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Why Black Lives Never Matter in Kampala

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There remains in Kampala today that most heinous of colonial pandemics – amnesia. You have to dig very deep to know what colonialism meant here. Otherwise, it emerges as a tea party of going to King’s College Budo, riding in Rolls Royces in ermine and pearls and being called “Sir”.

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Why Black Lives Never Matter in Kampala
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In eight weeks of lockdown, the psychological compression of confinement within a radius of five kilometres had built up to an unbearable pressure.

I had walked and bicycled the Entebbe peninsula almost daily, but how many times can you look over the same lake horizon?

The water was rising, locusts descending from the north, everywhere the virus, while a wizened septuagenarian was taking the country down with him. 2020’s dress rehearsal for the apocalypse, unlike the world’s health, was in fine fettle.

For some obscure, important reason, it seemed that the pressure cooker psyche could only be undone by going to Kampala. But there was a further, albeit light, tantalising draw. You could not drive, but you could ride a bicycle. The idea of cycling to Kampala came as a challenge that would not go away.

Getting out was one motivation. The other was that after half a decade studying Kampala, the chance to see it when emptied of human activity was irresistible. The opportunity rarely comes, in any one lifetime.

The last time the world convulsed this much was 1989-90. Those years marked the end of the period in Kampala’s life that had begun with independence, a period I only came to see in later years as its fourth age. By 1990, the forces of neocolonialism that had financed a civil war had taken control of the city, and used it as a base to set fire to Eastern and Central Africa, taking back control, as they now say, of their former colonies.

From the 1990s, the triumphant new ideology of economic neoliberalism set about preparing the city to serve new global masters. The banks, enterprises and industrial properties of the young Ugandan state were parcelled off to the lowest bidders; its people locked off in warfare, while former economic oppressors returned in the guise of “foreign investors”.

Since 2015, I have been tracing the development and expansion of Kampala’s streets. I have been reassembling the city, starting with the 1870s. Each epoch had left its architectural and planning mark on the city. (Planning’s intention was colonial exploitation.)

Here in 2020 was a historical watershed moment bound to once again change the direction of the city, a moment at par with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the stock market crashes of 1873 and 1929. Those previous events had been precursor calamities for the world wars that happened in 1914 and 1939. Their impact had ricocheted down and significantly changed Kampala, as they did the world.

The excitement I felt for my Kampala project was, admittedly, shameful yet irresistible. The pandemic had handed me a chance to study the city in a lab-controlled experiment.

Understanding coloniality is an enormously difficult task. And not just because it is complexly contoured – no two colonised peoples experienced the same history. To talk of independence in Kampala is to refer to a very different event to what happened in Karatina. To speak of the “black” experience is to draw a very broad brush indeed. You cram Malcom X, Jomo Kenyatta, Apollo Kagwa, Omukama Kabalega and Yoweri Museveni into one basket, yet they had different experiences of colonialism, and their attitudes towards imperialism were so wide-ranging that some in that group do not even consider themselves black at all.

It’s all the more difficult because in countries like Uganda and in cities like Kampala, political independence failed to translate into decolonisation. Hence Ngugi’s anti-colonialism can only make sense in form, and not substance, among the educated, southern elite of Uganda. The reason this elite resisted and continues to resist the formation of an East African Federation is because the Kampala-Mengo colonial elite and their counterparts in western Uganda belonged to the same social and economic class and privilege as Lord Delamere. Delamere was not enthusiastic about decolonisation either; like them, colonialism made him a landlord.

Hence, what happened in Kampala in 1962 was administrative independence. There was to be no spiritual (religious) independence because the experience had not been genocidal in intent for them. The reason the very highly educated southern elite never contributed a single writer of substance to the African Writer Series despite the many Ph.Ds they produced is because Shakespeare was not a problem for them. In other words, there was no cultural independence pursued in Kampala. Economically, independence was a disaster for it.

The reason this elite resisted and continues to resist the formation of an East African Federation is because the Kampala-Mengo colonial elite and their counterparts in western Uganda belonged to the same social and economic class and privilege as Lord Delamere.

There remains in Kampala today, hence, that most heinous of colonial pandemics – amnesia. You have to dig very deep to know what colonialism meant here. Otherwise, as presented, it emerges as a tea party of going to King’s College Budo, riding in Rolls Royces in ermine and pearls and being called “Sir”.

Kampala is hence a very strange city, much like Johannesburg. The arrival of Boer settlers in Southern Africa came long before the imperial stage of colonisation, which is what happened in Kampala. The Bantu of Southern Africa and Kenya did not experience the same colonialism as the Bantu of Central Uganda. In addition, the class of British colonisers who settled in Kenya was not the same as that which came to Kampala. To this extent, a Joseph Muthee in Karatina was bound to fight for a different decolonisation from that which Joseph Kiwanuka fought for in Kampala.

The experience of black people in the USA may be colonial in itself, but it was not imperialism; it was not the imperialism that the Native American Sioux experienced. Settlerism was effectively a genocidal ideology, binding Southern African, Kenyan and American black peoples in a similar experience but not including those in Kampala, while imperialism was an expression of “superior” European culture and “civilisation”. Slavery and genocide are the opposite of imperialism since they seek to eliminate rather than wow the natives. While what happened in Bunyoro in Uganda was genocide, the experience of the Mengo elite can perhaps pass as the best example of imperial colonisation. Because the coloniser that came to Buganda was most representative of the high Victorian Age – a class that bought into the haute bourgeois ethos of its time a belief in science and industrial progress emancipated from “European” nativism, the product of the new form of education of the time – the colonising of Apollo Kagwa and Ham Mukasa produced a very curious sense of history in Buganda high circles.

For the Kampala elite hence, colonisation was one continuous tea party with Alexander Mackay and the governor’s wife. This party was then ruined by the likes of Governor Cohen, Milton Obote and Abu Mayanja Kakyama. Attempts by the independence government of Uganda to liberate the Buganda masses from land alienation has never been seen for what it was. It was seen as an attack on Buganda in general, although the struggle by the peasant, anti-colonial movement of Buganda was more anti-Mengo than even the politics of Obote. In conjunction with a similar aristocratic crust in Ankole and Toro (who signed 1901 Ankole Agreement and the 1900 Toro Agreement with the British), this elite, largely Anglophile/Protestant, and who pushed their their Muslim and Catholic kin to the marginal lands, rewrote independence history and successfully fought off attacks on their colonial-era privileges with the result that the peasants of Buganda are today more landless than they were in 1900. The stigma of signing away their people’s freedom lingered long into history, meaning that independence from British rule automatically led to their own loss of power. The fact that decolonisation also meant independence from powerful, African/black collaborators has not been studied properly. But colonial collaboration also meant they were the best educated under the British system and captured the propaganda war very easily, given their cozy relationship with western media and universities (Oxford and Cambridge chums).

The result is that without knowing history better, the views of these aristocratic collaborators is what you likely hold, after all, the BBC and British universities which are more or less British aristocratic establishment, continue to take their views as given.

Black Delameres (a class belatedled created by the British in post-independence Kenya) can only turn on their own people. This was what the Luwero war was about. Four decades later, the tragic irony is that the peasants of that very Luwero have nearly lost all their land today.

It is only in cities like Kampala, in which black elites betrayed black people, that presenters on a local TV station will wear “All Lives Matter” T-shirts. There is a solid history behind this.

It is a hard history to disentangle. By the time the pandemic broke, I had only reached Kampala’s 1930s. But even the bike journey into Kampala was a ride through history, the 36 kilometers a gauntlet through what the five ages of Kampala have left imprinted on the landscape: 15 kilometers out of Entebbe, in Kisubi, you encounter the first age of Kampala, with earlier structures going back to 1904. Entebbe itself, the first port of entry for the earliest Christian missionaries, has a curious collection of old churches, the first High Court (now a metrological school), and a clutch of early, brick and mortar structures hailing back to Allidina Visram, the Indian mogul who defined early colonial mercantilism.

Over the last three decades of the rampant Museveni-era land thefts, the Kisubi area has so far mostly been spared. The largest landowner there is the Catholic Church (itself a beneficiary of the first massive land grab of the 1900 Buganda-British settlement, so few innocents here). The air has a calm, unhurried placidity to it.

It is only in cities like Kampala, in which black elites betrayed black people, that presenters on a local TV station will wear “All Lives Matter” T-shirts. There is a solid history behind this.

Towards the rising ground to Bwebajja, at 20 kilometers, you run into the latest, fourth age. A space open still to negotiation, these big, saddleback hills watching over moist valleys are neoliberal era developments, with the full complement of commercial bank-funded mortgages and Akright’s promises of bright, suburban futures, loans to be repaid over negotiated periods of time, families raised in garden cities, all as advertised. These dreams, still held onto a decade and more since the credit crunch, are so new that the concrete is still sluicing down muolds and the air is cement-grey and wet with enterprise.

