The other side with Nathaniel Manheru —
No surprises for me. Hopefully none for you too, gentle reader, if you didn’t miss my September 24 and October 21 instalments. September 24 piece in part read: “However rough one finds him [Donald Trump], clearly he is the stronger candidate, given the gains he continues to make against the gingerly Hillary Clinton, and after such spectacular show of repeated, alienating intemperances.
“I mean if Clinton was solid on the ground, as she appeared to be a few months back, Trump’s gaffes should have seen her well beyond the horizon. Not this see-saw, if results of opinion polls are anything to go by. And one has to be careful with opinion polls, what with what happened in British elections not too far ago.”
And almost a month later, on October 21, my opinion had not changed. If anything, it had acquired undisguised strains of a pro-Trump sentiment. I wrote: “I feel some sympathy for the whining Trump though. He has been unfairly treated by the media: CNN and the New York Times especially. Instead of presenting the two candidates dispassionately, as behoves well-behaved media of a mature democracy, the American media have simply, swiftly and hysterically cast their vote for Hillary Clinton, well ahead of the polls. The idea is to influence the American voter, so wont to media-induced, herd mentality behaviour at polls.”
What did you do to stop him?
Significantly, the media hysteria did not abate; if anything it escalated. To the observant, the American media were not describing what they saw, the poll itself; they were expressing deep fears as overwhelmed gatekeepers whose defences of the American neo-liberal establishment had been breached.
The acme of this deep fear found expression on November 8, by way of an anticipatory editorial comment of The New York Times, poignantly titled, “Imagining America on November 9”. Keeping and whipping up the hysteria, the comment – no doubt a last ditch Herculean effort for a Clinton vote – admonishingly asked: “For Americans who may feel unmoved or unwilling to vote for Mrs Clinton, here is a question from the future: In 2016 we were closer than ever to electing an ignorant and reckless tyrant – and what did you do to stop him?”
On the other side of the Atlantic, the mood was hardly any different, only more certain – falsely – of a Trump defeat, a Clinton win. In sympathy with their American cousins, the British media futuristically addressed the task ahead: that of rebuilding the ramparts of Fort Liberalism after a damaging, thoughtless assault by a determined bigot America had littered from a freaky pregnancy.
For Trump was not just bad; he was a freak, an abnormality which no liberal democracy, let alone the foremost one, could ever sire. Democracies never produce bigots, Western pundits were wont to pontificate, forgetting Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini won elections. Soon liberal normalcy would prevail, shrugging off this atypical political grotesquery, ran British media pundits, including the usually respectable columnists in the British Guardian stable.
The day pollsters expostulated
And of course pollsters weighed in, to the number not predicting, but wishing, nay massaging for a Clinton landslide. With so much at stake – core, founding values of Western democracy – pollsters could not afford to extrapolate; they had to expostulate. To add weight to the expostulation, they combined efforts: ABC/Washington Post; NBC/New York Times, etc, etc. Big media names reading, sorry leading, the future so the voter would not go any wrong. All the way to the booth, the voter was guided, led, hectored, never left alone, never to think, never to exercise sovereign choice. The vote could not be a secret.
The poll margins were massive: 8 percentage points for the less generous, the more vigorous; 4 percentage lead, for the mildly partisan. In both Clinton was made to lead. For Clinton not only needed to win; she needed to do so by a vast margin if Trump the maverick was to be dissuaded from challenging the result, impugning the West’s faultless democracy, as indeed he had threatened to.
So much was at stake; so deep was the conviction in the Clinton triumph, that all else did not matter. Including sinking in the sin of bigoted intemperance, which the liberal West had accused Trump of. It was a formidable array of firepower: the media, organic intellectuals, pollsters and establishments on both sides of the Atlantic. Then, US presidents – sitting and former alike; and their wives, including one who battled Trump in the ring.
And, the voting day would reveal, including former presidents from Trump’s own Republican Party: the Bushes who elected to spoil the presidential ballot than to cast it in favour of one of their own. Never has a winning candidate, never, never had success been so unkindly desolate, so more totally orphaned, and defeat so dotingly crowded, so more smothering-ly parented.
So how was America on November 9, and thereafter? Another country. Another ethos. Apocalyptically a neo-liberal rabble. Or so are we told by the same pundits who misled us only yesterday, and are not shy to mislead us yet again, today, tomorrow! Another semiotic fantasy? Indeed! I remember and do hereby recall America on September 11, 2001, when she came under attack, terrorist attack. The whole episode was framed as an apocalypse: not of America even, but of the whole world: 9/11, the day the world changed.
