In the kingdom of the wild, birds found by the roadside a corpse with wings and, believing the deceased was one of their own, they went close to identify the body only to find the corpse with teeth and furs like the rodents’, particularly like the rats’. The birds then sent word to the rats to come pick the dead body of one of their own. When the rats arrived, they found that though the deceased had teeth and furs like theirs, the corpse had wings, unlike the rodents. The rats then returned a message to the feathered clan to come claim the body of a member of their folk. And so the corpse of the bat remained unclaimed for the reason of its indeterminate identity.
This Bette-Bendi tale explains the lot of the US President, Donald Trump. On June 1st or so of this year, and in the heat of the world-wide anti-racism protests that greeted the gruesome murder of the African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis, President Trump, in consonance with his unenviable credentials as an unapologetic racist, initially thought the protests were business as usual, and he characteristically instructed that the “thugs” be dispersed; there should be domination of the streets by the police; and that the army and police should be deployed to work with the other “hounds” in uniform in dispersing the protesters. These and many other characteristic Trumpian insensitive tweets and commands were thoughtlessly fired at the angry protesters.
Naturally, these callous, racist utterances inflamed the protesters the more, and it became increasingly difficult for the citizens in the nation’s uniforms to cope with the situation. Besides, other truly patriotic US citizens, Black and White, rose in condemnation of the President’s odious stance. In the shame occasioned by these all-round condemnations and the humiliating defiance by the protestors, Trump, in utter desperation, reached for a copy of The Holy Bible, made for a nearby church and brandished the holy book from the church premises. By this act, the President, who has always leaned towards the Christian group in his actions and utterances, thought he was identifying with his own clan of rodents, particularly the rats. But the outrage from the Christian community in the US was deafening, with one or two of the voices pointing out that the President had even held the Bible upside down. One of the voices, a great personality in the Christian faith, was even angry with the head of the church that allowed the President to carry out that odd display in his or her church. One common sentiment was that Donald Trump hadn’t really been a regular fellow at the church, and that his ways were somehow distant from some aspects of Christian life. Thus, Trump became the bat rejected by both the Christian and the non-Christian world. He stood, then, alone, a bat at some point on the road, distant from both the Christian and the non-Christian faiths.
Ordinarily, Trump’s racism is intended to privilege the Whites over other races, particularly over the Blacks. But during these protests, the Whites were also not only visibly bonded in unity with the African Americans and other races, the White protesters actually dominated numerically in some of the places. It was especially heartwarming to find senior White American citizens, including some from Trump’s own Republican Party, lending their voices against the police serial rubbishing of Black lives. President Donald Trump’s bizarre, laissez-faire and crude display of racism thus turned out to be the litmus proof that most non-Black Americans are averse to the evil of racialist hate which governs the lives of the likes of President Donald Trump. In a way, what the George Floyd murder protests have achieved is the extraction from Trump that deadly venom of racism to which he has been host, and made it into an anti-racism vaccine potent enough to suppress the leprous disease of racism in many other racists. The President has thus involuntarily become a part of the solution to the problem whose perpetuation he has been a frontline gladiator. If, for instance, he had followed in the footsteps of former US Presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Snr., Bill Clinton, George Bush, Jnr or Barrack Obama, who would display empathy for the aggrieved, and speak with wisdom and maturity, the protesters would have dispersed while the sore of racism festers. But Trump opened up at them like a loose cannon, and this became the fuel and fodder for the protests. He further exacerbated the situation by over-militarizing the polity, a step which took the anger and frustration of the protesters to the peak and did nothing to endear him to some retired senior military officers. Moreover, Trump involuntarily assisted the cause of the Black minorities by displaying the ugly disposition of a typical White supremacist. This behaviour inadvertently helped in advertising to the world what the Blacks have been going through in the world’s leading democracy. Again, the protests have shown him as an island, already never one with non-Whites, and now rejected even by most of his fellow Whites. He thus stands alone like a bat supported neither by the victims of his racism nor by the presumed White beneficiaries.