Bwebajja, rather than colonial era religious land grabbing, is neoliberal era bank land grabbing.

Quickly, the air declines to a more pedestrian, urban mess as the road drops, then rises, to Kitende. And it is starting from these densely settled, unplanned, slum areas that the times begin to register.

What, beyond the abstract concept, is a lockdown anyway? Is it this listlessness you meet here, these anxiety-laden forms, the rabbity, scared eyes that search yours out (as you search theirs) asking for comity? As a Ugandan of a certain age, something of this reduction is familiar in the cut-off life, afraid of wandering beyond those hills. It is familiar to us when the dynamic sounds of enterprise suddenly become distant memories.

What we don’t remember is a time when dystopia was so omnipresent. In the darker days of civil wars, the world outside our borders had maintained their dynamism, with Nairobi, Toronto, New York, London, Paris, pulsating beyond our unique hell as steadfast beacons of hope. From there, our kin might send a dollar or two. Now, the world had no bright spots. The kin has come back sick and broke. The world is now one big Uganda circa 1987.

The failures of neoliberal economics – like the failure of the earlier original ideology, liberal economics, which it attempted to resuscitate hence the “neo” – has been spectacular.

Here is Kajjansi, a town packed tight as a tin of sardines, but whose chief feature, a clay factory, is listed on the stock market, as if in mockery of the poverty all around it. For a brief while, motor horns and din make Kajjansi feel lively. But its only a veneer. The people milling about are a combination of curious pandemic tourists like myself or parents escaping hungry families.

At the 28th kilometer mark in the steel rolling mill town of Seguku, you start to smell Kampala proper. There is great tension in the air the closer you get to the centre of power. The military patrols come in at ever closer intervals. There are more police roadblocks. Like the early 1980s, when the third age of Kampala was tottering to its demise, a sitting regime frightened of its hold on power was arming itself.

Now, as then, we are living out the final days of an ideology that has given up the ghost. In the 1980s, it was the remnants of the colonial economy. Forty years later, it is the debris of the neoliberal – but also neocolonial – economy.

I arrived in a ghost city and could not stay more than a handful of hours. Such was its sadness. Is there something we might have done differently back in 1990, when the ever so edgy American delusion of limitlessness started to be sold to us? Might we have questioned the usefulness to a poor country of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Rick Dees Weekly Top 40, tank tops, hamburgers and ESPN? Might all that money have been best spent on agriculture and education?

Hot on the heels of Michael Jackson and Top Gun – but more abstract – had been Friedrich von Hayek. Barely detectable, he had steadily mined the waters of common sense, and implanted in our young people the lie that jeans, T-shirts, sneakers and an attitude would turn them into Steve Jobs (not saying that 400 years of slavery was necessary to build the war chest of capital for that to happen).

The Soviet counterweight was gone, an example was made of Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Which Third World ruler was foolish enough to spend money on health and education instead of on Tom Cruise, Macintosh and the NBA?

Now, as then, we are living out the final days of an ideology that has given up the ghost. In the 1980s, it was the remnants of the colonial economy. Forty years later, it is the debris of the neoliberal – but also neocolonial – economy.

One hundred and twenty years ago, Kampala had been in such tension. It bore the marks of civil war while all around it, people were dying like flies from genocide and disease (sleeping sickness). There are a handful of rammed earth houses from that age surviving in the areas around Mengo.

It may be hard to believe, but colonialism, like the neoliberal gospel of 1990, had in 1900,come to some as the ideological force for good. “Uganda” was praised as much then for embracing colonialism as it was under Mr. Museveni, who was lauded for welcoming neoliberalism.

The age began with the grabbing of African lands, notably in 1902 when the British, under the guise of sending Kagwa to England for the coronation of Edward VII, lied to the Lukiiko that the powerful Katikiro (Prime Minister) had okayed the chasing away of black land owners on Nakasero Hill. Kagwa could not complain much since he and his class got huge cuts of the land theft. (In later years, when the European and Asians depossessed by Idi Amin were compensated, no word was raised by the World Bank on the Africans who had been evicted from their ancestral lands, which is in keeping with the 19th century ethos of compensating slavers but not the slaves, the last compensation of which the Bank of England paid in 2015).

In a decade, rammed earth gave way to raw bricks, then to clay, fired bricks, and at the end of the era, in the 1920s, started to arise some of the earliest, still-in-use buildings in Kampala.

The railway had reached Kisumu. Heavier equipment, higher tonnage, could be transported overland and steamed in over Lake Victoria. In a sense then, the arrival of the railway to Kisumu led to the grabbing of Nakasero Hill, and gave breathing space away from the cramped quarters of Old Kampala.

The current Namirembe Cathedral is the fourth structure of the church, after the raffia and reed thatch earlier versions were struck down by lightning and represents the best of this period. Makerere Art School, the Government Chemist in Wandegeya, the Ministry of Agriculture in Entebbe, these make up specimens at the end of Kampala’s first age, the busy days of governor Sir Coryndon, creator of Makerere College. In 1990, I went to senior one in a building marked 1927.

The years after 1927 I think of as the second age of Kampala, the age of colonial consolidation. The First World War, the sleeping sickness epidemic and the eventual death of Sir Apollo Kagwa, mastermind of collaborationist politics and great enabler of British colonialism, in 1927 (in a Nairobi hospital) brought the uneasy 1930s.

It would await the 1930s for the railway to reach Kampala before the most characteristic feature of Ugandan towns emerged. The colony grew lucrative. Greater tonnage was shipped out. Bigger equipment steamed in.

Experiments with reinforced concrete, and increased earnings from plantation agriculture, the triumph of the poll and hut tax in forcing Africans into unwanted labour, brought in prosperity. By then, a new city plan had been drawn, covering the Nakasero area, long emptied of black people. To a large extent, this period remains the essential character of Nakasero Hill, a 1930s open-air museum. The venerable Old K’la Club, now an Ethiopian restaurant directly below Gaddafi Mosque, moved upmarket to the conjunction of Ternan Avenue and Baker Close, just past the Sheraton Hotel.

This was a busy, building period in the life of the city. (To get an idea of what Kampala was like before the 1950s international style arrived, travel to Jinja, Mbale and Soroti).

The pressure on the Protectorate Zone of Kampala city – which confined the Asian and European sectors to Nakasero Hill, and whose expansion in the early 1900s doubtless cost Kagwa his clout – happened slowly, one scalp at a time. The grabbing of the rest of Makerere Hill was to cost Prime Minister Martin Luther Nsibirwa his life.

The grabbing of Kololo Hill had awaited the passing of Daudi Chwa in 1939.

Prior to that, Kololo had been occupied by Africans with tended farms. The golf course began life as a green zone, for it was believed that the female anopheles mosquito flew 1.3 kilometres in a straight line, and after biting a black person, must not be allowed to land on white skin, hence, this cordon sanitaire was necessary to separate the still African Kololo from the European Nakasero.

By 1951, the combined Asian and European population of the Protectorate Zone (run under a different set of laws while the Africans were governed by “Native Law”) was around 20,000. For this population, the colonial administration allotted half a million pounds sterling (about 17.4 million pounds sterling today) in 1951 for town maintenance. The black area around it, with an estimated 200,000 Africans, was given 16,000 pounds sterling (in 2020, half a million pounds sterlings) for the same year. It is important to note that only the Africans paid poll and hut tax.

The impact of land theft, forced labour, extraction and unequal distribution, even inequality before the law, remains to this day. The line between the Protectorate Zone and the black settlements can be clearly seen once you cross from Katwe/Owino Market, over the Nakivubo Channel, or the Sir Apollo Road separating Makerere West from the university. From a distance, you can tell which bits of Kampala were black and which were white by tracing rust and opulence on a map.

The coming of the third age of Kampala, the 1950s, saw a flurry of international-style Bauhaus architecture. This bulldozed 1930s Kampala Road, and ran down many old structures. Tellingly, it is the age that characterises Kololo Hill, built from the 1940s, where art deco thrives.

This momentum spills over into the early independence years, prime examples being Uganda House and Apollo Hotel. But the telling feature of the fourth age was to be, rather, the desiccation of the past century. The black people coming into power made a beeline for the Protectorate Zone, and ever since, each successive coup saw the officer class grab properties in Nakasero and Kololo. An interesting subtext to this is the “Kololo residence” mentioned in news stories about soldiers, businessmen and hangers-on of the Museveni regime.

To this point, you could say that there is a missing age in the Kampala skyline, as the 1970s and 1980s, even the 1990s, saw nothing of significance built. Where are the Kampala equivalents of Upper Hill, the Hilton Hotel, the Cooperative Bank Tower, or the Lillian Towers of Nairobi?

