By Liepollo Lebohang Pheko*
Donald Trump is the second coming of the familiar phenomena of political impossibilities that become not only tangible realities but almost immoveable beams of obstruction. What is particularly disgusting about the Trump moment is that despite all his toxic flaws, a whole bunch of people believes him.
At the risk of evoking the wrath and ire of my own faith community, I am using the metaphor of Donald Trump’s victory to describe the ascendancy of so many things that are so wrong with the idea of a Trumped up world. Like most sane and caring quarters of humanity, I was and remain somewhat shell-shocked by the US election result not least its decisive outcome. Even though it could have gone either way, I had no idea that it veered so far away from an ethical universe. During his thundering and violently divisive approach to the White House, Trump already created the sort of racist, misogynist, anti-migrant, anti-anything that is not full-blooded American sentiment. Whatever that means. Whoever those are including himself, his many wives and children. Even in locker rooms, his coming is a bizarre apparition.
He is certainly anti-anything thoughtful, decent, kind, inclusive, nuanced. Which brings me to the second coming. A second coming of a rabid re-invention of a polarised and razor thin interpretation of privileged whiteness.
America is in an era that has been marked by a new civil rights movement, one that has necessarily taken social and racial solidarity global again. This internationalism had in many ways diminished since the end of the South African apartheid colonial struggles.
Globalised struggle was subverted by most countries’ hard battle to remain afloat in the midst of ongoing assaults of market fundamentalism, state retreat, social exclusion and disenfranchisement that accompanies society’s underclass and marginalised. The ‘Blacklash’ against Obama has been apparent by the increased lynching of Black people. Although largely seen as male targeting men, several Black women and girls have also been targeted. The othering of non-whiteness has been a rehearsal of the second coming. A rehearsal to lynch the reality that America and the world beyond are not the White bastions.
Attempting to recreate and impose a misplaced post-Darwinism imagination on the rest of the world is beyond naïve. In today’s global power matrix, it is a risk that the US dare not assume will be met with passively. Because it isn’t. The world beyond the United States has moved on and the centrality of the United States as the axis of global power has plummeted probably beyond repair. Like Great Britain before, their era of invincible imperial domination has ended. However, like a macabre scene, the decapitated chicken runs dead with its head off causing chaos and bloodletting in their wake particularly for those who do not know they are dead yet.
Hillary Clinton remains a deeply divisive candidate who polarised many of my friends on the progressive left. She has a recent history of presiding over Gaddafi’s extra-judicial killing and her centrist, hawkish stance did not differentiate her from the bland Establishment . Unlike Bernie Sunders, she just did not evoke excitement and support. Hers and Bill’s race baiting when she ran against Obama in the 2008 are also not entirely forgotten. And of course the rumours that she ran her husband’s many mistresses out of town have not been quashed. And still, she is a better option if only because she is a known quantity and a somewhat familiar adversary particularly in the Global South. So I remain annoyed at my friends who opted to sit this one out or to vote elsewhere thus splitting the vote and enabling the second coming.
The community insurrections in Ferguson and Baltimore have resonance with the demands made in Cairo and Tunis in 2011. Across South African metropoles the protests are part of a constant reclamation and reiteration of every liberation dividend that was conceded in 1994. It is from one of these cities that I write, a country that is facing its own paradox of a leader who defies insurmountable odds, using or bypassing democratic, legal and constitutional processes. So Trump is the second coming of familiar phenomena of political impossibilities that become not only tangible realities but almost immoveable beams of obstruction.
His comments on trade policy are complicated mainly because they are zealously protectionist, part of the re-invention of a great America in which Trump predicts America will ‘win so much that they will get sick of it‘. A world without bi-lateral agreements and international trade obligations that require reciprocity and demand full access to markets for the bullying Northern countries. Trump’s reluctance to proceed with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] has caused some consternation from markets and cautious relief from some countries in the southern hemisphere who have been resisting the potential assault of the global mode of free trade.
Yet Trump is coming from such a toxic place of ‘Ameri-absorption‘ that any potential gains must be counted and calculated carefully. Indeed the climate denialists have come out to play and global action in this regard is unlikely to be easy. The second coming of increased militarisation of international life and domestic instruments notably the US police give me a cold sweat. How Trump will deal with the insurgencies that sometimes arise on my continent given his hawkish tendencies can only be speculated.
His remarks on South Africa as a crime-ridden mess were ill judged and inflammatory, typical of a parochial invention of Africa as a basket case that Trump favours. And, unfortunately for him, we have long memories. There are multiple democratic deficits that have been revealed about the US electoral system (re-counting in three states is taking place at the time of writing) and I have proposed external election monitoring particularly from African, Asian and Latin American countries. What is particularly disgusting about the Trump moment is that despite all these and his flaws, a whole bunch of people believes him. Along with Brexit, the Global South can only ponder and recalibrate these moments. The re-invention that he represents is as thin and fragile as a reed and subject to the sort of head winds that varied social forces can easily demolish or manipulate for their own ends.
This article first appeared in Women In and Beyond the Global website.
*Liepollo Lebohang Pheko is Senior Research Fellow The Trade Collective, Managing Director Four Rivers Trading, Steering Member South African Women in Dialogue [SAWID] and Board Member and Africa Regional Coordinator – International Network on Migration and Development.