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Where is the United States that I used to know?

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President Barack Obama. PHOTO: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

President Barack Obama. PHOTO: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Now the hurlyburly’s done
The battle has been won and lost
(Adapted from Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1,scene 1, 4-5)

This piece was going to be written irrespective of the outcome of the elections. In fact, it is being written two days before the election because the outcome is irrelevant to the core message of the article. In a war fought without restraint, where all available weapons, nuclear, thermonuclear, biological, etc were deployed, there can be no victors, only the vanquished, and that means the whole of humanity.

This election did not create the American ugliness that the whole world has been exposed to. That ugliness has always been there. What masked this ugliness was a consensus (some might say a conspiracy) among the elite and the mainstream media to filter out the ugliness and present to the world an image of the United States characterised by the Kennedys, the Obamas, the Georgetown set, the Harvard-Cambridge set.

Buried out of sight were Appalachia, rural Alabama, rural Mississippi, rednecks, various white militias etc. The political system filtered out the flotsam and jetsam of the political actors and presented to the world the Bush family, the Kennedys, Jimmy Carters, Nixons, Kerrys, Macains etc and pretended that the racists and the fascists did not exist in the United States. Then along came Donald Trump and the world came face to face with a modern-day Hitler and felt what the world must have felt in the 1930s when the original Hitler came along. The modern-day Hitler has demonised every minority including women, immigrants, African-Americans, Jews, Moslems etc. And by the way, why has the International Criminal Court been silent about the hate campaigns that have been mounted by Donald Trump? If this were taking place in an African country, the ICC would have taken to a megaphone to issue dire warnings and threats of prosecution.

That a Trump surfaced in the United States is not the issue here. In fact a Trump is not an aberration in American politics. Until the 1980s, most of the Southern Governors and Senators were rabid racists who today would belong in the dock for crimes against humanity. That is the cesspool from where Trump emerged.

The wording of the title of this article shows there was once an America that I admired so much. My first trip to the United States was in 1962. I fell in love with that country. I admired the friendliness of the people and I found the can-do-attitude of Americans infectious. All in all, I spent five years there. I was not blind to the faults of the United States. After all, it was and is a nation of human beings. And that means it was not a perfect nation. But I found also a nation that recognised the need to do better and to work at addressing the injustices of their society. And so where have all the flowers gone?

My main concern in this article is why did the flowers go and why has this cesspool become main street and mainstream now. As I write this, the public opinion polls give Trump 43%. If Clinton wins the election, everyone would let out a huge sigh of relief or maybe I should say a huge bellow of relief and proclaim that the system worked. This would be a terrible mistake. In the German 1932 elections, Hindenburg won 49% of the votes while Hitler won 30% of the votes. And yet by January 1963, Hitler had become the Chancellor of Germany.

Why the Trump phenomenon will not be a flash in the pan is because it is a manifestation of a protest vote against a declining status of the United States in the world. I did not say that the United States is no longer a superpower but the country does not call the shots as she used to. As long as the United States called the shots in the world, as long as American goods flooded the world, as long as the United States through a Pax-Americana bestrode the world like a colossus, mainstream United States was predictable and favoured.

But the times are a’changing as Bob Dylan the American iconic folk-singer who is the latest Nobel Literature Prize winner titled one of his songs. There are new rising kids such as China on the block and a resurgent Russia is snapping at the heels. Unlike in the past where the prosperity of America was based on the exploitation of the rest of the world, the rest of the world by accepting lower wages have cornered the industrial landscape of the world which has led to loss of jobs and industrial output and those artificial high standards of leaving that America was once used to.

Scholars of international relations are all agreed that the most dangerous time for the international system is when a descending power confronts an ascending power. There is a school of analytical thought, which maintains that World War 1 and World War 11 occurred when an ascending Germany collided with the descending powers of France and Great Britain.
What is playing out in the United States is how the country confronts its status as a declining world power having to deal with an ascending Chinese power and an increasingly assertive Russian power.

The Trump phenomenon will not go away irrespective of what happens on November 8, 2016. That is what disturbs and frightens me. Is the United States going to graciously accept a new and complex international system where the United States does not call the shots alone or is the United States through the Trumps of America be prepared to bring down the world on all our heads? The answer is blowing in the wind.

A postscript to the 2016 United States election is my expectation that from now on, there will be less hubris from the United States diplomatic representatives in lecturing others about how to conduct themselves in electoral matters. Of course, I doubt this. Arrogance has longevity of its own. Power and arrogance go together.

Another postscript is the statement credited to Donald Trump that he would only consider the election free only if he won. What a third world mentality from the United States.

America needs help. The biggest test for the United States is whether the country will realise this and accept the help. The biggest help will have to come from the United States itself. The good news is that the United States has this uncanny ability to reinvent itself and do so successfully. And she has done so before. In the 1930s, the United States like the rest of the world was hit with a depression that drove Germany, Spain, Italy and others into fascism. The United States was fortunate to have had Frankling D. Roosevelt, the right man in the right place at the right time. He led the United States back to prosperity without turning her back on democracy.

Hopefully, Hilary Clinton will prove to be another Franklin Delano Roosevelt who will ensure that America will show grace under pressure.

•Prof. Akinyemi is former Minister of External Affairs and Deputy Chairman, 2014 National Conference


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