When I reported for an American newspaper – The Baltimore Sun - nearly 15 years ago, I was taught how to pronounce my English name. “Oh, Andrew,” they would always repeat pronouncing ‘a’ as ‘e’. Linguists term it /æ/-raising. It didn’t matter or it didn’t occur to my interlocutors that the British English which we use in most of Africa, doesn’t have that feature made when the tongue is raised up towards the roof of the mouth. Every American I met during my stay would repeat my name, but with a droll. Eventually, and I guess to save the Americans the pain of always repeating my name after me, I adapted the “e”.
A colleague - a German- exasperated by the Americans (they usually are) said that is how the Americans colonise the world. To him (and most of us agreed), nothing was so demeaning like an adult being taught how to pronounce their name.
Most Europeans, particularly Germans, chafe at America’s pervasive sense of invincibility. That can be traced back to the defeat of the Germans in World War II. In a unipolar world, America has been the prefect, superintending over the world with profoundly remarkable influence in our facets of life from language (cell phone versus mobile phone), finance and economics, trade and commerce (two depressions in the last 50 years started in America and New York Stock Exchange is the centre of world trade and commerce), popular culture (reality TV drama and music), dressing (t-shirt, jeans and cotton), food (burger and French Fries) to science and technology (computer and the chip industry), to medicine; to democracy and how we cover all these events. The 24-hour news network is an American concept following 9/11 when most of its population had been put off by the usually drab daytime TV. From the deserts of Marrakesh, to Abuja, to Damascus, Gaza, to Seoul, to Cairo, to Naypyidaw, to Hanoi to Johannesburg, the US bestrides the world like a colossus.
Because of its world class facilities and friendly labour laws and freedom, it constantly attracts the best from everywhere. In Nairobi (I bet in other cities as well), the stampede for July 4 celebrations attracts the A-listers in town. Lawyers, opinion leaders, civil society and corporate top dogs, politicians and even third-rate columnists like yours truly brush shoulders on a cold July evening at the American ambassador’s residence in Muthaiga fatigued from Nairobi’s maddening traffic, but still left with a little ounce for the evening toast. America is both an idea and a country. Many associate themselves with the idea. No wonder the dismay and despair and the glee and derision – of course depending on what you feel about America.
“If Trump and his enablers had resisted for only a day or two, OK, no big deal,” wrote Thomas L Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times. The fear is that Trump is making America lose what it gave to the world in 1800.
- 1 Biden will wait for recommendation on sharing secrets with Trump
- 2 America braces for violent protests, crowds remain thin
- 3 Kenyans deported days before end of Trump’s rule
- 4 Facebook to ban ads promoting weapon accessories, protective gear in US
“The greatest damage of Mr Trump’s recent actions, however, may come in future election seasons. Mr Trump is establishing a vocabulary of denial to election results. He is training politicians to try to overturn outcomes they don’t like — to actively sabotage democracy… Imagine what will happen when more Americans share his contempt for democracy,” said The New York Times in a withering editorial.
For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, Amerca has underwritten many global public good and paid a huge prize for democracy’s sake - from peace building, poverty eradication, science, research, technology and even culture. So the world cannot just write off America. “American democracy cracked…, but it didn’t break,” said Mike Duggan, Detroit’s mayor.
What needs to be examined is what made it possible to elect Trump in the first place - rising populism and nativism.
America’s weakness is toxic and divisive politics made worse by President Trump. It cannot therefore afford to remain in denial about the rifts that threaten its (and the world’s) social fabric. The soft belly of the American behemoth is that federal law dating to 1887 provides the framework, but not specifics, of how to handle such that has come with the 2020 election and the eccentric Donald Trump.
The trauma from Trump’s presidency will linger on for a long time to come. Trump set out “to drain the swamp. He risks leaving behind a deep reservoir of prejudice, resentment and sense of dispossession.
The world will be worse off should Trump prevail. Every autocrat will be emboldened to thumb their noses and break the skulls of those calling for more transparency. Most poignantly, at risk in the current imbroglio is not just liberty in America, but all that America represents: Democracy and freedom. The dream of equality, liberty and fraternity still excites many across the world.
Mr Kipkemboi is an Associate Editor at The Standard.