By now even children in the farthest reaches of the American Empire – like Kenya – know that President Donald Trump is the most unpopular occupant of the White House since the advent of polling. The New York real estate mogul, who beat the most experienced candidate to run for American president, has turned out to be a total disaster. Many who voted for him rue their decision and hope they had pulled the lever for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But as former Machakos gubernatorial candidate Wavinya Ndeti would say “Yaliondwele sipite” (a corruption of “Yaliopita si ndwele tugange yanjayo”) – which means “let’s look to the future, and stop obsessing about the past.” Except in this case, we shouldn’t forget the past.
Some Kenyans like to say “accept and move on” which is a code word for us to abandon our conscience. No – never. I am afraid whether it’s in the United States with Mr Trump, or in Kenya, we simply will not accept and move on. We owe it to our children and their children to stand in the breach and speak truth to power. It doesn’t matter if we have to do so until the return of Noah’s Ark. I make this point not so much to interrogate Kenya’s debacle of elections, but to get into the minds of those Kenyans who are in love with Trump. Trump is everything they are not, but yet they will go to the barricades to defend him.
Let me state the obvious. Trump lost the popular vote by more than three million votes to Ms Clinton, but in the strange American system, won the Electoral College. Even before the election, the world knew Trump was a misogynist – he openly spoke of forcibly kissing women and grabbing their genitalia. He called Mexicans rapists and murderers. He sought a complete ban on all Muslims from entering America. He mocked people with disabilities. He ridiculed immigrants. He embraced racists like the Ku Klux Klan. He gave succor and approval to anti-Semites and neo-Nazis. His disdain for blacks and racial animus towards them is a matter of public record. He admires dictators. His policies will decimate and despoil and our environment.
Nothing I have written above is an exaggeration. Check it out. While less than a third of Americans now approve of Trump, many Kenyans still admire him. The question is why? Because of CNN, the internet, and social media, many Kenyans – literate and illiterate – think they know America. I have breaking news for them – they don’t. America is a country that can exhibit opposite extremes at once. It can be wondrous. But it can also be monstrous. Trump is a product of the latter. That’s why it boggles my mind a native black Kenyan – or any Kenyan for that matter – would be locked into a love relationship with Trump. Is it the pedagogy of the oppressed, or inherent fascism in some Kenyans?
Recently, while on a visit to Kitui, I had a strange conversation with a friend about Trump. The friend, who shall remain anonymous for reasons of social cohesion, asked me why I hated Trump. I told him I didn’t “hate” Trump although I found him to be a disgusting racist and buffoon without the competence, the morality, and the mental stability to be the most powerful human on the planet. My friend looked pained and asked I give Trump a chance. He said Trump was a god-fearing Christian. I told him I didn’t know what that meant. My friend is a conservative and an outwardly devout Catholic. I told him he was in love with both the sin and the sinner.
My friend told me unlike former President Barack Obama, Trump was a “real” American. I was stunned. I am a public intellectual and so I am used to hearing the wildest and most ignorant comments. So I calmly asked him who a “real” American is. He referred to images of white cowboys in “Westerns” whose iconic stars are John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. I asked him if he meant white “god-like” males who always win? I asked him whether he regarded African-Americans like Mr Obama as Americans? He said “yeah” but insisted those weren’t “real” Americans. I asked him if he had heard of Native Americans. He said he had heard of Red Indians.
I told him white Europeans like Trump stole America from the “Red Indians.” I informed him that all other Americans were immigrants or descendants of immigrants except most blacks whose ancestors were captured from Africa and enslaved in America. I told him two of Trump’s wives were immigrants. I told him Trump’s grandfather and mother were born in Europe. Go figure.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua