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2019: The Elephant in the room

By Muyiwa Adetiba

I have a friend from way back who will not hear anything negative about Donald Trump. He is still as combative as he was when we were in secondary school together.

These days, his combats centre mainly on Trump, the Church, Right Wing causes and lately Atiku. He lives in the US and thinks anybody from Nigeria who passes disparaging comments on Trump is not on the ground and therefore uninformed.

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Yet he believes he is informed enough to pass disparaging comments on Buhari. That is when we spar. He needs to be constantly told that the claims of Islamisation of the country by opponents of Buhari are widely exaggerated to borrow a cliché; that the belief in the purported death and cloning of Buhari is idiotic. To him, Trump has brought respect back to America. God has also divinely ordained him to bring God and the Church back to America.

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He is evasive and blithe when asked how godly Trump’s lifestyle is and what church he attends or whether he even attends any church. Fortunately, he is in the minority among Nigerians in the diaspora. Most Nigerians I know who reside in the US don’t have many kind words to say about Mr Donald Trump. I know a few who would burst a vein if allowed to talk about the US President. These people had hoped, many were even confident, that the Mid-term elections would bring Americans together again while putting Trump in his place.

Because I watch CNN fairly often and read the liberal press as often as I can, my profile of Trump might have been influenced—like that of many others—by the views of these main stream media. Trump has emerged from media portrayal as a bully, a misogynist, a serial liar, an ignoramus who thinks climate change is a media hoax, an impetuous man who shoots from the hip, a vengeful and petty man who picks up fights that are way below him and a blustering leader who thrives in chaos and confusion. In short, he is a man who is unable or has refused to learn presidential nuances. Recent books on the White House also tend to buttress this profile.

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But if all these were true and not a stretching of truths like Trump himself likes to do, how come the Mid-term election did not fare any worse? How come he was able to swing votes for many of the candidates he campaigned for? I concede the fact that many of the red states would vote for anybody as long as they are Republicans.

Just as many of the blue states would for Democrats. But the swing states did not go as blue as many had hoped. It is probable that Trump’s name is not as toxic as many had painted. His Mid-term approval rating is also not that much lower than that of many presidents at their first term in office. And there are still people out there like my friend, who are willing to swear by him.


Despite the media portrayal, my reading of Trump, because I had been long aware of him since the 70s when he was competing for celebrity space with Adrian Khashoggi—of the same stock with the slain one by the way—on the pages of glossy New York magazines, is slightly different. Yes, he loves hubris. Yes, loves brinksmanship.

Yes, he is self-centred. Yes, he used to love beautiful women and the high, New York life. But I always thought there was a method to his madness. I always thought he was a good communicator—from his books many of which I read then, to his TV presentation—and a good manipulator. I also came away with the impression of an amoral, but intelligent man. Quite different from the image of a bull in a China shop which the media portrays.

What I did not know then but which has since emerged, is that he is also a focused tactician. Nobody important took him serious when he decided to run for the Presidency and how he won his party’s nomination and even the Presidency itself would be a case study for graduate students in the near future. It is obvious that the division in America which many politicians gloss over is real. The fear among some whites that ‘foreigners’are taking over the country financially, numerically and politically is real. The emergence of Obama only served to fuel those fears. So any politician who promises to allay those fears and reverse the trend is likely to get more than a sympathetic ear. That is what Trump’s ‘making America great’ symbolises.

That is why his many foibles and inadequacies don’t matter much to them. That is why Trump himself keeps going back to right wing rhetoric whenever he is in any kind of trouble. Yes, he identified and exposed the divisions many have papered over. But rather than heal them, he has exploited them. The verdict of history might not be very kind because of this.

But most human beings are inherently selfish and the strong economy has allowed him to get away with many things. With a good job and money to pay bills, people can allow the luxury of letting their emotions, however primordial, to rule their heads.

But let the economy turn and their lifestyle threatened, their loyalty will turn as well. His approval rating notched upwards when it looked like he was winning the poker game with North Korea and could avert a war. It notched again when he whipped Canada and Mexico into place with a more favourable trade deal. He will be a hero if he can get China to blink first. But should things go awry and jobs start tumbling as some analysts are fearing, then Trump can kiss his second term election goodbye. The elephant in the room is the economy.

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It is the same thing in our country. As attached as we are to tribal and religious sentiments, the final index is personal well-being. It is the reason we want zonal or even village representation in governance. But it will come to nought if it doesn’t improve our well-being.

Our two major gladiators must therefore tell us in clear terms how they want to overhaul the economy—not just tinker with it—so that some of the over a hundred million Nigerians in abject poverty can be lifted up; how they want to create jobs; how they want to release funds trapped in corruption ridden overhead. Who will have the courage and the discipline to confront the demons plaguing our economy and the ability to reconstruct the economic landscape so that ours become a producing rather than a rent-seeking economy?

That is the elephant in the room.

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