The coming of the third age of Kampala, the 1950s, saw a flurry of international-style Bauhaus architecture. This bulldozed 1930s Kampala Road, and ran down many old structures. Tellingly, it is the age that characterises Kololo Hill, built from the 1940s, where art deco thrives.

Rather, the legacy of those two decades is the decline of the colonial heritage. How else could a city created via racialist exploitation be maintained once the oppressed race has freed itself? The matter is not a paradox. Next door in Kenya, it was done via deals between the new black elite and the colonial era interests to maintain structural injustices as the lives of the Africans barely changed, or got worse.

This system of the oppressor-liberator cohabitation was the answer that returned progress and development to Uganda. They called it Structural Adjustment Policies, while the return of colonial economic interests was dubbed “foreign investment”. The result has been renewed land grabbing and the second phase of mass African poverty.

This time, the culture that came to characterise the fifth age of Kampala was American, consumerist, rather than British. The renewal of the development of Kampala followed where it had stopped in 1951 – northward and eastward expansion (not westward to avoid conflict with Mengo). The malls, the mortgaged, suburban plots, express motorways, and “Max” cinemas are more in keeping with Pax Americana than Pax Britannica. Interior decor, mansions, even baby names, are taken off American TV shows.

A new age came in which Will Smith, rather than William Shakespeare, is the balladeer, Joan Collins, not Jane Austen, the chief novelist, and rather than high tea, Coca Cola and fries. Washington did not wait to take the place of London, and the royal visit of the Clintons in 1997 came as reward for a kowtowing Kampala – but only after delivering the goods of the Congo Basin into American hands. Where Kagwa had earned his trip to London by decimating Bunyoro, Museveni won the visit from Washington by laying waste to Congo.

Fast-driving highways, factory-sized shopping malls, ad agencies, multi-channel TV packages – these have come to characterise present-day Kampala. And buildings have been erected to reflect these tastes. The Village Mall, on the Spring Road-Luthuli Avenue junction in Bugolobi, which perhaps best represents the turn Kampala took 30 years ago, may look as far as you can come from the cramped quarters of Delhi Gardens, which sits enclosed in a historical bubble just behind the Old Kampala Police Station, but they are ideological cousins.

Now that the neoliberal fifth age of Kampala is gone, we begin a prolonged period of uncertainty. It is likely a precursor moment to a greater global tragedy, and we cannot discount the collapse and descent into catastrophe of the Ugandan state. All signs point to it.

But as I cycled back to Entebbe that afternoon, and looked over the landscape, I wondered to myself what will replace the big shopping malls as the cathedrals of the future? What new bright ideas will the future people bring here and how will they divide the land?

What I was sure of was that when the current masters of Kampala’s fifth age are gone, the city’s sixth age will probably also not belong the common Ugandan man or woman.

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A.K. Kaiza is a Ugandan writer and journalist.

Long Reads

From Red to Blue: The Importance of the Black Vote in the US Presidential Election

Black voters, including recent immigrants from Africa, played a large part in ensuring the Biden-Harris victory. Changing demographics and Trump’s xenophobic attacks against immigrants and Muslims helped to flip key states from Republican to Democrat.

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From Red to Blue: The Importance of the Black Vote in the US Presidential Election
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Much media attention before and after the 2020 presidential election in the United States has been on the racial identity of Vice President-elect Senator Kamala Harris. The media emphasised her several firsts that are the result of where her parents were born.  From Jamaica where her father was born, to India where her mother was born, the narrative of her South Asian/Black identity has been scrutinised, analysed, and evaluated.  In addition, the perceived and real possibility of some dominant Republican states losing power to the Democrats was front and centre in newspaper articles, opinions pieces, blogs, and essays.

Political analysts addressed the international and domestic migration pieces of this puzzle to a certain extent, but the historical and contemporary dynamics of migration to and within the United States needs further analyses if we are to understand the Biden-Harris victory.

William F. Frey, in Diversity Explosion:  How Racial Demographics are Remaking America (2015), uses census and other data to illustrate that both forms of migration are transforming the country in economic and political ways.  Historical migration out of the South, especially for African Americans during the first half of the twentieth century to Northern, Midwestern, and Western states and cities, is too important to downplay.  Furthermore, intra-migration of African Americans has to be unpacked if we are to understand clear Democratic victories in certain states and the shift towards turning some red states into blue states—at least a paler shade of blue for some.  In other words, African Americans are migrating out of Chicago in droves, but not all of them are making a beeline to Atlanta.  Intra-regional migration has seen the numbers of African Americans increase in Milwaukee and other cities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan that were so important to rebuilding the blue wall in the Midwest.  The other excellent example of intra-regional migration is African Americans migrating from California to Nevada and Arizona.

Finally, the manifestation of African American reverse migration out of these same states and regions showed up in voter turnout and voter preferences in particular states in the South and Southwest.  We must also take into consideration that states that experience an influx of African Americans, such as Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida, also experience an influx of Latino populations that come from various regions in Central and South America and the Caribbean.  Moreover, there are Latinos (read Mexican-descended non-immigrants) who have lived in what was northern Mexico and now makes up the Southwest for centuries.  They also participate in intra-regional migration from California to Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado.  In sum, domestic migration, whether it is intra-regional, inter-regional, or reverse, is a factor that is evident in recent presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial races in several states that have turned from red to blue or that could be on the cusp of transferring power from Republicans to Democrats.  When this domestic migration coincides with international migration, which is what brought Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ parents to the United States in the first place, the result is a change in demographics and a more diverse electorate and candidate pool that ushered in different voter preferences and choices.

African American migration out of California to Southern states is important to note.  African Americans are moving from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego to Southern and Mid-Atlantic States such as Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, and the Washington, DC area.

The significance of the African American vote cannot be underestimated in the 2020 presidential election.  Without African Americans participating in large numbers in South Carolina’s democratic primary and then voting for Senator Joseph Biden, current President-elect Biden’s campaign may not have gotten the head winds needed to secure the nomination for president. Moreover, Congressman James E. Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, endorsed Biden.  The endorsement gave African Americans the green light to support Biden in the primary.  Biden garnered 61% of their vote. This is why South and African Americans are very important to the Democratic Party, although Biden did not win South Carolina.

This is where domestic migration needs to be unpacked as it relates to African Americans.  There is some scholarship on African American migration following the Civil War, such as Nell Irvin Painter’s Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction (1976).  Other scholarship examines the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North and Midwest into cities such as New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Saint Louis, and Philadelphia.  Isabelle Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns and Castes:  The Origins of Our Discontent (2010) is one such example, along with William F. Frey’s The New Great Migration:  Black Americans’ Return to the South, 1965-2000 (2004) and Sabrina Pendergrass’ “Routing Black Migration to the Urban US South:  Social Class and Sources of Social Capital in the Destinations Selection Process” (2013).  We know that African Americans transformed these cities culturally, economically, and politically.

From 1910 to 1970, as many as six million African Americans left the cotton fields, sharecropping, domestic work, and terrorism (in the form of lynching of Black people carried out by the Ku Klux Klan and other white groups) for the North, Midwest, Southwest, and West. They did not heed the call of Booker T. Washington to cast down their buckets where they were.  We also know that the first residents of these cities identified and voted for the Republican Party because they viewed it as the party of Abraham Lincoln.  Over time, party identification shifted to the Democratic Party and African Americans were important in the election of Democratic presidents while at the same time gaining political power as mayors in most of these cities beginning in the 1960s and 1970s.

The idea that there would a reverse migration of thousands of African Americans out of these cities to return to the South was not in the calculations of the Southern Strategy that the Republicans so successfully used to turn Democratic strongholds red.  One observation from the election is that the millions of African Americans who participated in reverse migration may have the ability to wrestle political power from the Republicans to the Democrats.

The impact of reverse migration  

Before there is a discussion of African American participation in the 2020 presidential election in the South in particular, the economic and cultural dynamics of their migration need to be addressed in general, and in particular, those states that experienced the influx of new African American arrivals beginning in the late 1990s.

For example, African Americans from New York, Chicago, and other Northeastern and Midwestern cities began moving to Georgian cities that include Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus, Athens, and Macon for several reasons.  Western cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco also experienced an out-migration of African Americans.  One of the factors that makes Atlanta attractive to African Americans and others is its increasingly diverse population and economic opportunities.  The multinational giant, the Coco-Cola Company, along with DHL, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, and reputable colleges and universities that include Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) such as Spelman and Morehouse that attract students, faculty, and staff from across the world, along with Emory University and top notch medical facilities serve as pull factors.  More importantly, Atlanta is a space for those who choose to migrate where African Americans can achieve economic and personal success.  Atlanta serves as a magnate for African Americans working in the entertainment industry such as Tyler Perry who opened Tyler Perry Studios in 2019. This follows the huge success of musicians who set up studios in Atlanta earlier, such as Kenneth Edmonds (Babyface) and Antonio Reid (L.A). Jermain Dupri and even Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis got their start in Atlanta by working with the Atlanta-based SOS band.  Edmonds and Reid used their skills as producers and songwriters to make some of the best-known recordings in the last several decades by Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Usher, Janet Jackson, TLC, Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, and Boys II Men.

