The man who promised to drain the swamp
The single most polarising event in the last decade happened over the course of two days in November 2016. After months of one of the most divisive election campaigns in the United States’ history, Americans went to the polls to elect a new president. Already the 2016 elections were groundbreaking. It was the very first time one of the country’s two major political parties had successfully fielded a woman as a presidential candidate. After two terms of a black President, America’s first in its near 300-year history, the world was hopeful. After all the woman who had clawed her way into the running for the presidency, was none other than Hillary Clinton, a woman who had an enviable track record in politics, government and activism, and had fielded a global scandal of her own two decades earlier. What happened instead was disappointing, but unsurprising. White Americans went to the polls and voted in Donald Trump, a former reality tv star and embattled billionaire, who weeks before the elections had been accused of sexual assault by four women.
Since November 09, 2016, there has been a near steady stream of think pieces about why President Trump was elected into power, the psyches of the people who elected him and their motives for doing so. We have carefully scrutinised his actions and policies, watched in horror as successive investigations exposed the fact that his presidency seems in part, orchestrated by the Russian presidency in a bid to destabilise the West and revive the Cold War. We have seen him turn on the White Americans he voted in power, and watched them realise in horror as the privileges in which their decisions were ensconced, the privileges they voted him in to protect being stripped away anyway. But more than anything else, President Trump has impressed in all of us, in a way we haven’t quite been able to appreciate since the Second World War, how much America’s decisions affect the rest of the world.
As part of President Trump’s campaign in 2016, he emphasised on the rhetoric that framed Mexico (which shares a border with the United States) as the primary source of illegal immigrants to the United States and accused these immigrants of weakening the economy by ‘stealing’ jobs from actual citizens. A huge thrust of his election campaign was a promise to build a ‘wall’ to delineate the United States from Mexico and put an end of illegal border crossings between the countries. His campaign also leveraged the rising Islamophobia in the West as a rallying point for White Americans worried for their safety and the ‘encroachment’ of Islam on their liberal societies. When President Trump was elected, he immediately made good on his promises to target Mexican and Muslim immigrants by repealing important immigration protections like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law that protects children who are forced to immigrate into the US due to war and other circumstances from summary deportation and trying and failing to strengthen a ‘Muslim Ban’, that would deny immigrants and visitors from conflict-laden Muslim countries access to the United States. The world through organisations like the United Nations have voiced their displeasure and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has worked to fight Trump’s laws and uphold the rights of these citizens with varying levels of success.
In December 23, 2017, a New York Times report surfaced, alleging that during an executive meeting in June, President Trump had railed against what he termed ‘the rise in illegal immigration’ to the United States and decried the actions of civil liberties unions to fight his attempts to reduce immigration into the US. During the meeting President Trump, angered by the number of visas the country has approved in the preceding year, made remarks where he said all the 15,000 Haitians who were legally granted visas into the US in 2016 “all have AIDS” and the 40,000 Nigerians legally granted visas “would never go back to their huts in Africa” once they experienced the United States. These remarks drew widespread criticisms from Africans, especially Nigerians who until then had largely remained directly unaffected by Trump’s immigration crackdown. The backlash was swift and showed for the first time a crack in the seemingly widespread support Trump has received from Africans as a whole, and Nigerians in particular.
President Trump wasn’t quite done with Africans and in 2018, during another bi-partisan immigration meeting the president, exasperated by arguments to either soften or delay the implementation of the dismantling of the DACA Act, said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Shithole countries, a blanket statement for African countries and the countries of South America and the Caribbean. Unlike the previous statement which was strongly disputed by the White House press secretary, President Trump’s ‘Shithole Countries’ statement couldn’t be swept under the rug or explained away and seemed the final confirmation of Trump’s position on race in general and the countries of Africa in particular. It was clear at that point, that Trump was as openly racist to African countries as a person in his position could be, without any real consequences.
A racist president in the White House?
President Trump’s overt acts of discrimination against people of colour can only be truly be appreciated when it is observed through the lens of racism. Prejudice against people of colour has always defined and influenced American politics, and how it affects global policy. Since its earliest beginnings America’s governments have always operated under the presumption that the country is civilised, and somehow tasked with the burden of civilising other countries and peoples who do not conform to its ideals or concede to its superiority. It explains America’s hand in slavery and its subsequent attempts at meddling (with consistently disastrous results) in the governments of countries all around the world. Colombia and Peru, Vietnam and China and in recent times, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria. Even President Obama, the first person of colour to become president of the United States, ended up not only perpetuating acts of violence against persons of colour, he exceeded many of his forebears, dropping a record 26,761 bombs.
However, even with Obama’s all-encompassing attempt to present an air of neutrality by upholding the status quo, and continuing many of America’s unprovoked wars in the Middle East, his mere presence as a person of colour in the White House seemed to stir up long-dormant racist sentiments. Especially in a certain reality tv star who took to Twitter to repeatedly challenge President’s Obama’s heritage as an American, his policies and his personal life. By late 2015, Donald Trump had gone from social media commentator to legitimate opposition figure, announcing his decision to run in the 2016 elections. His election campaign was marked by his overt attacks on women (especially Hillary Clinton, his primary opposition), people of colour and the disabled.
While leftist groups and minorities seemed horrified by Trump’s antics, there was a contingent of Americans who in their own words were ‘impressed’ by Trump’s candour. The more outrageous he got, the more impressed they became with him. Chiefly among Trump’s biggest supporters as the build-up to the elections in 2016 intensified were two groups on the very extremes of the spectrum; the American Evangelical clergy and the young white American teenagers and twenty-something-year-olds. As Trump made his way through some of the country’s biggest evangelical churches, a wave of young Millennials followed, hashtags and Trump branded merchandise in tow.
A number of stars rose by riding the wake of Trump’s shock trail. Richard Spencer, a young, charismatic White supremacist and Milo Yiannopoulous, a gay British conservative who crossed the pond and began to run Breitbart, a White Nationalist online newspaper were two of a rising new order of young white men, capitalising on racist sentiment to launch their careers and earn themselves lucrative speaking engagements. This wave culminated in Charlottesville, Virginia, where hundreds of young White Nationalists congregated, Tiki torches in hand, protesting their rights to identify as Nazi in what they called ‘Unite The Right’. Counter-protests rose to defy the White Nationalist horde and a white woman, Heather D. Heyer was murdered in a vehicular attack. Her death turned the tide and forced many open supporters of Trump’s brand of racist leaning discrimination into the shadows, but one group remains visible in spite of it all.
A racist and the men of God who support him
On December 06, 2017, during an official visit to Israel, President Donald Trump released a statement, declaring that the United States was officially wading into a decades-long territorial dispute and civil war between the country and Palestine, and officially taking sides with Israel by declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital. There have been few disputes as tenuous as the relations between Israel and Palestine and the human rights abuses Israel has successfully gotten away with, under the auspices of its past history as victims of the Holocaust. But Trump’s actions crossed a line no US President has been foolhardy enough to attempt, and for the first time since Trump assumed office, saw the world via the United Nations unanimously reject a US policy (the United Nations voted to uphold Trump’s declaration and an unprecedented 128 countries voted against the decision). However, the evangelical clergy across the world and specifically in Nigeria, held another view, one that seemed to reinforce their overwhelming belief that Trump was ‘chosen’ by God to cleanse the world of sin and ‘restore Israel to its rightful place in the Nations’.
Nigerian pastors probably have a ‘better understanding’ and religious explanation for their apparent support for Trump.
While a few had predicted his loss to Hillary Clinton, some others have said that “God has blessed” America by giving them a president that has been largely termed a “racist”.
Basically, these pastors think Trump is the best that has happened to America. From their predictions to their prophecies, to their public declarations and advice that our leaders operate just like Trump, no one has been able to ask why Trump is ruling their thoughts.
It started with Pastor Chris Okotie who had spoken on the state of religion in America and the US presidential election in 2017.
Using his Facebook page, the leader of the HouseHold of God Church said Donald Trump would take the country back to God.
He wrote, “America’s problem is not gender inequality nor a parochial appreciation of immigration sensibilities. It is the manifest do goodness of secular humanism as defined by a generation of Haters of God and his anointed who are given to a sinister spirit of hedonistic nihilism.
This is not about Trump or Clinton but the spirit and philosophy that galvanise their political platforms as Republicans and Democrats. It is righteousness that exalts a nation not competence and glib political rhetoric. Obama and the Democratic party have placed America precariously on the edge of a precipice in diametrical opposition to God.
Trump’s victory is the first step towards a national reconciliation and rapprochement with God. Who is on God’s side?”
There is an even more explicit statement that underlies Pastor Okotie’s support for Trump.
On October 14, 2016, he called the presidential candidate “a beacon of hope”!
“…America has betrayed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their forefathers; and burnt incense at the altar of secular humanism inspired by an anti-Christian democratic party. God’s judgment is inevitable without the intervention of the church of Jesus Christ.
Donald Trump presents a beacon of hope for a lost nation because he stands with the church of Jesus Christ in America and therefore on the path of righteousness. Indeed, Donald Trump is the last trump for America,” he said.
Also, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Samson Ayokunle, said Trump, was positioned by God to fight immorality in the country.
He said the nation that was once known as God’s own country is vastly becoming Sodom and Gomorrah.
Even more recently, the General Overseer of Freedom for all Nations Outreach (FANO) Prophet Samuel Akinbodunse said in his 2018 prophecy that Trump will implement policies that will bring more biblical prophecies to pass.
This unalloyed belief that Trump is an embodiment of the teaching of Jesus Christ came up again when Haiti and African countries were given a new nomenclature by the US President: ‘shithole’.
