On Saturday, March 28, 2015, Nigerians were faced with the choice of the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan or his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari. On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Americans will face a similar choice. Will they choose a member of the political establishment, Hillary Clinton, or an outsider, Donald Trump?
In the run up to the Nigerian election, some argued that the two candidates were flawed and that Nigerians should have a better choice. A similar argument has been put forward in the American election of 2016.
What has been settled is that no matter how flawed the two candidates are, the people have to choose one. They may pinch their noses to vote, but vote they must. Despite their reservations, Americans will on Tuesday choose one of them to run the affairs of their country for the next four years. Those who suggest otherwise, who pretend that people have other options, are simply being disingenuous.
Another point of agreement is that one of the candidates in both Nigerian and American elections styled their campaign as a change candidate while the other as a continuity candidate. In the Nigerian case, majority of voters chose the self-styled change candidate. On Tuesday, Americans will make their choice- change or continuity.
If this were the only overriding issue in the 2016 US elections, it won’t be causing panic around the globe. The outcome of the American election could be as innocuous as a collusion of two earthworms or as devastating as a nuclear accident.
Discerning minds are worried that no matter who wins on Tuesday, the election process has exposed some fundamental cracks in the American structure and psyche. Historians often throw around the word, crossroads. But this is a crossroad of all crossroads.
All empires fall the same way. It overreaches in its engagements at home and abroad. Internal squabbles distract it from focusing on external aggressors. Its successes get into its head and it forgets how it succeeded. It develops an exaggerated sense of importance that grows so big that it blindsides it from the transformations happening all around it.
All these have been happening to America to a certain degree in the last 50 years. It did not become conspicuous until history pitched Donald J. Trump against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election. This historic election is like the wind that exposed the fowl’s behind.
Whatever happens on Tuesday, America has crossed a line of no return. The world has seen cracks many did not know existed. Enemies of America are going to exploit them. But if those are the only possible bad things that could happen, America can muster enough courage in its convictions and regroup and retool. But those are not the only things going on.
The unsettling internal dialogues are the most devastating. The question of who is really an American has been asked again and again by every generation. What is different this time is that it is the last time the people who want their country back will have the opportunity to ask this question.
"Take our back country" is a code word for desiring a simpler time in America when white was right and woe to the rest; when women were primarily in the kitchen and only came to the other room purely on invitation; when you could only guess who was gay by the color of his or her closet; when blacks knew their place as entertainers of the American stakeholders; when Latinos knew limits of their quota in and outside the suburbs; when Muslims were just disgruntled black Americans experimenting with anything non-white; and when the Bible directed America to have dominion over the world without the UN, WTO, EPA and tree huggers placing restrictions on America's path.
The day after the election, those who want their country back will know the final and irrevocable answer to the question of who is really an American. And it won’t be palatable news.
For the first time since 1776, the engine driving the American democracy is no longer America’s white men. The clock has been ticking in a different direction for a while now. It is now as glaring as the sun. That reality is disconcerting to many. And there is nothing anyone can do to reverse it. The helplessness is going to cause crippling anger for a long while.
When globalization started altering business and economic opportunities across America, the educated elites have no difficulties adjusting. But they had difficulties noticing those the trend was leaving behind. The disruption in rural America and the industrial belt was not fully appreciated. Then came 2016 election and these dispossessed Americans found a voice and roared. It will not be an injured lion’s last roar no matter what happens on Tuesday. What they do next, more than anything else, will determine the fate of these United States.
The toothpaste is out of the tube. There is no way of putting it back. The earthworm has been slashed into two. It will wriggle for a while before it accepts the reality of what has happened.
Polls and statistics may have no veins in them but they reflect feelings. In some cases, they reflect what Winston Churchill called “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Long after the results are digested and the new president is inaugurated, the blood, toil, tears and sweat will remain in the homes and hearts of many who have seen America transformed faster than they could adjust to the transformation.
America needs a big-hearted group of leaders who can climb the stage and design a new and a bigger promise for the nation. The task would be as tremendous as the one faced by the founding fathers in Philadelphia in 1776. There is no sign that such a leader is in Hillary Clinton or in Donald Trump. The best they can do is to be forerunner to the emergence of leaders of that caliber. It is the only hope out of these gloomy scenarios.
In the case of Nigeria, the change candidate won on March 31, 2015. Some of those who voted for him have been suffering from buyer’s remorse. They are reminiscing about how things used to be and are now wishing that they had gone with the continuity candidate. They have been left arguing that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
On Tuesday, Americans will have their turn to decide. Unlike Nigerians, whatever choice Americans make on November 8, it will be the end of America as we know it.