The Oscillations in American National Morality and the Futures of Africa

Donald Trump

By Ademola Araoye

The United States of America is in a historic confrontation for the defining character of its soul. The outcome of a clash of diametrically opposed codes of social order and societal values in the United States would inevitably impact the continued legitimacy of now imperiled liberalism of the post World War II. The validity of the preeminent system of ethics and morality underpinning the extant liberal global order may be thoroughly undermined or even out rightly repudiated following the resurgence and consolidation of the extreme right (nativist/fascist) ideology in the titanic struggle in the United States. However, if the increasingly fragilized Constitutional order in the now polarized United States demonstrates a robustness and resilience to withstand the current assault on it, the world, and especially Africa, may be saved some unsavory consequences of the potential horrendous global impact of the outcome. The fight for the entrenchment of one of the contradictory moral impulses to direct state and society is the recurring challenge in the cyclical clash of the opposing fundamentals of this hegemonic state actor in the global system. In the context of the evolution of the United States, the periodic conflict is historically conveyed as integral to the unending pursuit of a perfect union. The pursuit of national perfection through the attainment of an articulated moral vision as the foundation of state and society has been the main theme of American history since the conclusion of its War of Independence against Great Britain on 3 September 1783. The American civil war was fought between a progressive north and a south whose political economy was firmly founded on slavery and had declared a confederation based on this value system to protect its entrenched social, political and economic order.

The military defeat of the confederate army did not bridge the wide moral chasm of a divided United States. Rather, in the compromises to give birth to a morally sound nation state, the constant eruptions of the vanquished white southern sensibilities merely seem to have corrupted the bloodstream of the body politics of the nation. Since then the immoral sensibilities of the South would seem to have consolidated itself as an ever threatening subterranean imperative at the subconscious level of the American odyssey. This reality is expressed in the deep regional partisan character of American politics, the peculiar irreconcilable moral incoherence in the theologies of hegemonic white Christian nationalist America and thus resulting in an almost morbidly turbid social order.

Ademola Araoye

The current turbulence of American constitutional order and democracy is the overt intrusion of this seemingly indestructible germ in American history. Should this confrontation inspire the rapid de-legitimation of the post World War II international order founded on liberalism, it would have seismic implications for Africa.

The post civil war reconstruction from 1863 to 1877, among others, sought to institute a paradigm shift in addressing the inequities of slavery and its expressions in the social, political and economic legacy. The notion of the American dream distils the vision of the perfect morally equilibrated United States. The American dream advocates the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born and what class they were born into can, through hard work, attain their version of success in an American society where upward mobility is assured for everyone. An American state and society in moral equilibrium is the guarantor of this lofty ideal.

The search for a morally equilibrated American state and society is therefore a historic constant work in progress. The narratives of this history are characterized by political turbulence, periodic social upheavals, including assassinations of the icons of progressivism of each generation. The pervasive toxicity generated pose a danger of infecting the technologically compressed globalized village world. The recurring theme of the search for this elusive moral equilibrium in the United States has also been about putting to a definitive rest the denial of the full humanity of black people by white society and the unconditional affirmation of full citizenship of blacks, brown and yellows in the emerged state.

The tensions of contemporary times, encapsulated in the tenet and philosophical drivers of the policies of President Donald J. Trump, is the pendulum swing to the ultra conservative extreme amoral right and the struggle by the counteracting forces to assert the continued legitimacy of a “right” morally founded order of the United States of America and, consequently, protect its associated structures and institutions. Merill Brown advances that in Trump, conservative America has once in a generation opportunity to fundamentally alter the moral direction of the nation, while also altering the relationship between Americans and their government-one built in the New Deal and solidified since. The New Deal established the framework for a regulatory state that protected the interest of all Americans, rich and poor, white, yellow, brown or black and the mettise, enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1938. The program was to provide relief, reform and recovery from the Great Depression. Social Security was a key plank of the deal. It is notable that Roosevelt also introduced decolonization into American foreign policy. To these advances there has remained a permanent powerful tendency to roll back historic social progress. The turbulence engendered by forces determined to slide America back to an inglorious future of fundamentalism and segregation, mostly led by American white Pentecostalism, is however full of existential and debilitating spiritual paradoxes.

Accordingly, a Babylonian dance cycle has emerged in predictable periodic violent “whitelash” at every significant juncture of American progressivism whenever the integration of blacks and non-white has seemed to have reached a crescendo. The ascent of Trump and a threatening wildfire of Trumpism as the after math of the presidency of Barrack Obama would seem consistent with the established paradoxical cycles of the evolution of the United States of America. From this perspective Trumpism is not unique, but an almost predictable “natural” response to the elevation of black humanity to the most powerful office in the world. This constituted a somewhat apogee of a historical social struggle. Preceding Trumpism, the rambunctious Tea Party movement, that coalition of deplorables of Sarah Palin, and the Birther movement of activist white nationalist Donald J. Trump, the grandson of a Nazi sympathizer, had menaced the presidency of Barrack Obama, an American of mixed black and white parentage.

In a longitudinal moral critique of America’s evolution, Reverend William J. Barber propounds that the pursuit of national perfection has been continuous to ensure domestic tranquility and general welfare. Affirming the centrality of a moral vision as the foundations of the United States, Reverend Barber adumbrates that the adoption of a shallow moral narrative leads to shallowness of public policy in holding office.  Thus Trump has exhibited “a difficulty in living up to a high blood pressure of creeds but very lean on deeds’. Barber explained that the challenge of Trumpism is accordingly a contemporary moral crisis that inheres in white Christian nationalism. The two reconstructions in American history, William Barber illuminates, were struggles to sustain America in the direction away from the vestiges of the immorality of Chattel slavery. These efforts were vigorously challenged in 1872 by the rise of the Redemption Movement with the task to take back America. The movement’s strategy involved, inter alia, physical attacks on leaders of progressivism. The Redemption Movement presaged the formation of the Ku Klux Klan ((KKK). By 1877, the United States was again in heightened crisis when radical extremist (white) nationalists became ascendant in the South. William Barber chronicles the 1900s as a lull in crisis and a brief rest interval of the progressive era. However, in 1913 the implacable racist President Woodrow Wilson came into the White House. Described as extremely racist even by the standards of his era, Woodrow Wilson’s term saw, in the words of Reverend Barber, the immoral return of white supremacy as public policy. Woodrow Wilson attacked the outcome of the Reconstruction alleging that “the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded by whites”. He is quoted as saying that “it was a menace to society itself the negroes should thus of a sudden be set free without tutelage or restraint.”

Corroborating this view of Woodrow Wilson, Dylan Mathews highlights that easily the worst part of Wilson’s record was the re-segregation of multiple agencies of the United States government, which had been integrated in the Reconstruction decades earlier. President Woodrow Wilson supported segregating of the Railway Mail Service. This implied banning black workers from sharing glasses, towels, and washrooms. Dylan Brown further documents that Woodrow Wilson approved that blacks who by nature of their work could not be segregated, consequently should have cages literally built around them to separate them from white co-workers. Wilson personally fired 15 out 17 black supervisors in the federal service and replaced them with white workers. Under Woodrow Wilson, the Internal Revenue Division in Georgia fired all its black employees saying that “there are no government positions for Negroes…A Negro’s place is in the corn fields.”  Woodrow Wilson is codified in narratives as “allied to… with the forces of reaction and put himself on the side of every torturer, of every oppressor, of every perpetrator of racial injustice…” Brown writes that Wilson’s racism even extended to foreign affairs. At the Versailles Convention in 1919, Wilson helped to kill a proposal from Japan calling for the treaty to recognize the principle of racial equality. With a legacy such as this, President Woodrow Wilson thus truly remains among the leading iconic arch-angels inspiring dark forces of present day far right wing of white nationalism in the young millennium. The ominous implication is that given the interconnectedness of the globe, the linkages of neo-fascist movements burgeoning across the Atlantic poses a threat to the hard won liberties of weak societies in Africa, parts of Latin America and Asia.

Surveying the historicity of generational eruptions of destabilizing forces of social retrogression embedded in the genes of the United States, Revered Barber reveals the existence of a codified White Suprematicist Strategy, also known as “the Southern Strategy”. This is the operational blueprint of hard core conservatives and sympathizers of neo-conservativism. The strategy is premised on the assumption that the “United States is the melting pot that never melted”. The basic operational mantra of the Southern Strategy” is to work out who hates whom and to pit them against each other. The process is dubbed “positive polarization”. Reverend Barber suggests that elements of the strategy featured in the Nixon campaign. Issues of salience to the Southern Strategy include Christian and Religious nationalism, systemic racism, immigrant rejection and new Jim Crow dispensations as well as a war economy. Against the background of this essential iconography of the American experience, Reverend Barbers declares that unfolding social and political confrontations in the Trump era are manoeuvrings between the forces of good and bad, right and wrong and not ideological per se pitting democrats against republicans. E canvasses that the resolution calls for moral articulation and dissent, moral discernment and morally directed activism. In more recent times, the Southern Strategy has been associated with terrorism in the United States. The strategy changed significantly with the increasing consolidation of democracy, social civility even as strides were made to actualize the vision of America as a melting pot culminating in the election of Barrack Obama as President of the United States (POTUS). In this reading, Trumpism is a whitelash of white American Christian nationalism against social progress and emergence of black America as full stake holders even if only through the bloody contortions of historic American national enterprise.