A clergyman from Enugu, Pastor Polycarp Ugwu, said there was nothing wrong with the remark. The General Overseer and Founder of The Voice of Freedom Fellowship International, commended Trump for the ‘frank and truthful’ comment.
Pastor Ugwu said, “Donald Trump is the only leader who can tell African leaders the bitter truth as he does not care about political correctness.
“Trump has told us the truth and instead of crying over it or telling him to apologise, we should look at ourselves and tell ourselves the truth.”
But the religious community is not the only ones in this ‘queue of loyalty’ for the one person in the world, who has at several times shown that ‘black’ and ‘Africa’ are not worth the risks.
Nigeria’s former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, said, in one of his so-called open-hearted opinion pieces that Trump was God’s anointed.
Likewise, the former aide to former president Goodluck Jonathan, Doyin Okupe celebrated Trump’s victory as new President-elect of the United States of America with Bible verses, suggesting that it was God who installed Trump.
He said it is God that enthroned Trump because his victory is miraculous, adding that there will be a change in the world order that would surprise many.
He wrote, “Trump wins!!! Alleluyah. The Lord reigneth let the earth tremble. Ps 33 vs 10&11…”
There are no far-fetched explanations as to why these set of people would go all out for the most controversial US President ever but the fact that they believe that he is one person who is always at peace with the truth.
It was so uncertain that the candid supporter of ‘whiteness’ over ‘blackness’ would garner more votes than the world-popular Hillary Clinton and so, when he did, Nigerian clergymen who had made unclear predictions about a surprise in the US Presidential election began to use ‘God’s will’ as an explanation. He had made a couple of comments – in tweets – before the campaign and the likes of Fani-Kayode said Trump would not make the kind of mistakes Barrack Obama made.
Though his xenophobic, white nationalist views have no doubt alienated many Nigerians, his nativist and Islamophobic rhetoric has energised others. Even though Trump has said little to nothing about Nigeria, these groups see in him a powerful figure sympathetic to their aims. Some mostly preferred Trump to Obama, in the light of the fact that the first black president did not see reason to visit the most populous African nation.
It does not go without saying that these Pastors and/or political figures had pretentiously preached against gay marriage and some other ‘anti-social’ activities and Trump came to clean off those hurts.
These set of Nigerians admire Trump for precisely those reasons, for what he himself says are a mark of his smartness. Unfortunately, they actually admire Trump for being a slippery, controversial, and shady businessman who has managed to avoid getting into serious legal trouble despite operating outside or on the edge of the law for decades. It is the same kind of admiration that some people have for mob and mafia bosses and figures.
Doing away with immigration
The annual American Visa Lottery has helped many Nigerians travel to the country, which once fully embraced immigrants. Millions of Nigerians try the lottery every year, however only a few are usually lucky to be selected. The lottery became a beacon of hope for many distressed Nigerians who wish to travel abroad for greener pastures but do not have the means.
All that seems to be in the past with Trump’s immigration policies. Trump had banned entry for immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. He went further to issue an executive order which altered the United States’ visa.
Section 9 of the Executive Order states; “If a country does not treat United States nationals seeking non-immigrant visas in a reciprocal manner, the Secretary of State shall adjust the visa validity period, fee schedule, or other treatment to match the treatment of United States nationals by the foreign country, to the extent practicable.”
This policy will definitely not favour Nigerians, as the country only issues a visa with one-year validity to US citizens, not reciprocating the two-year visa US issues to Nigerians. Also, Nigerians with dual citizenship who have passports from any of the seven suspended countries will be affected. Except the Nigerian government starts issuing a two-year visa to Americans, Nigerians already in the US are not safe either. Although they were issued a two-year visa, Trump’s new policy will still affect them when it’s time to renew their visas.
Nigerians who have recently been to Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen in recent times may be deported upon entry into the United States.
Also worrisome is Trump’s global gag order which prohibits allocation of U.S. funding to foreign non-governmental organisations that offer abortion services or information about the procedure. However, it has expanded under Trump to include all global health assistance, which the U.S. is the world’s largest provider.
Its effect has mainly been against women in developing countries in Africa where clinics run by non-governmental organisations are the primary source of women’s health care. Many of these centres offer HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, maternal health, and counselling on sexual violence like rape and female genital mutilation but have been forced to close down due to the order.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation also said the organisation could have prevented 20,000 maternal deaths in 29 countries affected by the ban, if not for $100 million in lost funding.
White is right
We are only a year into Trump’s Presidency and if the signs are anything to go by, Trump has only begun on his crusade to tighten America’s borders and cleanse its population of ‘filthy immigrants’. It is also obvious that Trump’s brand of candour, and how his policies, often nihilist and exclusionary, will always be bent to fit into the narratives that benefit Nigeria’s religious clergy and keeps their congregations obedient. But eventually, Trump’s policies will spread to truly hurt even the privileged among us, and by then, it might be too late to switch sides.
There are literally lives on the line.
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