The idea that there would a reverse migration of thousands of African Americans out of these cities to return to the South was not in the calculations of the Southern Strategy that the Republicans so successfully used to turn Democratic strongholds red.

Florida is another state that has experienced an influx of African Americans as part of the reverse migration trend.  The mass exodus out of the Rust Belt does not just comprise whites who want to escape the harsh winters of the Midwest and Northeast after retirement nor whites who lost jobs due to loss of manufacturing jobs in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.  African Americans were also tired of the snow and sleet of these regions.  They too had lost jobs in the same states.

Again, what is missing from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt narrative is the participation of African Americans and what this means for presidential races in their new states.  Whites are not the only ones moving to the Sunshine State to soak up the sun year round.  African Americans are moving to Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and smaller towns and cities.Other states include North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina.

For African American retirees, the reasons vary, but they include other factors besides a warmer climate, such as a cheaper cost of living, lower taxes in some states, the desire to return to their ancestral homes to be near family and childhood friends and to enjoy leisure activities.  There are also pull factors for younger African Americans, especially those who are college-educated.  The growing economy in these states (before COVID- 19) provided employment in various sectors, such as banking in Charlotte, the tech industry in Atlanta, and the hotel and hospitality industry in Charleston, Miami, and Virginia Beach.

However, it is important to note that there were push factors that served as a catalyst for migration.  Many African Americans from Chicago to Philadelphia to Bridgeport to the Bronx were frustrated with areas where they lived that were unsafe on many levels.  Parents feared for the safety of their children; they also wanted their children to obtain a high quality education; employment opportunities that led to economic and social mobility dwindled, and finally the economic recession of 2008 laid bare the extent of predatory lending to African American households that often led to foreclosures.  Many lost their jobs, homes, savings, and any hope of rebuilding their lives.  They were more than willing to return to the states that their parents and grandparents had left in search of a better life.

Finally, in some ways life and opportunities in their new homes were better for African Americans.  However, there were instances when it was not.  They still could not fully escape structural and systemic racism, especially by the police when walking, driving, and shopping while Black could result in death.

African American migration out of California to Southern states is important to note.  African Americans are moving from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego to Southern and Mid-Atlantic States such as Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Florida, Maryland, and the Washington, DC area.  The high cost of housing and a dismal reputation for traffic jams, long commutes, and lack of public transport have pushed many residents to smaller cities. The Southwestern states of Texas, Nevada, and Arizona have also experienced an influx of African American migrants in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

Intra-migration, as mentioned above, is important to examine for African Americans in the West and Midwest.  African Americans have migrated from California to Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.  They have also migrated from cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis to other smaller towns and cities.  The protests and demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. illustrate the presence of African Americans in smaller cities throughout the country.  Unfortunately, the world knows that Kenosha, Wisconsin has an African American population.

Changing demographics 

Trump and Republican strategists seemed to be oblivious of inter, intra, and reverse migration for African Americans.  Moreover, the thought – not the fact – that the majority of African Americans are living in suburbs, regardless of the region more so now than ever, was not on their radar.  Trump’s nod to white women in his plea for them to like him and that he saved their neighbourhoods was a clear illustration that demographics had changed and he was unaware.  While he begged them to like him and vote for him, African Americans were getting out the vote in those same neighbourhoods from Atlanta to Miami, Phoenix, Houston and Austin.  The college-educated and retired African Americans who have migrated live in these same suburbs.

Furthermore, this population has the time, resources, and skills to participate in election campaigns, to donate to candidates, and to canvas door to door.  The tech entrepreneurs can use their expertise to work with younger people to use social media to energise African American voters.  Brentin Mock reports in “Black Cities Ain’t Going Nowhere” (2019) that suburban areas outside of Atlanta and Miami are manifestations of Black cities within the cityhood movement.  As indicated by the title of his article, Black cities are not decreasing in number, but rather, they are increasing:  from 460 in 1970 to 1,262 in 2017.

At the same time that inter, intra, and reverse migration has changed demographics in key states that determined the electoral vote count in 2020. International migration played a role too.  This discussion examines people who are citizens through naturalisation.  Therefore, the refugees and legal immigrants in states such as Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Nevada, and Arizona are discussed.  Those states have significant immigrant populations who are eligible to vote and many did.  The largest number of immigrants are from Mexico, the Philippines, India, China, Vietnam, Cuba, South Korea, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and El Salvador.  It is interesting to note that of the 23 million eligible immigrant voters, they live in only five states:  California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and New York.  Trump won Florida and Texas while Biden won the other three Democrat strongholds.

However, Texas and Florida may be moving from blood red to cranberry red and on its way to becoming blue.  In particular, Texas has a large immigrant population from Mexico, Vietnam, and India.  For Florida, the emphasis is on Cuban-Americans and their support for the Republicans due to the narrative that they support presidential candidates who are anti-communist.  What is left out of this narrative within the context of the Latino vote in Florida is that other immigrants who are classified as Latino live there too, including Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Dominicans, El Salvadorans, and others from Central America.  Furthermore, these classifications are nebulous.  Where do African-descended migrants from Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic factor in?  Asian Americans cannot be lumped into one category either because some Chinese and Japanese communities have lived in the United States for longer than the Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indians, and Laotians.

African immigrants and refugees have a shorter history in the United States due to exclusionary immigration laws.  However, laws passed that no longer relied on geographical quotas opened the door for more African and Black immigrants to enter the country.  In addition, the refugee ceiling for Africa slowly began to increase. At this point, Black- and African- descended immigrants played a role in the 2020 presidential election.  There numbers are still not large, but they are active and are certain to become more active.  Congresswoman Ilhan Omar serves as an important example.  The Somali-American community in the district that elected her, along with historic African American community, are too important to ignore.  It is also important to point out that refugees hold permanent resident status following their approval for resettlement to the United States.  Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, refugees must apply to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident after one year of being admitted into the United States. After five years of lawful permanent residence, refugees can apply for citizenship through naturalisation.  Therefore, the thousands of Somalis, Liberians, Ethiopians, Burundians, Sierra Leoneans, Rwandans, and Eritreans are citizens and eligible to vote.

Other first, second, and third generation African and Black immigrants participate in elections as well.  Census data and scholarship illustrate the level of education and their success in various economic sectors.  Many of these migrants who represent several generations at this point live in key states, cities, and suburbs that were important to the Biden-Harris ticket.  There is a confluence of their migration to the same regions and states where reverse migration has occurred.  In other words, the historic African American Diaspora and the contemporary African Diaspora are finding themselves in the same spaces in Georgia, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.  Both groups are represented by a young and college-educated demographic. This demographic lives and works in college towns such as Austin, Atlanta, Raleigh, Athens, Hampton, and Richmond.  At the same time, this demographic joins educated and professional retirees from the military, educational, corporate, health, government, and business sectors who vote.

Turning anger and grief to votes 

The last part of this essay will examine the five states that the Biden-Harris ticket flipped from red to blue and examine the role an influx of domestic and international migrants played.  Georgia serves as a good starting point because its growth in population that is eligible to vote from both domestic and international migration is too important to ignore.  Georgia had 2.4 million African Americans residents who were eligible to vote.  The number represents 32% of this total electorate.  The population growth resides in both urban and suburban areas.  People who voted for the Biden-Harris ticket live in counties such as Cobb, Henry, Douglas, Gwinnet, Clayton, and Fayette that are not predominantly as white as they were during previous elections.  These counties have larger numbers of African Americans now, but Asian Americans and Latinos now live there.  These communities, along with African and African descended immigrants have similar concerns around issues such as healthcare, the effects of COVID- 19 on people of color, police brutality against African Americans and other people of color including undocumented and documented immigrants.

Georgia delivered its electoral votes to the Republican presidential candidate faithfully after the 1992 election, but in 2020, things fell apart. The New York Times reported on November 14th that, “Mr. Biden’s late surge in Georgia, thanks to his dominance in Atlanta, Savannah and the increasingly Democratic-friendly suburbs around both, transformed what had seemed to be a safe Trump state in early tabulations last week into one of the closest contexts in the nation.”  This underscores the importance of the cities pointed out earlier that have African American voters as the result of several factors including reverse migration, retirees, HBCUs, and immigrants from Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean.  The same New York Times article pointed out the importance of Atlanta in that “Mr. Biden was powered by high turnout among Black voters in Atlanta.”

