The Sunday Mail

Writing Back
Ranga Mataire

It’s that season again in America when political contestation exposes the downside of the West and perforates the myth of cultural finesse and spruced up candour.

It’s is such a spectacle for us the people of the South to watch how America — the so-called paragon of virtue that prides itself of a matured democracy taking us back to a bygone era of racial bigotry and othering.

And who else than President Trump to parade this sort of backwardness? Through words and deeds, Trump has dragged America to its unpalatable past of racial prejudice that fuelled slavery and Jim Crow laws.

For all in tense and purpose, President Trump seems to revel in the absurdity of name calling opponents and unashamedly propounding the narrative of “birtherism”.

“Birtherism” refers to the aspersions cast against Barak Obama’s birth place during the 2016 elections campaign.

Trump made orchestrated allegations that the then American President had forged his birth certificate and that he was born in Africa. All this was later proven untrue.

His recent tweets against three congresswomen of colour smirk reflects the mind-set of an individual still stuck in the Antiquity era when white supremacy reigned supreme and was the instrument applied to discriminate, oppress and subjugate other races.

The four congresswomen fired back at President Trump last Monday after he tweeted that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” All four democratic lawmakers are American citizens and only Rep. Ilhan Omar was born outside of the US before becoming a citizen in 2000.

In a language unbecoming of a nation that prides itself as a model of democratic etiquette and is given to lecturing other countries on acceptable tenets of political candour, President Trump shot back saying the women were “anti-America” and a “bunch of communists.”

President Trump has previously accused Mexicans of “bringing drugs, crime and rapists.” He once accused us District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, of being biased because his parents emigrated from Mexico.

Last year, during a meeting with senators on immigration, President Trump questioned his country’s acceptance of people from “sh*thole countries,” adding that the us should bring in people from places like “Norway”.

It seems inviting charges of racism has become a staple of Mr Trump’s presidency and he is not even ashamed of it as he once remarked during an interview in 2016 that: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like incredible.”

So as Africans, who for years have been labelled primitive and lacking decorum and having “sh*thole” countries; how do we make of Trump’s rather uncivilised comments? Well, for once it demystifies the very basis for “othering” people on the basis of racial superiority and geographical birthplace. It also debunks the whole essence of America as the quintessential democracy.

It puts into question some local opposition parties that look up to America as a model country worth aping in terms of how its representatives conduct themselves in the public arena. It makes us question all the things America have said against Africa and Zimbabwe in particular given how vile and repugnant their President is.

We notice rather unsettling traits in some of our local politicians. Tendai Biti, Job Sikhala and the excitable gaffe-prone Nelson Chamisa are names that quickly come to mind.

President Trump must know that despite its sordid history of slavery; America remains an inspirational country whose conduct reverberates across the world.

Sadly, most observers see a decline in democratic credentials mostly attributed to America.

There is resonation to what is happening in America to what is captured in “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” by Edward Gibbon who melodramatically conjures the Rome of 408 ad, when armies of the Goths primed to descend upon the city. The symbols of imperial decadence appeared not only in ludicrous displays of public opulence and waste, but also the collapse of faith in reason and science.

The people of Rome, Gibbon writes, fell prey to “puerile superstition” promoted by astrologers and to soothsayers who claimed “to read in the entrails of victims the signs of future greatness and prosperity.”

Would latter-day Gibbon describe today’s America as “decadent”? I think the shoe fits.

As aptly captured by James Traub, a regular contributor to Foreign Policy, a fellow at the Centre on International Co-operation and the author of “John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit”, perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption.

In an article published on titled “The United States of America Is Decadent and Depraved,” Traub argues that the problem isn’t Donald Trump — it’s the Donald Trump in all of Americans.

“We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of “public” and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool,” says Traub.

Indeed, as Traub points out, we cannot heap everything on President Trump. In the decadent stage of the Roman Empire, or Louis XVI’s France, or the dying days of the Habsburg Empire so brilliantly captured in Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities”, decadence seeped downward from rulers to the ruled. But in a democracy the process happens in a reciprocal manner. A decadent elite certificates degraded behaviour, and a corrupted public chooses its worst leaders. And in our case — our Nero panders to our worst attributes- and we reward him for doing so.

Judging from President’s Trump disposition, no one doubts the decadence that today afflicts America. The cultural, moral and spiritual disorder including the sheer arrogance in ignorance exemplified by President Trump is there for everyone to see.

There is apparent civilisational decay that has creeped into the American political discourse to embarrassing to imagine. A democratic society becomes decadent when its politics — when its essential means of judgement becomes morally and intellectually corrupt.

And last but not least, a naughty journalist asked Trump about his Africa policy in general and Zimbabwe in particular and how the sanctions imposed on it are hamstringing the country’s prospects for economic recovery.

Trump’s response; “We are looking at Zimbabwe right now.” That’s it and moves on as quickly as possible. And afterwards people had a field day commenting about President Trump’s incapacity to discuss policy matters. Some taunted that at least he didn’t call the country Rhodesia while others imitated his usual brash statement; “I am still looking into it. We’ll see what happens.”

Others went balderdash saying if the reporter had queried further, President  Trump was likely to say that, “Our Zimbabwe policy is great. Really great. Some people would say unbelievable.”

This is something that all those who worship America must reflect upon.

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