It is striking, to say the least, that of the nearly 90 million Twitter followers of outgoing U.S President Donald Trump, before he was banned from that social media platform two weeks ago, Nigerians ranked fifth, after the U.S, UK, India and Canada. But it is even more striking that Nigeria is one of very few countries in which Trump remained consistently popular throughout the past four years of his administration, or rather, regime.
According to data released by the Pew Research Centre, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C, just 29 per cent of 37,000 people surveyed across 32 countries expressed confidence in Donald Trump. In all but two of the 32 countries, Nigeria and Israel, more than 50 per cent of those surveyed disapproved of him. In the first three years of his presidency (2017, 2018 and 2019), according to Pew’s annual survey, Trump’s approval ratings in the U.S itself and Argentina averaged 46 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. In neighbouring Mexico, wholly 89 per cent of the population disapproved of Trump in 2019.
In Nigeria, however, things are very different. In 2018, wholly 59 per cent of Nigerians approved of Donald Trump’s leadership, while 58 per cent of Nigerians surveyed in both 2017 and 2019 respectively said they had ‘strong confidence’ or ‘some confidence’ in Donald Trump’s presidency. In Israel, confidence in Donald Trump averaged 65 per cent during the same period. It is not difficult to understand why Donald Trump would rate so highly among Israelis, but why do so many Nigerians think so highly of him?
Trump’s support in Nigeria and Israel are qualitatively very different, however. The Israelis’ support for Trump is firmly grounded in his Middle East policies: his withdrawal from the nuclear agreement that eased sanctions on Iran, his relocation of US embassy to Jerusalem, and his so-called Israel-Palestine peace plan that he dubbed ‘the deal of the century’. More significantly, perhaps, even though more Israelis have approved of Trump than don’t, you will not find many Israelis who believe the unfounded allegations of massive fraud in the 3rd November 2020 presidential elections that ended Trump’s term in office today.
In contrast, Nigerian supporters of Trump believe that Joe Biden’s victory at the polls was rigged, and many even hoped that the election would be upturned. In other words, Nigerian supporters of Donald Trump are politically very similar to those of his so called ‘base’ in the U.S. But can they be? What can a Nigerian supporter of Donald Trump in Lagos or Abuja possibly have in common with a Trump supporter in Texas or Florida? The question itself is baffling, no doubt, but it also illustrates the complexities of racism, politics and political psychology.
No U.S politician in recent memory, let alone a U.S president, has trafficked in open and blatant racism than The Donald. As a businessman and real estate mogul, Trump serially denied African-Americans rent in his properties and jobs in his organisations. His presidential campaign grew directly out of the racist Tea Party movement incensed by the election of America’s first black president and his own racist idea that Obama was not ‘American’ enough, hence the need to make ‘America Great Again’.
Indeed, his entire presidency is a reminder of the power of racism in American society. That over 70 million Americans voted for him for a second time merely reinforces that power, even if seven million more voted against him. But for all the acute racism that the Trump presidency represents these past four years, three instances stand out that should serve as a reminder to his Nigerian supporters of their own political folly.
First, Donald Trump, as a U.S president is a political statement, a statement that the ‘the worst white person’ is still valued more than whatever ‘the best black person’ could ever look or be like. No non-white person in the United States could have said or done the things Trump said and did and still end up in the White House. That he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 is besides the point. His first election simply demonstrates that if you are white, you can be acceptable however you are, even if you are a jerk. But if you are black, to be accepted in American society, you must be close to a saint, as Obama had to train himself to be throughout his life.
Second, the Trump presidency demonstrates, more than anything else before it, that Black Lives Don’t Matter in the U.S, and by implication, anywhere else. Many have called the storming of the U.S seat of government by Trump’s supporters two weeks ago a security breach. But is simply and purely racism. If the ‘rioters’ were overwhelmingly black and they stormed Congress, you can be sure police bullets would have rained on them. It would not have mattered whether they are supporters of Donald Trump or Joe Biden, or of anyone else, for that matter.
Finally, Trump personally tried to scuttle the election of Nigeria’s Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organization, even again the support of almost all other countries. She now has a good chance of making it, but had Trump won a second term, it is difficult to see how it would have been possible. So Nigerian Trumpists should know that the next time they are grieving his defeat, they are at once affirming his racism. You cannot have Trump without embracing racism, one way or another.