A few years later in China, I would be fortunate enough to attend a public lecture by a Chinese scholar from Beijing University. It was the most liberating lecture I had ever had; I have ever had. So, tell us Zimbabwe, the Chinese don asked, did your country change? Did the sun rise from the North, to set in the South? What changed in your part of the world? Having been sucked into American propaganda, the question fell on me like a bucket of ice-cold water on the soundly sleeping, on the soundly unsuspecting.
An amazing epiphany: indeed nothing changed in my part of the world, whatever personal catastrophe America sought to recast in such apocalyptic proportions. Much more, I began to grasp both the power and falsity of propaganda. I began to understand the attack on the Twin Towers, to encompass it, years after it had happened, years after it had been packaged by the all-powerful victims of that attack as a global apocalypse, a planetary turning point.
And here was the lesson I drew: whereas the privileged slave says “our house is on fire”, the white house-owner says “life is homeless”! This is how propaganda works: seeking to turn a village tragedy, a class tragedy, into a cosmic one, so that even a mouse so securely nestled in a faraway hole, in lands so far away from the burning hut, should suffer this distant threat, this remote tragedy, feel it, fear it, as its own.
The fall of the Twin Towers had been a tragedy of American capitalism, a challenge to state-capture by American capitalism that created wars abroad, imperiling the whole of America. For denizens of Harlem, Twin Towers was another country, another planet. But there was an attempt to make it an American tragedy, classless America. Best propagandists are consummate scaremongers. And the scaremongers are at it once more. This is how.
Our unknown country
On November 9, when the Trump electoral victory had become an accomplished fact, the reading of that simple electoral victory, electoral defeat, was again made to read like a tragedy for mankind. Paul Krugman, arguably among New York Times’ foremost columnists, penned a weeping piece titled, “Our Unknown Country”. He wrote: “What we do know is that people like me, and probably like most readers of the New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in. We thought that our fellow citizens would not, in the end, vote for a candidate so manifestly unqualified for high office, so temperamentally unsound, so scary yet ludicrous.
“We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice, and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time. We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law. It turns out that we were wrong. There turns out to be a huge number of people – white people, living mainly in rural areas – who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy.”
Krugman’s blind spot was the blind spot of a class. But it sought to be the blind spot of the world. It embraced all of us, we who have known and understood America and its predictable ways. If anyone from outside America in the eighties had expressed bafflement at an America that votes in the virtually brain-dead Wild West actor called Ronald Reagan, most probably that stupidly audacious person would have been lynched in broad daylight.
If any American had wondered how a sane America still gave George W. Bush (Jnr) two terms, starting with a rigged one, again that person would have been shot dead. Or had wondered why a black president would preside over the mowing down of his fellow blacks by right-wing white gunners and policemen.
A failed state, society
Against all this we know, how is Trump such an aberration now? Simply because American voting lunacy which we have suffered all this time has suddenly blown back into the home? Krugman even gets existential: “I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible. I guess we have to pick ourselves up and try to find a way forward, but this has been a night of terrible revelations, and I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair.”
For the first time we see America’s value centurions expressing not just self-doubt and angst, but generously redeploying the lexicon they have used on us lesser beings, lesser societies, to describe themselves. I mean who would ever have imagined that Krugman would describe America as “a failed state and society”? Was that not a prerogative of a country like Zimbabwe? Or to imagine that Thomas L. Friedman – another leading American scholar-columnist – would find himself in such utter despair as to describe his state in following terms: “But at the moment I am in anguish, frightened for my country and for our unity. And for the first time, I feel homeless in America.” Or even imagine something like “#RIPAmerica” appearing in a Western publication?
Keeping matters in perspective
So how are we supposed to read Trump, America, the world, but without falling into the causality semiotic fallacy? I repeat: America is not the world; it’s just another country in the Americas. Trump is a president-elect of this one country, never of the world. And the American voter, foolish or wise, however he appears in your eyes, is just that, American.
Yes, America has sought to overreach, to play planetary, but she is not, will never be. If anything, her power is in decline, her values spectacularly failing in hegemony. What happened on November 8, happened in some small village called America, relative to the size of humanity, the size of the globe.