The Biden-Harris ticket probably would not have garnered these much-needed electoral votes without the organisational skills of Stacy Abrams.  Ms. Abrams gained national attention when she ran and later lost the governor’s race in 2018 under the suspicion of voter suppression carried out by her opponent, Brian Kemp, who at the time was Secretary of State.  It is clear to all who were not familiar with presidential elections in the United States that the secretaries of state are responsible for overseeing elections to ensure that voter fraud and suppression do not occur.  Many in Georgia and around the country viewed Ms. Abrams as the rightful winner because they believed the secretary of state’s office participated in voter suppression by purging voters’ names from the voting rolls.  Ms. Abrams turned this loss into a win for Democrats in the presidential election by galvanizing 800,000 new registered voters.  We all know that voting is important, but if one does not register, one cannot vote.  The 14,000 votes that Biden received to beat Trump may have come from this number.

Georgia was the only state in the South that flipped from red to blue where the Midwest had two:  Wisconsin and Michigan. Wisconsin has 0.3 million eligible African American voters or 6% of the state’s electorate.  Wisconsin is among the Midwestern states that has experienced intra-migration as the result of African Americans moving from cities such as Chicago to Milwaukee and other smaller cities.  However, during this presidential election, this is not what put the state in national and international headlines.   The police shooting in August 2020 of 29- year old Jacob Blake Jr., an African American man who did not live in Milwaukee, made the small city of Kenosha infamous. Mr. Blake survived the shooting, but his name is on the long list of African American men who have either been killed or severely injured by the police.

Hundreds of people from the state and Midwest descended on Kenosha after learning that police officers shot Mr. Blake seven times in the back, leaving him paralysed. Trump’s response to this shooting did not motivate African Americans and other people of colour, along with whites in urban and suburban areas, to vote for him.  When people from all backgrounds protested against the shooting, Trump made it clear that he supported whatever aggressive actions were taken by the police.  The last straw may have been the killing of two white men in Kenosha by a white teenager during a Black Lives Matter protest in response to the Blake shooting.  Another person was seriously injured. The image of a seventeen-year old teenager brandishing a semi-automatic rifle, shooting three men, and then running toward the police with the gun slung across his torso was too much.  To add insult to injury, the police assisted the teenager; the police did not apprehend him on the spot; the police did not push him to the ground, put him in a chokehold, put him in handcuffs or use a Taser to attempt to arrest him.  His arrest was the following day from his home in Illinois!  It was apparent to African Americans that Trump’s call for law and order did not apply to everyone equally.  When Congresswoman Gwen Moore, whose district includes Milwaukee, stated, “We have to turn our anger and grief and frustration into our votes,” African Americans listened.

Hundreds of people from the state and Midwest descended on Kenosha after learning that police officers shot Mr. Blake seven times in the back, leaving him paralysed. Trump’s response to this shooting did not motivate African Americans and other people of colour, along with whites in urban and suburban areas, to vote for him.

Wisconsin’s location next door to Minnesota heightened people’s willingness to march and protest following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.  In addition, Wisconsin is part of the intra-migration of African Americans from Chicago and other cities in Illinois and other states in the Midwest.  Some of these migrants live in Milwaukee; however, others have moved to smaller cities such as Madison and Racine.

African Americans, in particular, did not just march and protest; they registered to vote and then voted for Biden. They did not repeat the mistake of 2016 when they stayed home and did not vote for Senator Hillary Clinton who, perhaps mistakenly, did not campaign in the state.  Moreover, Biden and Harris did not make Clinton’s mistake; they both campaigned in Wisconsin and for that thousands of African Americans, particularly younger ones, voted for the ticket. Wisconsin is just one example of an increase in voter registration and voting by young African Americans in the presidential election.  In many ways, it was obvious that Trump was launching a dirty war against them by using the rhetoric of law and order; insisting that federal law enforcement protects cities; and giving a nod to a white supremacist group, Proud Boys, that he was on their side during one of the presidential debates no less.

The second Midwestern state to deliver blue electoral votes to Biden was Michigan, especially among younger voters.  Michigan, like Wisconsin, was able to give Trump a victory in 2016 because many African Americans voters stayed home.  Michigan may not have had its Stacy Adams, but it had African American pastors and others who mobilised people to register to vote.  African Americans constituted 13% of the one million eligible voters in Michigan.  Detroit’s own Stevie Wonder played a part by attending a campaign rally in Detroit that paid off with Biden receiving 94% of votes cast in Detroit while Trump received 5%.  This came as no surprise as Detroit’s population is 79% African American.  However, African Americans in Detroit could not have done it alone.  Other African Americans in Oakland, Genesee, and Wayne County (39% of its population is African American) were also important.  Michigan’s Lt. Governor, Michael Gilchrist understood this and underscores the argument that Trump fundamentally did not understand changing demographics when he attempted to characterise the suburbs as being places for whites only.  He played right into the hands of Trump and the Republicans when he stated, “This year I really kind of made it my mission to make sure that we were engaging communities both in Detroit but also in…Flint, Saginaw, Benton Harbor.  But also, importantly, the fact that Black people don’t just live in cities.”

There is no disputing the importance of the African American vote in Michigan, from Detroit to Flint to Benton Harbor.  However, Michigan has Latino, Asian, and Arab and Muslim populations.  Segments of the Arab and Muslim population have been in the state from the late nineteenth century.  African Americans were not the only group who moved there to work in the automobile plants.  People who identified as Arab migrated to work in the new auto plants.  It is important to point out that this population is not all Arab or Muslim and many do not come from or are descended from the Middle East.

The Black Muslim and Arab American vote 

Finally, there are Black Muslims to consider.  Let us not forget that the members of the historic African Diaspora founded the Nation of Islam in Detroit in 1930.  The Pew Research Center reported in 2017 that Black Muslims represent one-fifth of all Muslims in the United States. Put another way, two percent of African Americans identify as Muslim.  Black Muslims are a part of the historic and contemporary Diaspora in the United States.

The contemporary African Diaspora Black Muslims can be from Senegal, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, or Ethiopia.  Dearborn has the distinct reputation of being the capital of Arab America. These communities have much in common with African Americans in terms of housing, employment, racial justice, police killings, and COVID- 19.  African Americans have shown solidarity with immigrants and refugees.  This was evident in their push for reforms in immigration laws during the 1960s at a time when they had recently gained basic civil and voting rights.

Trump’s (or rather his son-in-law, Jared Kushner’s) handling of issues in the Middle East did not convince some Muslims to vote for him.  Many Americans, and not just this community, did not think Kushner had the political skills or expertise to enable him to formulate any foreign policy, let alone to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestian Authority. What he managed to do was totally unacceptable to the Palestinians as it was clear that Israel was not going to have to give any concessions while the Palestinians were expected to take whatever offer was on the table.  This, along with other issues and concerns, may have been the final nail in the coffin that sealed Trump’s electoral fate in Michigan.

Going back to the above counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland, they not only have sizeable African American populations, but there are also Latinos, Asian, Arab, and Muslim Americans who reside there.  Again, Trump was ignorant concerning the racial and ethnic diversity found in American suburbs.  Wayne County is not only home to Detroit, but Dearborn where a sizeable Arab American population lives.  Trump failed to gain the votes from eligible voters in this county, but Biden did and he won 70% of this voting bloc.

Arab Americans, similar to all groups, do not vote one hundred percent for either party.  Domestic and international issues influence their vote. Their vote is influenced by domestic and international issues. The voting patterns of communities that have resided in the state for decades are different from those of more recent refugees from Syria and Iraq.  One issue that may have unified the various communities is immigration and Trump’s efforts to ban travel to and from Arab and Muslim-majority countries.  Congresswoman Rashida Tlabib, one of four Congresswomen Trump bullied, played a significant role in getting Arab, Muslim, and African American communities to vote.

Winning Pennsylvania 

President-elect Biden won his home state of Pennsylvania.  However, it was a struggle to the end, but his victory allowed him to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to become President-elect and to put the state in the blue column.  Biden needed to win urban and suburban areas and he did this in Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties that are home to the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

African Americans and others in Philadelphia responded to the police killing, again captured on video, of Walter Wallace Jr. in October 2020, with marches, protests, and looting.  Trump’s response was to send in the National Guard.  Again, this was his signal that he was the candidate to enforce law and order.  When he begged white women to like him because he saved their neighbourhoods, his message was that he would deal with these “thugs.”  African Americans interpreted it for what it was.   They were stereotyped as criminals who needed to be rounded up and locked up.  African Americans make up 10% or one million of the state’s eligible voters and enough of them voted for Biden.

As the Lt. Governor of Michigan rightly pointed out for his state, African Americans do not all live in cities.  The same applies to Pennsylvania where African Americans in rural areas voted for the Biden-Harris ticket.  African Americans in suburban areas followed suit.  One county is Chester where the African American population voted overwhelming for Biden.  African American churches, sororities, fraternities, and civil rights groups all joined forces to push Biden into the lead.  Smaller cities such as Harrisburg, the state capital, also voted for Biden.  African Americans voted in other parts of the state such as Wilkes-Barre, Erie, Allentown, Reading, Scranton (Biden’s hometown), and York.  Pennsylvania is a state that witnessed large numbers of African Americans who migrated during the Great Migration.  Their descendants are the ones who canvassed door-to-door, participated in phone banks, organised voter registration, and voted for Biden.

