they want to reclaim their country and its resources; they want to indigenise their economy and its wealth. It is instructive that a majority of those who voted for Trump in what were thought to be Democrat strongholds did not have a college education.
The election upshot reveals a capitalist spirit recoiling from the broader implications and consequences of globalisation and the global village in a world where economic inequalities make richer nations a magnet for the poor who are also driven from their countries by the endless, senseless, destabilising “wars on terror”.
But all this is to digress. The simple point is that the media goofed. The same for analysts. The same for pollsters. Everyone has been discredited in an embarrassing way. That includes that mountebank from Nigeria who has been a darling and a source of titillating news for idle local journalists, the same way they licked every silly electoral projection by Baba Jukwa to create psychedelic newspaper headlines for their gullible readers.
Their world was stunned by Trump’s electoral victory because it trusts the make-believe world of the media, it believes the media’s “people”, it swallows unquestioningly claims by the media that they report people’s views when they peddle their own wishes and hawk their own opinions as news.
In Zimbabwe we are familiar with how many times President Mugabe has died. He now makes jokes about it himself. Their wish for his death is reported as a national concern for his health.
We are familiar with how much Zimbabweans love the opium of democracy more than they do ownership of their natural resources. The latest hottest thing in town is how ordinary Zimbabweans love their American dollars more than having their own currency.
In other words we trust others with the well-being of our country more than we can trust ourselves. That’s before one separates the “people” from the wishes of the media.
The same media which told us people didn’t want bond coins, that people don’t want plastic money and have been inciting and instigating demonstrations and lawsuits against the bond notes in the name of the people. The same media which tell us daily that civil servants who want to withdraw their $400 monthly pay from banks are doing so to escape the bond note. How much does one save a month from $400?
Reacting to the catastrophic failure by the media to prepare the world for a Trump maelstrom, a journalist colleague argued the media tends to “exaggerate its contribution to the national mood, deluding itself into thinking it can decide matters.”
This, he says, is “a lie concocted by ignoramuses who happen to have a pen and a paper. Take that lie away and the media has no business . . . Trump has shown that people don’t need media to form an opinion. They have their own views and ideas.”
Perhaps India’s psychic fish, Chanakya, would not be a bad staple diet for members of the Fourth Estate. We would then get closer to the hearts of ordinary people, down from the ivory tower. We would be modest in our pretences to know anything at all beyond the basic storyline.
PS: Two things stand out in the outcome of the US election. You contest, win or lose and let the nation move on. Second, it is still a man’s world in a country which considers itself the beacon of democracy and a land of equal opportunities. Lesser peoples have fared much better, led by India.