Azuka Onwuka, email@example.com
0809-8727-263 (sms only)
The same key factor that made Barack Obama president of the United States of America in 2008 was what made Donald Trump win the US presidential election last week.
It was the same factor that made a relatively unknown Bill Clinton, who was the governor of the state of Arkansas, to beat a sitting president in the person of George H. W. Bush in 1992, even after the victory Bush won against Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm the previous year.
That factor is the supremacy of the American voting public on the issue of who should lead them, no matter what the powerful interest groups and individuals want. Nobody chooses for the Americans who is best for them. Nobody thinks he knows what will be better for the Americans more than they do. The Americans do that themselves. And nobody sits down somewhere to change the figures or use the security agencies to harass and intimidate opponents.
And after four years, the people can decide to kick out the same person they elected four years before. The incumbent president cannot manipulate the system or intimidate his opponents with arrests and threats. He cannot even use the money of the nation for his campaign or accept donations from state governors. In short, the power of incumbency confers no advantage on him. He will have to sell his candidacy to the electorate like any other candidate. If the electorate prefer him, he will win, but if not, he joins the list of former presidents. If he has completed his two terms, he cannot choose who succeeds him. It is that simple.
In 2007 when George W. Bush’s tenure was drawing to a close, it was taken for granted that the Democratic Party would win the 2008 election, because of the bad image Bush had given to the US with his invasion of Iraq in search of chemical weapons that did not exit. Hillary Clinton was seen as the most popular Democrat that would get the party’s ticket, win the presidential election and become the first female president of the USA, a feat India had achieved in 1966 with Mrs Indira Gandhi and Pakistan achieved in 1988 with Mrs Benazir Bhutto, both as prime ministers.
People had begun to ask what Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, who had been a president, would be called: First Gentleman, First Dude, etc. Then a senator, who had only spent two years at the Senate, happened on the scene with oratorical skills and “Yes, We Can” message. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and other Democratic aspirants sneered at his ambition and called him inexperienced. His being Black with an Arabic first name (easily linked with Islam) did not help matters. Other better-known Blacks who had contested in the past did not even win the party’s ticket. But Barack Obama eventually won the ticket of the Democrats to the consternation of many.
Yet, some people believed that it was not possible for a non-White to rule America. I remember that while discussing the American election in 2008 with some Nigerians who claimed to know how the American system worked, they told me that the American powerbrokers and the CIA would find a way of ensuring that Obama did not win the election. When Obama eventually won, I told myself: “Surely, these guys know how the American system works!”
Trump’s emergence similarly looked like a joke. I thought he was a complete outsider who just wanted to register his presence in the minds of the American voters. I had liked his bravado in business. But I was shocked at his words during the campaigns. Ironically, the more he spewed out his words, the more states he won in the Republican Party primaries in spite of the high calibre of contestants among the Republicans. Eventually, he won the Republican ticket. I began to ask: “What if Trump wins?” The response I got from many Nigerians was: “It is not possible. American powerbrokers would not allow such an erratic, foul-mouthed man to smell the presidency.”
I saw the way even his top party members, institutions sympathetic to the Republican Party, and former American presidents all came out to criticise him and withdraw their support for him. All kinds of allegations of things he said or did in the past were unearthed. Still his popularity did not wane. Even our own Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, said he would shred his American Green Card in protest if Trump won the election. And last week Trump won the election.
Trump’s victory re-enforced the supremacy of the American electorate. Truly, in the US, power belongs to the people. If Trump had contested in Nigeria, some powerful interest groups would have done everything to stop him. Even if he won the election, they could have doctored the result to get him out.
That is why if Obama had been a Nigerian, his oratory would have taken him no way near the presidency. He would not win the presidential ticket of any of the top two political parties. He would have been warned to avoid excessive ambition and be grateful for his seat at the Senate and “wait” for his time. If he was lucky, he would be made the running mate of a former general or Senate President or governor. That is why no young leader would emerge from “nowhere” in Nigeria and become the President.
But the irony is that even though the US believes it knows what is good for itself, it does not believe that some other countries know what is good for them. The action of the US over the electoral victories of Hamas in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was hypocritical and arrogant. It is the same arrogance that made countries like the United Kingdom and France go round colonising other countries on the pretext that they wanted to bring civilisation to barbaric people.
The US supports repressive and despotic regimes in many countries as long as the leader is its ally. Self-interest is good for countries but it becomes irritating when it is brazen. If the US feels threatened by any choice made by the Palestinian or Egyptian electorate because of the safety of Israel, it should fortify itself and Israel and respond robustly to any aggression against the latter. I believe in the right of Israel to exist undisturbed but other countries must also be allowed to choose who they want. If their elected leadership attacks Israel, both countries should teach them a lesson they will never forget in a hurry.
Americans have elected their next leader. Those who are demonstrating against that choice are exercising their right but they are also working against that same right: the freedom of the people to choose whom they want as their leader. If the election was rigged, their demonstration would have had a basis. But telling the electorate that they do not have a right to choose is dictatorial and anti-democratic.
The beauty of American democracy is that unlike Nigeria’s where the president controls the security agencies, electoral agency, and many other state agencies, and can use them to their advantage and to oppress the opponents, the American president cannot do that. Therefore, an American president can easily be voted out. So, the demonstrators have an opportunity to vote out Trump in 2020 if they find his term below expectations.
The only good the demonstrations may serve is to remind Trump that while in office, any action he takes will either boost or dash his 2020 electoral chances.
Every nation which practises democracy should make up its mind if it wants democracy, which empowers the people to decide who should lead them, or something else dressed up as democracy.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.