In another critique, the challenge of the United States of America is the institutional incapacitation to resolve the problem of the historic factional assault on Christ and the devaluation of god. American Christian Pentecostalism is thus in crisis. The sectional appropriation of this Christ crucified and mangled on the altar of the search for permanent white preeminence in the totality of the state space and the unending strivings to build a national political economy around this debased partisan messiah is integral to the tragedy of humanity. That tragedy is well beyond today’ s specific troubling instance of the United States. The weaponization of discounted spirituality to serve nebulous human agendas, often material, has always entailed the construction of a hegemonic project. The project is to affirm that the often garbled phantom factional theology of the partisans is the only way to true salvation. In these unfounded certainties, every conceivable emancipation or spirituality outside the warped partisan umbrella is false. Salvation is thus defined in terms of select and arbitrary membership of the hegemonic group. The sharpened fanatical rigor of the debased theology is potent as an instrument for partisan sanction within the narrow faith and against outsiders professing alternative belief systems or in another god. This dynamic is a very familiar narrative of the foundations of sorrow across the globe: in Africa, the Middle East, in India, in the United States of America. Where and where the spiritual and racial hegemonic projects are intertwined, society has been condemned to an often tragic disorderly struggle against pseudo-fascism and bogus spirituaiity inspired social organizational monstrosities. Liberalism dies. Partisan extreme nationalism reigns. Realism, with the use of power in its crudest expressions and validated by a  jaundiced institutionalized theology, is reinstated as the ultima ratio in human affairs.

In recording the violent toll of Hindu Nationalism in India, Eliza Griswold notes that the populist Indian Prime Minister Narenda Mordi has legitimized India’s more militant Hindu groups targeting attacks against religious minorities, including Muslims. Under the tacit protection of the state Hindu youth groups called Bajrang Dal intimidate Muslim traders ostensibly to protect cows. The ascent of Indian Hindu nationalism is not new. Nathram Godse, who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi on January 30 1948, was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, a violent right wing organization that promotes Hindu supremacy. In contemporary India, Griswold affirms that members of Bajrang Da, mainly from impoverished homes, are the foot soldiers of Hindu nationalism who are deployed to instigate mob violence in targeted attacks against Muslim compatriots and other religious minorities. These scenarios play out in various guises in many African polities in the partisan ethno/regional/religious search for the total appropriation of the state nation space. Direct control over political power does not harm the fulfillment of the dangerous partisan game plan of hegemonists. These convergences have proven to be volatile cocktails that have to, first, upend the institutions of justice as a take off point.

The idea and notion of justice is the first to be transmogrified when liberal orders are countermanded officially and or when fascist movements operate merely tangentially outside the formal institutions of state. The conception and the delivery of Justice in the ensued disorder become irremediably capricious. This situation resonates in the words of Amartya Sen: “What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realization that the world falls short of being completely just-which few of us expect- but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us…” In the contrived ruins of the dispensation of justice, Democracy withers. Such scenario is a dangerous terrain because Democracy, with its robust structures and resilient institutions, is the ultimate mechanism for conflict resolution in conflicted society. The affliction of partisan hegemonic appropriation of a raceless, formless, genderless and colorblind universal God is a huge challenge for the smooth organization of society because at heart, it is related to ingrained acquired human sensibilities that are inimical to the very idea of social harmony in complex human interactions. Often, the purveyors of these anomalous corrupted “faiths” are unconscious of, or immunized to, the destructive vectors of evil that they have been indoctrinated to carry through a socialization and process of cultural assimilation. Economic advancement does not insulate society from the consequences of the partisan devaluation of god and the associated project of sectional spiritual hegemony. Technological sophistication may, in fact, advance the diffusion of extreme partisanship. The garbled theologies underpinning racism and hegemonic projects, rooted in the muddled sanctity of the various scriptures have been a historic scourge of mankind. For the stability of societies around the globe, appropriated gods, whether of Islam or of Abraham, and their garbled theologies, have not been in the service of the God of undiminished humanity. That is the evolved challenge of Trumpism in the very heart of and the bastion of the defense western civilization. The concept of “Westlessness” was been loudly heard at the last 2020 Munich Security Conference. Is anyone anticipating  the capitulation of the global post WW II Liberal order?

This must be a familiar narrative in Nigeria and Africa. In Nigeria the riveting contortions of partisan appropriation should sound too close to the times.

• 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