Let not that be overdrawn, or made to bear lessons for the rest of humanity. The American century came and went. What remains are fumes of once-upon-a-time glory, the kind that afflicted their cousins, the British. Power, once wielded, remains imagined, even after being yielded. And let not Ambassador Thomas – outgoing Democratic
Administration’s ambassador here – seek to tell us what the Trump administration will mean for Zimbabwe. Simply, he doesn’t know. He is no less perplexed, homeless, than any other American who voted wrongly! He must thus speak with restraint, better still not speak at all, unless he wants to look foolish.
Clinton’s gripe with Zimbabwe
Before I try to read Trump, let me read what he has defeated, Hillary Clinton. Her presidency would have been terrible for Zimbabwe, un-feared though it would still have been. Once, she visited our country, then as the First Lady of America. Expectedly, President Mugabe paired her with Amai Mugabe, in keeping with protocol and propriety. But she felt slighted, demeaned.
Why she thought herself deserving of the company of a whole Head of State, deserving of the company of someone’s husband, undeserving of the First Lady of Zimbabwe – then her peer – I have never fathomed. She never forgave Mugabe and waited for the day she would even it out with him. When the time came, she voted for the so-called Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, ZDERA for short. As Secretary of State, she opposed any efforts at normalising US-Zimbabwe relations, cultivating an enduring anti-Zimbabwe sentiment in the State Department, the same way that Susan Rice, the brains behind the invasion of the DRC in 1998, cultivated a similar feeling in the US Security Department.
When African policy would have been anti-Zimbabwe
President Obama and his current Assistant Secretary for African Affairs would have wanted to normalise relations with Zimbabwe, more so after Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe’s foreign minister one wondered loud enough for the American ear, wondered what it was Zimbabwe had done so badly that seemed worse than America’s age-old animosity for innocent Cuba, innocent Iran.
The Administration felt the invidiousness of its policy on Zimbabwe, if a policy it is at all. Give it to its officials, they told their Zimbabwean side the animus came from the State Department and that of Susan Rice. Old scores, old hurts, parading as hatred for infractions on democracy.
In anticipation of her presidency, Hillary had brought back everyone who hates Mugabe and Zimbabwe, to cobble a new policy for Africa whose centre-piece would have been greater hostility for Zimbabwe. Johnnie Carson had been re-issued from retirement; Tim McDonald, too, and all were finalising a new policy on Zimbabwe, which simply subsisted in deepening hostilities, gunning for an endgame.
By the time the Trump bombshell fell, the policy was as good as done, with preliminary noises already audible, interestingly against British counsel. Certainly in great hope for the opposition here, who thought, Ozymandias-like, they would be the power to rise on the smouldering ruins of a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai was already reading an endgame, something my readers did not quite get when I devoted all those acres last week to the subject. Impetuous Biti had already signalled his high hopes for a pride of place as granny’s loved “niece”. For Zimbabwe, therefore, Trump was one hell of an unintended blow – good blow – that averted the anger of a real female bigot.
But it’s a blow that lamed the threat, without demolishing it. Demolishing it is an assignment for Zimbabweans; which is why doing things right, while keeping true to our values, is blow enough against ZDERA and its American proponents.
The return of splendid isolation
What of Trump, the victor, America’s president-elect? Firstly, for America itself. Well, he has smashed liberal America, liberal West, opening the way for a neo-conservative ethos and era in America, in Europe, possibly in Latin America. The age of right-wing politics is upon America, Europe, possibly the world. It is an era of Americanism, in the narrow sense of re-erecting formidable national borders, of re-erecting aggressive national parochialism, chauvinism if you want.
Yes, liberalism, with its outcome – globalism – is dead; long live the nation-state! The intervening years will see nations retreating from multilateralism, receding into hard shells of nationhood: nation-centric policies, anti-immigrants, open racism, indifference to the high liberal values of “responsibility to protect”, and of course protectionism when it comes to trade and markets.
Trump’s threat to erect a high wall against Mexico was not meant to prefigure a physical act it has been misread to be; it is a metaphor for a supremacist, blinkered worldview that is set for a second dawn on mankind. And Trump is not the inventor of it; the British are, which is what Brexit is all about.
In that sense, Trump has been quintessentially a truly begotten Briton, only one uprooted and re-planted elsewhere on the globe. Splendid isolation, it once was called. And as in the early 20th century, still requiring colonies abroad for economic autarchy to be real.