Pennsylvania has the not so flattering reputation of having Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as progressive centres and the rest is Mississippi.  As stated above, African Americans live throughout the state in urban, suburban, and rural areas.  The state also has an increasing number of Latinos and Asian Americans as a result of immigration.  According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Asian eligible voters in the country was 4.6 million in 2000.  This number increased to 11.1 million in 2020.  Again, Asian Americans are very diverse and people from the Pacific Islands are often put into this category.  Nevertheless, the issues that concern them include the economy, education, healthcare, COVID- 19, and immigration.  Pennsylvania has 511,002 people who are classified as Asian American and Pacific Islanders.  Of this number, 251,377 are eligible to vote. The largest numbers are people from Indian (155,887), China (136,206) followed by Vietnam (49,306), South Korea (47,480), and the Philippines (42,544). The same counties that have sizeable African American populations are where Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders reside:  Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Allegheny Counties.

Within this classification, numerous factors produce cleavages such as immigration status, religion, and countries of origin.  Putting all of this aside, Asian American and Pacific Islanders made up 4% of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters and many voted for Biden.  Again, some members of this population were born in Muslim-majority countries or their parents and grandparents migrated from those countries.

Trump, again, put his foot in his mouth by constantly blaming the COVID- 19 pandemic on China, going so far as to call it the “China Virus,” and threatening to engage in a trade war with the country. These actions, accompanied by anti-Asian racism, served to energise members of the community to provide voter education, register eligible voters, and ensure they voted.  Despite Asian Americans being labeled the model minority, they face the same challenges that all minority and marginalized communities face such as poor health care, lack of health insurance, significant rates of poverty, poor housing, unemployment, and overall obstacles to achieve social and economic success.

Latino voters in Pennsylvania also contributed to Biden’s 270 electoral votes.  This segment of the population is diverse within the context of its members having origins in many countries.  In addition, it does not pack a punch, like African Americans, in terms of its numbers in Pennsylvania, but every vote for Biden was important.  It has a larger number than Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in terms of eligible voters with more than 500,000.  Of this number, the majority identify as Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Mexican.  Similar to communities discussed above in all states, Latinos organised grassroots efforts to register voters. The treatment and language used by Trump following Hurricane Maria served to favour Biden over Trump because it was viewed as a gesture of blatant disrespect.  This, coupled with the same issues discussed above for other communities, gave Biden the support of the Latino community.

Voter mobilisation 

The last sections of the essay will examine the Western region by examining the presidential vote in Arizona.  Biden won Arizona that was a deep shade of red (perhaps ruby red).  This is a big shift from the party of ultra-conservative Senator Barry Goldwater to the “maverick” late Senator John McCain.  Trump’s treatment of the late senator, both in life and in death, was mean-spirited and hateful.  Trump took every opportunity to besmirch McCain’s  military career during the Vietnam War and his political record in the Senate.  Senator McCain’s widow did not let Trump’s attacks go unnoticed.  When a long-time Republican such as Ms. Cindy McCain publicly denounced Trump and endorsed Biden, the writing was on the wall that the state had the possibility to flip from red to blue.  People of colour may not have supported or voted for Senator McCain, but many must have believed that Trump’s attacks against him represented an all-time low and he was clearly in the basket of deplorables.  The last Democrat to win the presidential vote in Arizona was President Clinton in 1996.  Trump’s attacks against a late senator, who Republicans and Democrats respected, may have played a role.

There were other factors at play, including the state’s changing demographics due to inter, intra, and international migration.  However, the state’s indigenous population needs to be examined as the media, politicians and other Americans even in states where their numbers are significant often ignore them.  The Navajo in Arizona are one such group.  Its members overwhelmingly voted for Biden under daunting circumstances.  First, COVID- 19 hit their communities in a devastating manner.  The health outcomes for the Navajo were problematic before the pandemic struck.  The pandemic made it difficult to provide voter education and registration information to them.  The cases of COVID- 19 were disproportionate to their numbers in the state and the death toll struck a community already under siege.  Trump’s anti-immigrant position did not appeal to many indigenous communities because of his plan to build a wall to keep out migrants from Mexico.  In order to build the wall, sacred burial grounds of the Hopi, White Mountain Apache, and Pascua were destroyed.  Moreover, indigenous populations throughout the country and in Arizona understand marginalisation, racism, and discrimination.  Similar to African Americans, not all Native Americans in Arizona live in urban areas.  They too joined African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos in Phoenix and the important Maricopa County.

As stated earlier, intra-migration of African Americans and Latinos from California to Arizona has changed the demographics in the state.  These two groups also played a role in delivering Arizona’s eleven electoral votes to Biden, although the African American population is much smaller than the Latino one.  Arizona had 0.2 million eligible African American voters or 5% of the state’s eligible voters.  Again, Maricopa County, where many African Americans reside voted for the Biden-Harris ticket.  Many of these African Americans are college-educated middle and upper middle class professionals.  The percentage of African American eligible voters who have a Bachelor’s degree and higher is 23% while 41% have some college education.

African Americans find retirement attractive in Arizona due to the lower cost of housing from what they left in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Diego.  California declined to serve as a pull for African American migration, but rather, African Americans migrated to Arizona with their college degrees and skills prepared to take advantage of economic and professional opportunities.  African American migration out of California in significant numbers began in the late 1980s long before the economic crisis of 2008.

Latinos also voted for Biden.  This category includes more immigrants from Central America and Mexico and non-immigrant Mexican descended citizens who have lived in California for generations and later moved to Arizona.  In other words, there are people of Mexican descent or non-immigrants whose ancestors lived in what was then Northern Mexico (later became the Southwest) before the Mexican-American War.  Arizona’s Latino population that is eligible to vote is 23% or 1.2 million citizens.

International migration within the context of African and African-descended populations may not have been very significant for the 2020 presidential election, but if the numbers of eligible voters continue to increases from this migration, they could play a bigger role in future elections.  African refugees and immigrants reside in all of the above states.  An estimated 2.4 million Africans migrated to the country during the last two decades.  As stated above, all refugees can apply for citizenship after five years of permanent legal residence.  The U.S. refugee resettlement programme began to accept refugees in the 1980s mainly from Ethiopia and Somalia.  The children and grandchildren of these refugees are first and second generation American citizens.  More recently, refugees have been accepted for resettlement from Liberia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Sierra Leone.  Immigrants from Africa have mainly migrated from Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya.   African descended immigrants have migrated primarily from Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Because African and African-descended people, regardless of their origins and how long they have lived in the country, were classified as Black, the Black eligible voters discussed above include people from refugee and immigrant backgrounds as well as the historical African Diaspora.  This has increased the overall percentage of Black eligible voters.  For the states that flipped from red to blue, Arizona’s was 5%; Pennsylvania 10%; Georgia 32%; Wisconsin 6%; and Michigan 13%.

Florida is worth mentioning although it did not flip but because the percentage is the highest of the top states with Black immigrant populations.  The state has 14% of its eligible voters who are Black immigrants from either Africa or the Caribbean.  The old notion that the Black vote is totally comprised of the historic African Diaspora needs to be deconstructed to take into account African and African descended immigrants who come from diverse and vast backgrounds.  For example, depending on their country of origin, some are Christian while others are Muslims, and others are from South Asian origins whose relatives migrated to the Caribbean and East Africa from India.

Black immigrants from the Caribbean have English or Spanish as their first language whereas immigrants from Africa have many first languages such as Arabic, Yoruba, Ewe, Zulu, and Luo.  In addition, many are fluent in the European language of their former colonisers, such as French, Portuguese, and English.  Furthermore, there is a need to examine the Latino population within the context of nebulous racial categories.  There is the non-white Latino and white Latino classification.  For example, are African-descended immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Cuba, Latino or Black?  Are immigrants from Brazil who are African- descended Black or Latino?  Are they both?  What do these categories mean for understanding the Black vote?  Are North Africans Black immigrants?  To help answer these questions, the census can now capture some of these nuances by simply asking citizens to identify their national origins.

The 2020 presidential election signaled that the African and African-descended population, if not already, will have a role to play in future elections and may serve to swing battleground states such as Florida from red to blue.  We know that in Philadelphia, which has a sizeable African and African-descended immigrant population, there was a concerted effort to engage in grassroots organising and mobilising.  The Coalition of African and Caribbean Communities and the African Cultural Alliance of North America worked hard to make sure citizens originally from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia, and Nigeria registered to vote and then voted.  Social media and good old-fashioned door-to-door canvasing mobilised eligible voters to cast their votes and many did for Biden.  Biden’s win in Pennsylvania is what gave him the 270 electoral votes.  The media, and rightfully so, focused on the Black vote and Philadelphia.  What was missing was the importance of the Black immigrant vote, particularly in Philadelphia.  Black immigrants paid attention to the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr.  Some members of this community may have participated in the protests following the killing.  They too interact with the police and whether they or their parents are from Jamaica, Nigeria, or Ethiopia, they are viewed and treated as Black.  When the Black vote is compressed into a single bloc, these important factors are not explored.

