The Crisis of American Exceptionalism and the Immigrant Visa Ban on Nigeria

The Crisis of American Exceptionalism and the Immigrant Visa Ban on Nigeria

Thursday, February 6, 2020 4:01 pm


Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye.

The world confronts the fragility of everything while Africa sleeps. In the process of “Making America Great Again” Donald J Trump has brought to the fore and to a head the hitherto subterranean turbulence and paradoxes in the long evolution of the concept of Americanness and the devaluation, even rejection, of its historic Exceptionalism; the conventional hallmark of being American. These paradoxes have challenged and undermined the fundamental underpinnings of America’s understanding of itself. Implied in this (d)evolution is  the flagellation of the very unimpeachable theologies that have driven the centrifugal norms and protocols of America’s internal politics, notions of justice, internal race relations, the nation’s firm spirituality. Of course, these distortions have realigned America’s interactions with its neighbors and, indeed, the universe of diverse peoples and nations far and wide. The contemporaneous polarity of all facets of American national life is manifest in the accentuation of the psychological and physical barriers constructed to protect and insulate America from unwanted racial, social and spiritual opportunistic dregs of the liberal underbelly of its historic Exceptionalism is now very real. It is symptomatic of the debilities occasioned by an unresolved crisis of Americanness and the grudging accommodations of the traditional policy derivatives of this unique character of post Civil War, Reconstruction and Post World War II United States.

In the context of the unceasing evolution of American society and state, if not nation, Liberalism was noted to have its consequential drawbacks. As Andrew J Bacevich observed not too long ago, the heedless worship of freedom in America remains a mixed blessing. He further advanced that freedom has led America to accrue obligations that have undercut the nation’s ability to fulfill its commitments. In this, Bacevich was reechoing the message of Reinhold  Niebuhr, pastor, teacher, activist and theologian, who propagated that the practice of freedom constantly evolves and in so doing, generates new requirements even as it abolishes old constraints. I is summed up that the American understanding of freedom that prevailed in December 1941 when the United States entered World II has long become obsolete. Neibuhr presciently propagated that these changes may be cause for celebration in some respects. But he cautioned it might also be cause for regret. The evolved changes in the third decade of the millennium would seem to be in the latter genre.

Donald Trump’s Making America Great Again entails harrowing changes in the constriction of the universality of American Exceptionalism. Yet, this narrowing of the universalist mantra that clearly deviates from the core values of Americanness, is seemingly validated in the context of a surging global brutal charges against liberalism, multilateralism, human and racial equality and heterogeneous spiritualities, the erosion of constitutionalism and constitutional orders as well as newly fangled notions of social justice. These deviations from the established and broadly consensual norms of social engagements have been attained through the paradoxical exploitation of the very tenets of democracy. Trumpism has transformed the healthy tensions of democracy and constitutional orders into zero-sum sharp confrontation of irreconcilable antithetical polarities. The gradual birth of post-modernist society in  post realism, post nationalism and post statist propensities ushered in the by euphoria of the end of the Cold War has given way to the resurgence of the clash of old historical forces. It is thus the beginning of history once again. Albeit, old history. Africa, still confidently slumbering under the nebulous certainties of its deleterious fixations on fictive and empty sovereignties, would go down in its immovable irrationalities as expendable pawns. Africa is the least prepared for the struggle for and against the resuscitation of old ideational and philosophical antagonisms in the pandemonium of an emerging cruel world. As former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko put it: Life punishes those who come late. Africa has not arrived late. It is still in slumber. It has yet to set forth at dawn.

Africa is trapped in this turbulence. Nigeria, the largest congregation of black humanity on Earth, the largest Islamic monotheistic cathedral, even if fatally poisoned, of black Muslims in Africa, reputedly home to one of the deadliest Islamic terrorist groups that the modern world has known and in an environment, perceived rightly or wrongly, to be condoning politically motivated serial pogroms, is located on a sensitive plane in this turbulence internal to the United States. Nigeria is also vulnerable to the dangerous vagaries of the external world in general. Nigeria is then sold off characterized as an African hotbed of Islamofascism. The ban on immigrant visa for Nigerians falls squarely within the policy of limiting the continuing impact of the opportunistic dregs of perceived decadent social and human orders that was only possible under the regime of America’s former expansive appreciations of its Exceptionalism. This is a key component of trying to make America White again. The institutional frailties of Nigeria provide good excuses for this well calculated move to block or limit the single largest source of black immigrants to the United States. The demographics of a launch for America greatness is a critical element in the calculus of making America great again.

Official American sources observe that the U.S. population that is currently estimated at 308.7 million persons. This reflects a more than doubled population since its 1950 level of 152.3 million. More than just being double in size, the critical fact is that the population has become qualitatively different from what it was in 1950. The Population Reference Bureau highlights that the three main factors impacting population growth and increased diversity are the interplay of increased births, decreased deaths, and, more salient for this piece, increased net immigration. Of the three, net immigration is directly responsible for increased diversity of the population. The nationality act of 1965 only exacerbated the problem of increasing diversity in America’s population profile. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, abolished an earlier quota system based on national origin and established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled labor to the United States. Following the passage of the law, the ethnic composition of immigrants changed..Specifically, the Hart–Celler Act allowed increased numbers of people to migrate to the United States from Asia and Africa. The consequences have been perceived as further diluting the whiteness of America and constituting in the long term a threat to White America’s image of proper Americanness.

