Thursday Column with Mohammed Adamu
The U.S. writer William Allen White, nicknamed the sage of Emporia (like late Bola Ige was, the Cicero of Esa Oke), did not believe that William McKinley, the 25th Republican President of the United States (1897-1901), was deserving of that esteemed office. And it was in reference to that he wrote: “This face of McKinley’s, this placid, kindly, un-chipped mask of a kindly, dull gentleman, is a cast… to represent American politics, on the whole decent…. and rarely reaching above the least common multiple of the popular intelligence”. And you wonder if this should not rather have been said about Donald Trump.
But even as he was reputedly mediocre, McKinley was no mean achiever before his assassination in the first year of his second term. He had led the U.S. to victory in the Spanish-American war of 1898, bringing the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico under U.S. rule. He was the President who signed the Gold Standard Act of 1900, making gold the basis of the U.S. currency and he raised protective tariffs to secure American jobs and to promote American industry. He closed his first term with a sound economy –and which would earn him reelection.
And although he was nonetheless the butt of governance humor owing more to his unexciting demeanor than to his actual performance, Americans believed that McKinley, a distinguished Civil War veteran himself, was still a man of dignity, honor and duty –“That’s all a man can hope for in his lifetime” McKinley himself had said, when he was talking about there being nothing to a fulfilled life but for person “to set an example- and when he is dead, to be an inspiration for history”. And which is more than you can say especially for the 45th, now obviously one-term-only President, Donald Trump.
Yet, even as it would be grossly uncharitable to compare a racially divisive and politically burdensome Trump with a humbly performing McKinley, it was even more so uncharitable that 80 years after McKinley, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would unleash a similar assail against the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, when he said, about the Cowboy President “When you meet the president, you ask yourself, ‘How did it ever occur to anyone that he should be governor, much less president?’” And you wonder if this should not rather have been said about Donald Trump.
Nothing could be more uncharitably said about a man such as Reagan, risen from a Hollywood Cowboy-Actor to President of the United States at 70, and earning soon the nickname the ‘Great Communicator’, owing to his exceptional oratory and his theatrical manner of interlocution. Reagan in fact created one of the most debatably effective economic policies, –wrapped under the term ‘Reaganomics’, a brand of ‘trickledown economic theory’ favoring reduction of taxes on businesses and the wealthy to stimulate short term investment and long term benefit for the society at large.
But then if gold rusts, the question is asked, what should iron do? If well-behaved, record-making American presidents such as William McKinley and Ronald Reagan did not fare well in the stinging estimation of critical writers and cynical politicians, how will the enfant terrible of a prodigiously dubious character like Donald Trump who had cheated his way to the pinnacle of the American Dream, fare? And with what brush do you render a man like Trump who is at once a racist, a xenophobe, a religious bigot, a narcissist, a jingoist, a hatemonger, an inciter of violence and a congenital liar.
But how do you render a man who is a serial tax evader, a multi-billionaire who is on record, in years, as having paid less than a widow’s mite as tax; a serial Evangelical polygamist who has five kids from three successive wives; a conjugal cheat who has no scruples prostituting; a profiteer of gambling and of other related frauds; and a pretender to nationalism who would make fun of soldiers who had died fighting for the fatherland. How, in spite of all these, many blind Trump supporters still believe that he is an ‘anointed man of God’, or a ‘man after God’s heart’, is the weirdest heresy ever repeated by any faithful of the Christian religion.
Those that the gods will hang, it is said, they first make mad. We have seen four years of Trump’s political madness. And pride, which the Bible says, goeth before a fall, is a toxic weed even in the orchard of political governance. For the past four years, this toxic weed had taken over America’s leadership vineyard with the enfant terrible of a lying, cheating, racially-hating, egocentric and egotistic Donald Trump; so much that one is now inclined to believe John Donne, the English poet when he said “I do not hold with those who say that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believe that men without morality corrupt power”.
For a man who fits right in the museum of the ignoble, the closest I have come to etching the graffiti of Donald Trump is in the poetic words of Portia, in Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant Of Venice’ when the Princess of Belmont, while describing the character of one of her unwanted suitors, namely the Duke of Saxony’s nephew, says: “when he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst he is a little better than a beast”.
In this, Portia evokes a poignant portraiture of the fiendish résumé of Trump –whenever at his best, worst than a man, and at his worst only a little better than a beast. And now it is this beastly proverbial fly that perches dangerously on the scrotum of America, once reputably the world’s only bastion of democracy. Trump by his current intransigence, at last, has become the proverbial Hausaman’s ‘dan qashin gwiwa’ –the obnoxious kneecap pregnancy that leaves the bearer neither the luxury of poise nor the convenience of simple mobility.
The Hausas say that ‘kowa ya hadiyi tabarya, zai yi kwanan tsaye’ –who dares swallow a pestle is doomed to a vigil of standing on all twos. Donald Trump has become the proverbial pestle that the Americans have imbibed holus bolus, and for four grueling years now they have been standing erect, wide awake and sentry. And it still does not appear that even after the surgical operation that a Biden victory has just occasioned, there is relief any near.
Because, like a stillbirth, Trump has still succeeded in positioning himself as the lizard on the mouth of the earthenware pot (what the Hausas describe as the ‘qadangaren bakin tulu), ignored at the risk of letting it defile the water, and cast at an even graver risk, -of breaking the pot! The choice now is America’s; to let the lizard be, or to hazard a throw. This will be America’s ‘To be or not to be’, in a long time. And from all indications, it will now take the judiciary, to end this Trump shenanigans; or finally to entrench it.