Because African and African-descended people, regardless of their origins and how long they have lived in the country, were classified as Black, the Black eligible voters include people from refugee and immigrant backgrounds as well as the historical African Diaspora.  This has increased the overall percentage of Black eligible voters.

Similar to the historic African Diaspora and other immigrant and minority groups discussed above, these communities share similar issues that motivated them to vote and sometimes against Trump – issues surrounding immigration, employment, education, healthcare and COVID- 19.  At the same time, depending on how long they have lived in the country, their religious beliefs and age, some hold conservative views and supported Trump over Biden.

However, there is one thing that most Black people regardless of citizenship, immigration status, age, gender, and region of residence, rallied around: Trump’s grotesque characterisation of some African countries as “shitholes”. This was an assault against all members of these communities who have roots in Africa regardless of how long they have lived in the country and under what conditions they ended up in the country.

Trump’s anti-Muslim ban, overall anti-immigrant stance, attacks on Congresswomen Tlabib and Omar, and general disinterest in Africa persuaded some of these voters to support Biden.  Finally, Latinos are not the only immigrant group that is concerned about immigration issues.  Although a sizeable percentage of African and African-descended immigrant populations are in the country legally, thousands are undocumented.  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts surveillance on them, rounds them up in sweeps, detains, and then deports them.  There are numbers of Africans seeking asylum who are also stuck at the US-Mexican border.  They too are separated from their families including children from their parents.

Over the next several months and years, scholars and the media will study and analyse the presidential election of 2020.  International and domestic migration is crucial for a thorough understanding of the outcomes for Biden in the swing states that handed him a victory. Arizona was the only state with a large Latino population that flipped from red to blue.  Texas and Florida remained red despite having sizeable eligible voters who are Latino immigrants and non-immigrant Mexican descended—Texans of Mexican descent are not recent immigrants. Latinos’ contribution to the immigrant vote in Texas is 52% while their percentage of eligible voters is 30%.  Both immigrant and non-immigrants make up 40% of the state’s population.  Texas did not turn blue for the 2020 presidential election, but it has a good chance in the next election as its Latino, African American, and Black immigrant populations increase, along with Asian Americans.

The other part of the 2020 presidential election that cannot be ignored is the extent of voter mobilisation within all of the states discussed among all of the communities.  In addition, the gender dynamics of this mobilisation needs to be analyzed.  African American women received media attention, spurred on by the work of Stacy Abrams in Georgia and women in other states.  We have become familiar with their activism.  However, Latina women in Texas, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Arizona need to be visible.  Native American women in Arizona also need to be acknowledge for their work.  African and Caribbean immigrant women in Pennsylvania and Muslim and Arab women in Michigan were very important to voter mobilisation.

What is evident from the election is that all of the people in all of the states have difference histories and experiences in the United States.  No group is monolithic.  There were similar issues in common for all groups during this election period that occurred during a pandemic:  access to healthcare, unemployment, and economic issues.  Despite all the differences and variations among and within all of these groups, there was enough commonality and coalition-building to turn some states from red to blue.

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African Evangelicals and President Trump

African evangelicals align themselves with the American right and there are many parallels between American and African evangelicals that may explain why the latter support Trump.

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African Evangelicals and President Trump
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Shortly after the contested November 3rd 2020 US elections, a video of Paula White, President Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor, making an impassioned prayer summoning African and Latin American angels to intercede for President Trump so that he would win the election caused quite a stir throughout Africa, generating not just hilarious memes but also significant debate on social media and in other forums about African evangelicals’ support for Trump. The video that was widely circulated on social media platforms came on the heels of media reports that a section of African evangelicals and Pentecostals and their leaders support Trump and have been holding prayer vigils for his re-election, ostensibly because Trump is viewed as a defender of their faith against the deep state.

The chairperson of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK), Bishop Mark Kariuki, argued that Trump’s victory would be a victory for “good morals” and that Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Kenya are “thinking about values”. He said that when former President Barrack Obama came to Kenya in 2016, “We told him not to bring his ‘democratic agenda’ in Kenya, an agenda that advocates for abortion and gay relationships. It is against this background that we are praying that the right person wins the USA election.”

It is not just Kenyan evangelicals who support Donald Trump. Similar trends are also evident in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Uganda and many other parts of the African continent where Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have been proliferating since the 1970s. Scholars, social commentators, the media and researchers are baffled by the evangelicals’ support for Trump regardless of his moral and ethical lapses, his divisive, bullish, combative, crude and brash character, his disrespect for women—especially women of colour—his hate for immigrants and Muslims and his inability to condemn white supremacists.

While many people cannot make sense of African Evangelical support for Trump, many scholars and social commentators have tried to rationalise and make sense of this phenomenon. Here I try to make sense of why African and Kenyan evangelicals and Pentecostals in particular, support a man so vile, a man who lacks empathy, compassion, morals, decorum, respect and human decency, values that are at the heart of African Christianity.

But first, let us understand why Trump aligns himself with American evangelicals, particularly white evangelicals. According to a 2019 Pew Research report, 81 per cent of white evangelicals and 62 per cent of white voters without a college degree voted for Trump. While not all American evangelicals support Trump, a significant majority of white evangelicals do.

In her best-selling and influential book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals corrupted Faith and Fractured a Nation, Historian and Gender Professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez argues that President Donald Trump weaponised both Christianity and masculinities to win the support of American evangelicals. Trump projects himself as a strongman, a characteristic that has increasingly defined his presidency since 2016. His machismo, patriarchal ideals and aggressive brand of masculinity are interwoven not just with his politics but also with his relationship with white evangelicals who form a big part of his political base.

Trump—who has cozied up to world dictators, praising authoritarian leaders like Russia’s strongman and dictator Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un—appears to have dictatorial tendencies. According to Professor Du Mez, Christian male evangelicals exude the same machismo and masculine strength that Trump projects. His combative style is also apparently evident in evangelical literature and popular culture, mainly books and films teeming with masculine heroes that shape evangelical beliefs about men and women for millions of evangelicals. This evangelical popular culture and literature is heavily promoted in Africa and elsewhere and also shapes African evangelical conceptualisations of manhood and masculinities.

The values at the heart of American evangelicalism today are authoritarianism, patriarchy, masculinity, aggressive foreign policy, the fear of Islam and immigrants, ambivalence towards the #metoomovemnt, opposition to Black Lives Matter and abortion and LGBTIQ issues. Trump has hijacked these issues and appropriated and weaponised evangelical Christianity and its symbols and language for his own political agenda, aligning himself with social and moral issues that are at the heart of American evangelicalism such as abortion, family values and other conservative agendas.

First, he has surrounded himself with a retinue of spiritual advisors led by Paula White, Jerry Falwell Jr. and others who prop up the legend of a God-fearing man who loves God and has the interest of their faith at heart. In September 2020, Trump tear-gassed his citizens so that he could pose for a photo op outside St John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC in a way that weaponised the Bible in order to get the support of American evangelicals.

Evangelicals also believe Trump has their interests at heart because he has projected himself as the only protector of family and Christian values that are under serious threat from an increasingly liberal left. Similarly, he promised evangelicals protection and power, and brought them and their concerns to the centre of American public life.

African evangelicals align themselves with the American right because of their conservative positions around family issues including divorce, same-sex relationships, abortion and many others. There are many parallels between American evangelicals and African evangelicals and this may explain why African evangelicals support President Trump.

African masculine and patriarchal evangelical Christianity  

First, African big men of the booming evangelical movement promote a masculine, authoritative and patriarchal gospel similar to that of American evangelicalism. Many male African bishops, archbishops, pastors, evangelists and self-styled prophets exhibit machismo and a masculine strength and character that mirror Trump’s. At the same time, they are beholden to power, influence, and money. They see or desire to see themselves in Trump as well as in American evangelical leaders. African evangelicals also admire aggressive leaders and many are friends to African dictators. Kenyan evangelicals cozied up to the late President Daniel Arap Moi, providing his autocratic and corrupt KANU regime with legitimacy and justifying this with the tired argument that leaders are appointed by God.

Another reason why African evangelicals support Trump is a practical one. It is about money, power and religious influence. The American evangelical right supports humanitarian and non-humanitarian causes across the African continent, from healthcare to education, water and solar projects as well as agriculture and food security.

