The tumultuous four-year reign of Donald Trump ended, to his eternal disappointment, on January 20, 2021. Some relief. But not so quick. He has left a monumental detritus of his autocratic presidency on his country. President Joe Biden now has the very unpleasant task of cleaning up the huge mess after him. It is not an easy task but it is a task that must be done to recover the soul of America and end the current fear of violent Trump supporters that has now gripped the country.
At his inauguration January 20, Biden spoke passionately about rebuilding and healing his country. Trump was a wrecker and a divisive leader who sought to roll back those things that define the modern America: better race relations and the commitment of past presidents to greater opportunities for all citizens, irrespective of the colour of their skin.
Biden has to rebuild the confidence of his people in the integrity of its electoral system, the conduct of its elections and its government. He has to rebuild the people’s trust in democracy in the acknowledged home of modern democracy. He has to rebuild foreign relations, mend fences with international organisations and make his country the authentic leader of the free world once more. And he has to heal the egregious and painful wounds Trump recklessly inflicted on every segment of the American society. He has to roll back the evil legacies of the worst American president and make his country human and its citizens humane again. Again, let no one, including Biden, think this would be cricket.
The new president has taken some courageous and determined steps towards making his great country rise from the ashes of the Trump years. His cabinet reflects the beautiful colours of modern America. It is the most diverse so far in American history. It is a good beginning on the morning of creation day.
Pundits are already sinking their teeth into the post mortem of the Trump presidency. The early verdicts are that he was the worst president of the United States and unfit to be president in the first place. The questions they will address are fundamental to the present and the future stability of the United States. Such questions would include the following: How did the man Mrs Hillary Clinton rightly described as the least prepared to lead her great country get to lead it for four years and convinced himself he was the best thing to happen to his country? How come the American electorate, perhaps the most sophisticated in the world, preferred this rabid racist, an inveterate liar and a wrecker of conventions, tradition and common decency to all the other decent and experienced candidates in 2016? These questions are coming after the fact but they are not academic. How they are addressed would make either a negative or a positive difference impression on the present and future American presidents and their administrations.
Trump was the crowned hater-in-chief, liar-in-chief, divider-in-chief, racist-in-chief and autocrat-in-chief who abused and misused his considerable presidential powers, not to unite the country but to divide it; not to build the country but to destroy it; not to keep American allies but to alienate them. He was clearly anti-democratic and did everything unimaginable, including the insurrection and the assault on the Capitol to over-turn the verdict of the electorate. That a man so deficient in humanness, humanity and empathy and so hostile to anyone and anything that does not massage his huge narcistic ego could sit in the Oval Office for four years as the crowned king of insults, hatred and contempt must remain an opaque mystery to the Americans and the rest of the world.
Whatever might be the final verdict on his time on the American political throne, I am not being cynical when I say that the Americans and the rest of the world must be grateful that Trump made it to the presidency. He showed that America is far from the more perfect union envisaged by those who united the states into one country under God. To begin with, he anchored his political base on rabid institutional racism represented by the cardinals and apostles of white nationalism and white supremacists and their many variants, such as the Neo-Nazis, the Klansmen, the Proud Boys, etc.
These people believe the white race is under threat from African-Americans, who, strengthened by the indomitable human spirit to dare and conquer, are rising from the bottom of the society; and they are frightened by non-white immigrants from third world countries. White people feel threatened because the rise of the non-white people is a veritable threat to their privileged positions in politics, government and the private sector. They have been pushing back strongly since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.
Someone described Trump’s politics as “crass political opportunism.” He declared for the presidency in 2015 with this incendiary statement: “The United States has become a dumping ground. When Mexico sends its people, they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re bringing rapists. I will build a magnificent wall.”
Hillary Clinton, the woman who won the popular vote but lost the electoral college vote to Trump in 2016, warned: “From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.” And he did. He promoted himself as their champion who would make America great again for the privileged white race. Sheer opportunism. It was easy for Trump to sound the trumpet and bring them to assault the Capitol on January 6.
What is important here is to note that a) institutional racism is alive b) the long struggle between the races, despite the impressive advancements over the years, is active c) white fear, mostly imagined, of losing their centuries of privilege will continue to be fanned by the cardinals and the apostles of hate-mongers. This, I suppose, should awaken American leaders to the dangers they still face in the post-Trump era.
Roland Derek Black was indoctrinated by his father into white nationalism from an early age. He has since renounced it. In a piece for the New York Times in November 2016, shortly after Trump won the election, he wrote: “It’s now our job to argue constantly that what voters did in elevating this man to the White House constitutes the greatest assault on our own people in a generation… Those of us on the other side need to be clear that Mr Trump’s callous disregard for people outside his demographic is intolerable, and will be destructive to the entire nation.”
Still, I think Americans should be proud of one thing: their institutions, built on the rock withstood the Trump storm. As Africans we can now see the wisdom in Obama’s advice that Africa does not need strong men; it needs strong institutions. Democracy prevailed against Trump’s criminal assault because the American institutions are strong and impregnable and are jealously protected and defended by people who refuse to be intimidated even by their own president.
American leaders in both parties must not fail to recognise that in and out of office, Trump constitutes an existential danger to their country. His foot soldiers who assaulted the seat of American government in a futile but dangerous attempt to give Trump four more undeserved and illegal years in the Oval Office, are still out there preaching hate, racism and racial division. If the American leaders get together with their new president, they can clean up the Trump mess, rebuild their country, re-unite the people and cement rather than paper over the cracks on the walls of their union.