The recent developments in the United States involving President Donald Trump call for deep reflection.
For years, many intellectuals have erroneously postulated that the Nigerian society is what it is because of the lack of strong institutions and reliance on strong men.
However, the truth is, a society is a reflection of the people. The more noble and enterprising people you have in any society; the more the orderly that society will be, except a colonised society or a command system.
Democracy, in particular, is predicated on the assumption that every citizen above the age of 18 is rational; irrespective of his level of education or wealth. This is substantive progress from the original democracy of Athens where a slave was considered a commodity; therefore, not worthy of participating in political deliberation. Even free-born women were also excepted from voting.
The shocking happenings in the United States have shown clearly that even with institutions that have been around for over two centuries; all it takes is a lunatic with unregulated social media to undo whatever has been achieved.
Trump has exposed US Democracy on several fronts. The system is built on a gentlemanly understanding “rationality” that whoever loses an election will abide by the outcome of the election. Today, a man who has no respect for those values has exposed the weakness. The institutions expected to restrain him did not. The Republican Party instead bowed to him because he was delivering to them Conservative judges; strong anti-immigration policies and low taxes.
Trump also exposed the other assumption that everyone above 18 years will be rational. Through his Twitter account and other right-wing media outlets, he misinformed the people with his alternative facts. His ability to lie with reckless abandonment helped to create cult followers.
Furthermore, US democracy is struggling with the idea of freedom for all. For close to 200 years, blacks and other minorities in the US were treated like the slaves of ancient Athens. This was the case until the Civil Rights struggles of the 60s. Even Rev Martin Luther King’s “Dream” did not happen until the 2008 election of Barack Obama.
The election of Obama and the recent surge in Blacks, Muslims, LGBTQ in elective offices is taking away powers from whites who still have a sense of entitlement to rule. The emergence of Trump was a response to the silent call for the old order. An order of Whites ruling. In Trump, the white people saw a man willing to express racism in public. Trump was not originally a Republic, but a con man with a win-at-all costs mentality. He saw an opportunity and he took it.
The point is, the US democracy is built on suppression and racism. What is going on is a push-back following years of progress that has been dismantling the old order.
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Another issue is the emergence of social media where a narcissistic populist can embark on misinformation without any gatekeeper to filter his comments.
Democracy, of course, is not perfect. It’s not an Eldorado. Therefore, its success depends not just on having noble politicians, but having noble citizens. Despite Trump’s open bigotry, racism, Islamophobia and other disgusting attitudes, over 74 million people voted for Trump. The saving grace was that there were another 80 million plus who voted against him.
The more educated, noble, pious a society is, the better its success at democracy. It’s not about institutions, but the people. After all, institutions are reflection of the society.