When Obama was sworn in as the US’s first African American president, I watched his inauguration from Belgium. I did not live in the US then and was not American, but I felt a huge sense of pride and elation. I traveled by train that day and took as many copies of The Metro plastered with Obama’s face as I could carry. I still have all those copies in a moving box in my garage. I moved to the States in Obama’s last year in office, and I had hoped that the US would segue into another history-making election by electing its first woman president.
It didn’t happen, and we got saddled with the most divisive president in recent years, a president who did not just dog whistle to white supremacists, he actively encouraged them. That encouragement culminated in the storming of American democracy’s holy of holies, the Capitol on the 6th of January. I watched the scene in unfold in real time on my PC and could not believe that this was the United States in the 21st century. People have said it is lucky that the seditionists were bumbling fools who broke in and took selfies, rifled through purses, shouted slogans but seemed to lack a proper plan. The same way people have said it is lucky that Trump was a bumbling fool who couldn’t get proper attorneys to fight his case or the ‘coup’ he planned would have succeeded. All of Trump’s ‘Hail Mary’ passes failed and in my opinion, it wasn’t down to luck.
If American democracy were human, we would say of it that it was someone with intestinal fortitude. It was tested, it was tried but it withstood the assault on it not merely by chance but because of its solid institutions. It is not luck that makes a bullying demagogue like Trump unable to overturn the results of an election run in a democracy. In countries with less solid institutions, equally bumbling fools may very well have succeeded.
And I think that is why it was so difficult for Naija Trumpers to believe that Trump’s foolhardy attempts would not succeed too. They have seen elections rigged and seen military takeovers and seen presidents install themselves for life as heads of state. They ran with the idea sown by Trump and spread in delusional far right circles that the military would swoon in and hand the election over to Trump. Femi Fani-Kayode’s tweets were a constant barrage of how Trump would still make it. On the 6th, FKK tweeted a photo of the domestic terrorist attack in DC, with some nonsense about citizens and power. Sensible Americans who have known nothing but peaceful transfer of power in their lifetime could not imagine a scenario where a coup was a possibility to consider, even as they acknowledged Trump’s brazen attempt. They waited for the aberration to autocorrect. And it did.
Democracy won the day as one expected it to. A subdued Trump has flown back to Florida with his family. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been sworn in. Charlatans who claimed to have been personally spoken to by God and assured that Trump would win , and then when he lost claimed he could still somehow find a way to muscle his way back in and stay another four years have been shown up for the liars that they are. They are somewhere licking their wounds and trying to recuperate.
The seditionists who acted at Trump’s behest and desecrated the Capitol are going to be punished for their foolhardiness. Ted Cruz aka Trump wannabe who’s been spending his time pretending not to understand the – law despite his Harvard Law degree- defending every indefensible action of Trump’s took a Twitter break and turned up at the inauguration of Biden and Harris. Mike Pence traded his boss’s going-away do for the inauguration as well. So, while we may have witnessed the fragility of American democracy, we are also witnesses to the fact that when institutions are strong, individuals can do limited damage. And Trump did do damage, we can’t deny that. He maintained a sustained assault for four years against American democracy and values and we see its effects. It will take time for the country to heal from it. We acknowledge that too.
But there’s light in the tunnel and not just as the end of it. Amanda Gorman spoke eloquently of that light in her inaugural poem. On the 21st, America inaugurated its first woman/black/South Asian Vice President. The weight of that history overwhelmed me, and I cried watching her take the oath. I have nieces growing up in this country and it gives me joy that they will take it for granted that a woman of color can aspire to the highest office in the land. That’s one of the fruits of (American) democracy: that one can move from the margins to the center of power just by sheer hard work and tenacity.
I cried too because as I rejoiced in the triumph of democracy in my country of residence, I was reminded of all the challenges in my country of birth, all the ways big and small in which this government and previous ones have continued to wage a war on democracy.