The fallacy of an outsider
Such a sea-change in outlook, of focus, needs a total re-engineering of values, of society. That means a demolition of the old society and its archaic values, which is why the guardians of Western liberalism are in agony, see an apocalypse, indeed murmur of “an 18 Brumaire”, as if Trump is Napoleon’s doppelgänger, to use that big German word.
They are right in their fretful fears, wrong in suggesting it’s an apocalypse. It is simply the dawn of another age of reaction: all white, aggressively nationalistic, indeed a second chance for capitalism to reinvent itself and survive, all in a new world where its foremost opponent is not communism, but state-centric capitalism best represented by China.
I had a chuckle to read a whole local professor – and he seems to get duller as his woes mount – suggesting Trump marks an outsider who has come in, hardly disguising what he wishes for local politics. No, Sir, Trump is the insider of real America, certainly the outsider of liberal “America” which thin liberalism had sought to sell through its ideological apparatuses as real America, as the Nation.
That liberal America was the real outsider is amply demonstrated by how Clinton to win through African-African American and Hispanic vote. Not through white America vote. And this is what scared real America, galvanised it electorally. Just reconstruct the outlook, beliefs and scriptures of Mayflower, and you realise how Trump is the personification of all that is real, that is inside to foundational America.
He expressed the angst of a white America increasingly feeling drowned by impurities – racial, political, economic, cultural, ideological – before rousing it for a drastic cleansing act, which is what November 8 vote amounted to. A return to the founding values. To whiteness. Some have called it a white-lash
I agree, for as long as it is kept within its geo-political boundedness. For it is not pan-whiteism; it is American whiteism, and Protestant. Chauvinistic. Too deep for artifices of liberalism, LGBD, gender and some such nonsense. Obama crystallised how far the values of Mayflower had been washed away, personified the evil that had to be extirpated to reassert and throw ballasts for the buffeted ship. Trump is not an oddity; he is a true son of America they found. Indeed an agent of history, not a maker of one. A so-called catastrophe is thus one big occurrence nearing completion, and thus cognisable once again. A semiotic fallacy.
Deals, wars, in equal measure
Are we safe, now that Hillary is out of the way? Not really. I called what Trump personifies aggressive nationalism, splendid isolation which still needs colonies. This is what bodes danger for us, Third Worlders. Trump’s America will pursue national interests quite aggressively, will prowl the globe to make America great again, including restoring industry, jobs.
His America has few billionaires and millions of white workers. Not a few billionaires and vast working immigrants. America will need raw materials only obtainable in our countries. America no longer needs to outsource. Where there is readiness to yield raw materials to it, Trump’s America will strike deals – skewed ones of course, in keeping with its exploitative, capitalist tradition. Where its quest for raw materials meets with aggressive, countervailing resource nationalism, it will go to war – a resource war shorn of all pretences.
If you have tracked who Trump rang for first contacts, you easily reconstruct his foreign policy, starting with the Middle East. Except for Israel, his will not be a policy of high ideals, of principles. Not even disguised. It will be blatant, brazen, like his personality. But very frank, upfront. He will cut deals, declare wars, in equal measure. Let it not be forgotten Zimbabwe’s relations with America blossomed under the Republicans, just as they did – and still do – with the Conservatives of Great Britain. Well, not quite blossom; live-and-let-live maybe, which is good enough.
Death of Lord Lugard
But open, upfront. And this is where my imagery of whispers and gales come in. Lugard’s philosophy of indirect rule rested on fronting African Chiefs or Emperors, behind whom lurked white officers who whispered intentions and interests of the empire, without being seen, without being visible. This was the age of monopoly colonialism, an age where British occupation and dominance in West Africa had long been pegged, uncontested.
As she moved further down, moved southward where the Dutch, the Germans and Portuguese lurked, threatened, she dispensed with the luxury of invisibility, foregrounding her sons, enthroning them as in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and Kenya. The whisper behind became a gale in front, a vanquishing and supplanting force. This is akin to what is happening in Trump’s America.
The era of neo-liberal whispers, multicultural whispers, even Hispanic whispers is dead and gone. The hand of white America will show. And wag. It is in that sense that Trump cannot be an outsider. His family has deep roots. His family invested heavily in towers – Trump Towers – within which America – rich America – is the tenant. How can the landlord ever be an outsider?