On Trumpism and America for Nigeria
Professor Richard Neustadt, a revered authority on American presidential politics, contends in his celebrated book, Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents, that “The presidency is not a place for amateurs. The sort of expertise can hardly be acquired without deep experience in political office. The presidency is a place for men of politics but by no means is it a place for every politician.” This statement would be at the back of the mind of every watcher of Donald John Trump’s presidency in the days, months and years ahead.
Donald Trump, the billionaire 45th president of the U.S.A, has been described as the richest American president since George Washington (1789 to 1797); the most combative presidential candidate since Andrew Jackson (1829 to 1837) and, uniquely, the only president to have come into office without having held any previous political or military position – an amateur of some sort in political terms.
His inaugural speech on January 20 was remarkable, remarkable in that it was devoid of the rhetoric that has come to be associated with speeches of such occasion. He rightly acknowledged the presence of his surviving predecessors, but went on to bemoan the state of a nation that has descended into poverty and danger at home and flashing weakness on the foreign stage. In what would be an assertion of the intended direction of his presidency, Trump indicted the elite in Washington for their corruption. “Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you…”
One’s mind could not but be directed at our corrupt politicians in Abuja as Trump made his populist speech. Our politicians celebrate daily while those who elected them into their various offices die in large numbers from hunger and disease. One wished there was a Nigerian political leader bluntly bearing his or her mind as Trump did on his important occasion. However, it remains to be seen how he intends to tame the greed of politicians he would be sharing power with in many respects.
Although the president has enormous powers, he or she is nevertheless not a dictator. The president will quickly have to learn the art of persuasion, making those they share power with appreciate that the changes they propose are in their collective interest. When not enjoying the cooperation of elected politicians, the president must learn to take his or her message to the national constituency. A Nigerian president, for instance, must learn to engage the support of those who have elected them into office, especially when realising that the fight against corruption in particular is a fight against the privileged elite-political, judicial, religious and traditional – who had become accustomed to receiving bribes of rams and suitcases of assorted currencies from previous corrupt leaders!
Be that as it may, the inauguration of Trump was greeted with protests by those who had grievances against the controversial pronouncements he had made while campaigning for office. The legitimacy of his election was hardly questioned. Those who had continued to moan about his failure to secure a majority of popular votes seem not to understand that the American Union is a product of compromise in which the interests of large and small states are balanced through a variety of structures, ensuring that one was not disadvantaged by the advantages of the other. For instance, every state is represented equally in the Senate, and the Electoral College system, inter alia, ensures that the presidency is not determined by a combination of just a few states with overwhelming populations.
We have quite a lot to learn from America and its democracy. First, our nation cannot be anything other than federal. It does not help the cause of peaceful co-existence if a federal nation is run like a unitary one. There would be the need to devolve economic and political powers to the federating units in order to douse the tensions that have continuously characterised our relationships.
Secondly, one cannot but admire the maturity of an older nation in the management of power transfer from one administration to another, and from one political party to the other. The presence of Hillary Clinton at the inauguration of Trump sends a message about the purposefulness of one nation to the rest of the world. Mrs. Clinton contested the presidency with the eventual winner, but would seem to have put her disappointments behind her in the overall interests of the nation. That is a demonstration of political maturity at its highest level, and a message that can hardly be ignored by the civilised world.
Finally, the preeminence of America in world politics cannot but provoke nationalistic envy in others. One would question why other peoples should be content with their generations remaining perpetually at the lower tier of world power. The ascendancy of America derives from a lot of factors which include massive size and population. Those calling on Donald Trump to help them in breaking up Nigeria, are short sighted and seem not to understand that Trump’s America itself had experienced a history of chronic challenges at nation building – a nation that fought a civil war and had since moved on. Nigeria’s post-civil war revisionists, even when they might have their grievances, also seem not to want to know that millions of their own co-exist with other Nigerians and profit from their relationships in other regions of the federation.
Let Nigeria be! Political and economic terms will continue to be dictated by the big and powerful nations of the world; Nigeria, as presently constituted, offers the prospect that the black race could one day be represented in that league. It requires time, patience and commitment for a nation to transform and prosper. Of course, it also demands massive investment in education and jobs.
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