To Africa, in particular, Donald Trump’s Presidency has been the equivalent of the Second World War. Before the outbreak of that War, citizens of British colonies in Africa and Asia had seen the White man as something close to god, whose right to civilize others was divinely ordained. But in the course of the War, recruits from these colonies had the rare opportunity of seeing the nakedness of Europe, including the nakedness of some of their women. These ones returned to their communities after the war to tell tales about their experiences, which demystified the Whites. This discovery contributed in no small measure to the triggering of the agitation for independence. Thus, India attained manumission in 1947 (just about two years after the war ended), and most of the African countries followed suit in the late 1950s through the 1960s. This is how the Trump Presidency has similarly demystified America. Right from the outset, his anchoring his campaign on solipsism and isolationism was to some of us in Africa a replica of the ethnicity and “tribalism” that characterize our politics. Remember his attitude to his predecessor, President Barrack Obama, whom he accused, among other things, of not being born in America? Remember his emphasis on the wall cutting off Mexico? Remember his description of Nigerians and his reference to African nations as “shithole nations”?
But he won the elections all the same, not necessarily because he earned more of the popular votes than his opponent, but because of the curious mathematics of the Electoral College. For us in Africa, we had found in his presidency the solace that America, too, could have leaders such as our own who could be tribalistic; who could tell lies with ease; who could dodge payment of taxes; who could possibly tamper with elections; and who would put all the blame for their own failures on their predecessors, especially when such a predecessor was from a different region or religion or ethnic group. And each time we found him swinging like a goiter on America’s neck, we remembered our own perennial goiters we carry in the name of political leaders. Then the rude manifestation came in the wake of the coronavirus when he mismanaged the powerful US into the epicenter of the pandemic, and blamed this serially on China, Obama, and the WHO, but never on himself or his own administration. Of course, it is not lost on us how he also boasts frivolously about his intelligence and his many capabilities. Indeed, he speaks unfailingly in superlatives about himself and his world, all of which often remind us of our own African dictators, who fill their emptiness with braggadocio. In a way, we, Africans, commonly see Donald Trump as our own typical ruler in terms of his leadership characteristics. Yet, like the bat, he is not really our own. His skin colour is different and so is his place of birth and nationality. Therefore, in all these other respects, he is very American even if the Americans insist he is a typical African leader in character and disposition. Thus, in his style of leadership, President Trump is also a bat; he is not truly American by his democratic disposition, and he is not really African by his skin colour and nationality even if his leadership style is very African. Like the Second World War, though, the Trump Presidency has had the potential to teach us here in Africa the lesson that the US, too, is not always perfect even in her choice of leaders.
From another perspective, Trump’s signature insults on Blacks and Africans would have challenged our neocolonial leaders into push-back reformatory measures if they were, indeed, visionary and altruistic beings; and the upbraiding of President Trump by some of the retired military officers and church officials should have illustrated to Africans the power of institutions to curb the dictatorial tendencies in a true democracy. This power was what turned Trump into a bat, isolated from both the rats and the birds. But, unfortunately, this is Africa, and so all these become lessons planted on a stone ground since there is no such true democracy in most of our African countries where the strong man and his associates always reign supreme and the lives of the citizenry are cheap and dispensable like waste paper. Indeed, here, vital state institutions such as the police, the army, the State Security Service, etc., are in the firm grip of the maximum ruler. In Nigeria, for example, thousands and thousands of George Floyds are murdered routinely, but the government prescribes for the people how loud their mouths should open in crying, while the citizens go on as if nothing has happened.
Curiously, too, in my land of birth, Nigeria, there are still pockets of persons, largely Christians, who are ready to die for the stand-alone bat, President Donald Trump, for his stout protection of the Christian world, indeed, for his support to the cause of Christianity. I can’t fault them in their reasoning, especially given the atrocities in the country of which they have largely been the victims. But if anyone, rich or poor, ruler or ruled, Black or White or Brown, Christian, Muslim, or African Traditional Religionist endangers the life of humanity, I would resist the person. It therefore makes no sense to me to identify with a racist whom other racists would despise, a White supremacist whom other Whites would loathe, an unrepentant solipsist and isolationist with a pathological hate and scorn for for non-Whites.
Dr Ushie is a poet and Professor of English, University of Uyo, Nigeria.