In the late 1980s and early 90s as the last ramparts of the Communist Soviet empire was collapsing, the Americans were in a triumphant mood as the political system that had been their nemesis since end of the second world war was being mothballed by history.
The vast American embassy which was then located in Grosvenor square (a new equally expansive, futuristic one now stands in South West London as ) was expectedly a beehive of activities playing host to all kinds of events to mark the momentous event.
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I was then a Foreign Service officer at the High Commission of Nigeria in London and at one of such occasions I asked an American diplomat whether a time will come when his country will also experience what was taking place in the Communist bloc. He gave me a look that meant he felt offended by the question and after a moment’s pause he said on a remonstrative note; ‘’ The United States is the leader of the free world. The foundational values of America are Freedom, Justice, Equality and Opportunity for everyone who comes to our country. And with these values America will always endure because they are universal and timeless’’.
A couple of weeks ago as mobs broke into the Capitol, the very heart and symbol of American Democracy apparently to disrupt a joint session of the American legislature called to ratify the election of Joe Biden as president-elect of America following his victory at the last presidential election, I recalled the rather icy conversation I had with the American diplomat about thirty years ago in London.
Some would term it an affront to the time honoured democratic values of America for such to happen. Others on the other hand regard it as the very essence of democracy for Americans who felt that their democratic rights have been trampled upon on the alleged ‘’rigging’’ of the presidential elections to take their grievances to the very temple of American democracy.
Although a lot has been said of how the resilience of the American institutions were able to withstand this stress test on American democracy, the issues that are currently playing out in America run deeper than that.
An analyst once said that genocide and slavery were America’s original sins on which the country was founded and which will eventually see to its demise. This refers to the near total elimination of the aboriginal inhabitants of the land that came to be called America; nowadays derogatorily called ‘’red Indians’’ or ‘’native Americans’, the remainder of whom are now sequestered in ‘’reservations’’ in remote areas of America.
Those enslaved to make America great were of course our type from Africa whose experience though not terminal as the aboriginal inhabitants, was nonetheless as bad. Unlike the ‘’red Indians’’ the descendants of those enslaved not only survived the horrendous experience of Nazi proportions in America, they are today a very integral part of American life from which the country derives a large part of its claim to exceptionalism even though this is not often acknowledged.
From this foundation developed America’s racism which though visibly targeted at people of non-European origin, also exists even within the white Americans of European origin.
Right from the dawn of the American enterprise the so-called White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) have arrogated to themselves the top of the pile in the white European descended component of the American mosaic. They own the politics and economics of the country and from that vantage position control the narrative of what we see and know of America. Of all the 45 presidents that have ruled America (46 if you include the latest Joe Biden) only 3; Martin Va Buren, John Kennedy and Barack Obama have not been of the WASP stock. No American of Italian origin (even though the man who ‘’discovered’’ America, Christopher Columbus and the one whose name the country derives its name, Amerigo Vespucci are both Italians). Similarly for all their contribution to America no Jew has ever made it to become president of America.
To the present circumstances in America, Joe Biden inherits a country whose past has caught up with it. The white supremacists view the double whammy of their steady decline in population and control of politics internally and the galloping economic strides of China as very troubling.
Donald Trump as president was supposed to roll back this trend and eventually recapture their high ground in America. But he overcooked it in the process alarming the powerful and well entrenched American deep state who contrived to chuck him out during the last election in a very American coup.
But the white supremacists of America will not relent. They don’t like the fact Biden’s Vice President Kamala Harris is a woman and worse of all a black. They had contrived to reject Hilary Clinton in 2016, a bona fide WASP but a woman nonetheless whom they were not ready to admit into the white house as president for the first time. Now a black woman is not only VP but a hair’s breadth from being the president of America.
And 75 million of them rallied behind Trump in the last elections. We are used to seeing African Americans demonstrating for freedom and civil rights and being set upon by America’s racist police. Now it is the Whites of America who are taking to the streets protesting against the ‘’injustices’’ of the American system. A system which their forebears painstakingly built to institutionalise the privileges of the White races of America to the detriment of people of colour. Now that system is coming to haunt their generations down the line.
The white supremacists of America are literarily in the fight of their lives for their lives and institutions or no they will not give up. They will return to the political trenches and ambush the Biden presidency forcing it to commit errors with a view either to making it possible for one of theirs to replace him in 2024, or failing which to scorch earth the entire American system.
America once fought a civil war between 1861 and 1865 during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Slavery/racism was the main theme of that war. Its effects still reverberate today and indeed Donald Trump derived his overwhelming support from the ‘’redneck deep south’’ areas of America where slavery used to be practised.
The present crisis in America with its clearly racist undertone is tending towards a cataclysmic clash of races with the soul and essence of the country being called to question.
As happened to the now defunct Soviet order, once a system is in its terminal crisis institutions no matter how well entrenched can save it. The Communist Soviet order was layered by all kinds of institutions intended to prevent its collapse but in the end they all proved futile.
All empires and hegemons begin their descent internally and America’s current crisis has the markings of a terminal one which could weaken and eventually consume it. Had he not been consumed by characteristic hubris, the American diplomat who boasted thirty years ago when the Soviet empire was collapsing, that his country would endure forever on the strength of its values, would have been a little more nuanced in his response to my question.