The logic goes: A great America is not an America where Whites are a minority to Latinos and blacks. A great America is not a secular America. Implied is that a great America is a Christian America, and positively not an Islamic America. Trump has exploited these antipathies. In the weakening of the ingredients of the vitality of the character of the American society, Trump portrays himself as the defender of the embattled Christian faith of a white race under siege. In a lexicon of simple and overt codes to a base of largely provincial mindsets, Trump lays the grounds as he feigns the dictates of faith and the imperatives of race in championing the assault on liberalism. This is to assuage white fears that have emerged around continued futuristic demographic preeminence of whites in America. In his words “We’re defending religion itself. A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure.” Against this background, in doing away with the finesses of constitutionalism, Trump elicits the tacit backing of the mostly white and unsophisticated base constituency.  In stacking the judiciary with conservatives and disturbing the ideological balance of this cherished institution, he appeals to neo conservatives of the same large and vote rich evangelical Protestant constituency. According to data sourced from Pew Research, in 2014, there were roughly 62.2 million evangelical Protestant adults. Three-quarters (76%) of evangelical Protestants are white. As of 2014, 11% of adults who identify with evangelical denominations are Hispanic, 6% are black, 2% are Asian, and 5% identify with another race or as mixed race. On average, evangelical Protestants have lower levels of educational attainment, compared with the U.S. public as a whole. Roughly one-in-five evangelical Protestants (21%) are college graduates, while 35% have some college education (but not a four-year degree), and 43% have a high school education or less. Among those in the overall public, 27% are college graduates, 32% have some college experience, and 41% have a high school diploma or less education. That represents the social construction of Trump’s shock troops for the end of America’s Exceptionalism. Although there have emerged visible cracks in the solidity of this base, the contention has not been about policy. There exists a contrarian admonition for American evangelical Protestants to “Remember who you are and whom you serve,” and to “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior”. Also the advice to “Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency” was robustly rejected. These reminders of an encroaching complicity with unChrist like politics to advance the cause of the faith ONLY seemed to have galvanized the troops for confrontation with conventional notions of America as a liberal open society. Rather then, in resolving the dilemma of White American spirituality regarding what to do about a physical anti-Christ advancing the cause of the Church, this constituency has elected, it would appear, to hold its nose tightly and chant  Halleluyah in praise of his Holiness, King of Kings, Donald J Trump.  Accordingly, roughly seven in ten white evangelicals approve of Trump’s job performance.

Meanwhile, integral to this turbulence has been revisionist proclivities in the narratives of world history and the redefinition of global strategic configurations in the struggle to prolong the hegemony of the United States of America. In effect, the assault on liberalism, including the rise of right wing fascist organizations in the United States all represent a repudiation of the global order instituted by an ascendant United State. The ascendance of the United States in Post World War II in 1945 was the driving force behind the creation of the United Nations. Official United States history observes that Once World War II began, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was convinced that the U.S. had to provide the leadership for the establishment of another international organization to replace the failed League of Nations, The new multilateral platform was aimed at preserving peace. The Truman administration in the United States engaged in international diplomacy in pursuit of the creation of the United Nations.  He also worked to build domestic support for the concept of the organization.  Following the Roosevelt’s death, President Harry S Truman as his successor also assumed the important task of maintaining support for the United Nations worked through complicated international problems, particularly with the Soviet Union, to make the founding of the new organization possible.  After nearly four years of planning, the international community finally established the United Nations in the spring of 1945. The moment represented the apogee of America’s engagement with liberalism that cemented the constitutional Order as the critical foundation for democratic governance in the free world. The impulses generated by this new global order demanded the liberation of all peoples under any form of bondage, including and especially peoples still under the yoke of colonialism. America in its finest hour was thus instrumental to the beginnings of the devaluation of power as the major currency of inter-state relations. The post realist phenomenon and a great diminution of some of the core tenets of state sovereignty witnessed in the last decade of the last century was a direct product of those powerful beginnings driven by the United States. However, the United States hugged its hard won sovereignty uncompromisingly remaining outside the mainstream of the evolution of the post modern state and again paradoxically hostile to the liberal evolution of the state in the direction of post statist post modernism.

Meanwhile, as the impeachment trial of Donald J Trump has abundantly indicated, the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, has been eviscerated in the current process of repudiating the conceptual and organic glue holding the United States together. Abraham Lincoln leading the Republican Party was the great emancipator and the earliest salesman of the unlimited resilience of the United States and the capacity of the great nation to protect the integrity of all humanity in all its hues.

That was the essence of the Emancipation Proclamation, or Proclamation 95, issued by President Abraham Lincoln effective January 1, 1863. Consistent with this history, many old stalwarts of the party have repudiated the tragic metamorphosis in what they have derisively christened the Trump Party. They now rue the development even as they distance themselves from the pathetic residue of the grand old party and the on-going debasement of its historic legacy of the Republican Party. In effect, the current contentious ban on immigrant visa for Nigerians and other anticipated body slams against Africa are hopefully transient collateral damages in the great historic struggle for the soul of America. Hopefully, Africa would rouse itself from its slumber to ring fence itself against the many body slams anticipated from this titanic confrontations. Whatever the outcome, its impact would reverberate on our shores. As for Nigeria, a critically fierce first and cardinal imperative is to get its house in order as well as robustly sanitizing our odious national character. These simple steps should stem any further excuses for more humiliating body blows.


-Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine

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