American evangelical televangelists are not only extremely popular in Africa but their literature and popular culture are also heavily consumed by the African evangelical marketplace. Their books, films, videos, church magazines and motivational books line the bookshelves of Africa’s leading Pentecostal and Charismatic clergy’s personal and office libraries, fill the shelves of Africa’s churches and church and secular bookshops, and are to be found displayed on the second-hand bookstands in the streets.

Their televised programmes are also popular in Africa’s television stations. American televangelists such as Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Jack Van Impe, Benny Hinn, John C. Maxwell, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, the late Morris Cerrulo, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and many others are celebrities in Kenyan and African evangelical circles. In fact, Kenyans have their favourite American televangelists and many receive daily inspirational quotes and prayers from these televangelists. Leading African televangelists in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and many other African countries say they have been mentored by American televangelists.

American televangelists are regular guests in Africa, criss-crossing the continent to hold prayer rallies and crusades. African televangelists offer American televangelists platforms to speak in their churches while African evangelicals get invited to travel to North America on preaching holidays to raise funds for church projects. So there is a relationship that has been cultivated between American evangelical televangelists and their African counterparts. African evangelicals’ support for Trump can thus be understood as support for their brethren across the Atlantic, a kind of solidarity between brethren.

Prosperity Gospel and the money trail

But there is also the influence of the American prosperity gospel in Africa where leading African televangelists espouse the theology of wealth and health or the gospel of money. The gospel of prosperity—also variously and derogatorily referred to as the “health and wealth” gospel, “the faith gospel”, “the gospel of riches”, “the gospel of materialism and consumerism”,  the “gospel of selective abundance”, the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, “the gospel of ‘Panda Mbegu’” or gospel of “planting seeds” — is a direct importation from North America that has exploded in both popularity and prominence in the African continent in the last nearly three and a half decades. It has also  stirred up huge debates and created controversies globally. African evangelical televangelists have increasingly been influenced by American proponents of the prosperity gospel, creating bonds with their brethren in the US and mirroring each other.

But there is also the money trail. American evangelicals support a wide range of causes in Africa, including HIV/AIDs prevention strategies in scores of African nations including Kenya and Uganda and promoting the sexual purity and abstinence theology among many others. At the same time, the American evangelical right has poured in money to promote conservative positions with respect to women’s reproductive health rights including abortion and same-sex relationships.

During contestations over the promulgation of the new constitution, Kenyan Christian churches led by a group of powerful evangelical, Pentecostal and Catholic lobbies vehemently opposed the adoption of the 2010 constitution because they opposed clauses that they viewed as too liberal, in particular clauses concerning abortion and same-sex relationships.

During the Population Conference that took place in Nairobi in 2019, Christian churches held big demonstrations to oppose women’s reproductive health rights and during the debates on the reproductive health bill held in May 2020, Christian churches caused a stir when they opposed the passage of the bill, labelling it the “abortion bill”. Christian churches in Kenya were also instrumental in the closing of Marie Stopes clinics across the country because they claimed that they were abortion centres.

Christian churches and the clergy have also mobilised against same-sex relationships across the continent and especially in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Christian opposition to these issues is linked to American dollars that have been poured in to fight liberal causes.

Thus American evangelicals have strongly influenced the rise of Africa’s evangelicals, not just in the public sphere but also in their quest to influence public policy with respect to hot-button issues like abortion, gay rights, gender rights and a wide array of liberties and rights. The sexual purity culture is also directly borrowed from the script of the American right and is often preached in evangelical churches.

The fear of liberalism and democratic ideals which are considered anti-family by religious conservatives is one of the other reasons African evangelicals support Trump. He is seen as a protector of family morality through not just his alignment with American evangelicals but also through his recent and contested appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court, especially that of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

 Christian Zionism and eschatological concerns

Among the many other reasons why American and African evangelicals support President  Trump is because of his policies and support for Israel. When Trump moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem there were jubilant celebrations not just in the US but also across scores of African countries that have large evangelical Christian majorities. In announcing the move, Trump said he did it for evangelicals. In many parts of the world but especially in the USA and Africa, evangelicals have a special affinity to Israel.

Many Christians also view the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 as the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. The promise of the Holy Land is therefore intricately tied to evangelical beliefs. This sort of Christian Zionism has been emerging for a long time and is tied to the Christian belief that God’s promise of the land to the Jews is eternal.

American and African evangelical support for Israel can be seen in light of an emerging Christian Zionism inspired by theological concerns and is connected to Christian eschatological concerns rather than to the larger politics including the Palestinian question. Interestingly, African Christians who support Israel couldn’t care less about Palestinian struggles.

As one pastor said to me in an interview that, “I align myself with God’s special people and Nation. When I need my prayers answered, I pray for Israel. I tell my flock that when they pray for Israel, God answers their prayers.” The emergence of Christian Zionism can thus be understood through eschatological beliefs.

For many evangelical Christians, Jerusalem is the linchpin of their eschatological beliefs. Evangelical Christians, a majority of whom make a literal reading of the bible, believe that Jesus Christ will return to Jerusalem, specifically a Jerusalem controlled by the Jewish people. Israel is therefore intricately tied to evangelical Christians who see it as an important nation in Gods’ larger plan for Christians, especially born-again Christians. Beyond eschatological beliefs, evangelicals also believe that Jerusalem will be the scene of the final battle between good and evil. It is the place where God will finally obliterate his enemies and usher in the millennial reign of Christ.

Such Christian eschatological beliefs are tied to what is generally referred to as pre-millennial dispensationalist theology or end-time eschatological beliefs. The millennial in pre-millennialism, theologians argue, refers to Jesus Christ’s prophesied 1000-year reign of peace on earth. Christians believe that those who are born-again will be raptured to heaven at the end of time.

A majority of African Pentecostal and evangelical clergy are proponents of this pre-millennialism or end-time eschatological beliefs. Consequently, many align with Trump who is seen as a friend of Israel, Gods own “special people and nation”.

When Trump named Jerusalem the capital of Israel, he said that there was more enthusiasm and excitement amongst American evangelicals than there was in Israel itself. This is also true of Africa where there were significant celebrations in scores of African countries that view Israel as a nation with a special place in God’s end-time plans.

Besides, Israel is believed by many Christians to be home to many sacred sites including the Ark of the Covenant and many other sacred objects and artefacts. There is also the prevailing belief that God’s presence resided inside the temple built by King Solomon and later destroyed by the Babylonians. Evangelicals believe that God’s presence still resides in Israel which will play a critical role in Christian end-time beliefs.

Similarly, Christians believe that Jesus Christ was born, lived, walked, died and rose again in Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem therefore conjures up memories of the history of Jesus Christ, a central figure in their personal lives and faith. Thus, for many evangelicals, Jerusalem is a special place and Israel is a holy land which is important in God’s larger eschatological plan.

The importance of Israel for many evangelical Christians as well as for other denominations has spawned a thriving religion-inspired tourism and pilgrimage to the Holy land. Every year, thousands of African Christian pilgrims travel to the Holy Land to renew their faith and walk where Jesus walked.

Patriarchy, misogyny and the weaponisation of masculinities

While Trump is viewed as an increasingly divisive and polarising figure the world over, he remains popular among evangelicals in Africa, especially in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Trump’s support is evident in countries with a significant evangelical and Pentecostal majority, which is pretty much most of sub-Saharan Africa where Pentecostal and evangelical Christianity has exploded since at least the 1970s, or earlier in some countries. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches dot much of the African landscape. According to a 2019 Pew Research poll, Trump has more support in Kenya and Nigeria where supporters appear unbothered that he referred to African countries as shithole countries in 2018.

Both Nigeria and Kenya are highly religious countries with large numbers of evangelicals. Pastor Chris, a prominent Nigerian televangelist, has argued that people are angry at Trump for supporting Christians. He argues that people who hate Trump hate Christians. Bishop Mark Kariuki in Kenya said that Kenyan evangelicals are praying for President Trump’s re-election because Kenyan evangelicals are thinking about values. A majority of Christian groups in Africa hold conservative views about marriage, abortion, gay rights and scores of other issues.

Trump is seen by African evangelicals as a promoter of family values unlike President Obama who has been pushing a liberal agenda in Africa, a move that drew significant anger and concern from evangelicals in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda in particular. When President Obama came to Kenya in 2016, he publicly but civilly clashed with President Uhuru Kenyatta over the issue of gay rights. Evangelicals had held demonstrations before Obama’s arrival telling him to keep off gay issues.

African and American evangelical support for Trump is not only baffling but it is also very paradoxical given that he is hardly a paragon of morality. Nigerian Pentecostal philosopher and theologian, Professor Nimi Wariboko of Boston University, argues that Pentecostals and evangelicals support Trump because they are doing God’s will and because of the prevailing theology amongst evangelicals that God uses sinners to accomplish his divine purpose. According to Wariboko, for many of these groups Trump is not just their hero but he is also a sort of a messianic figure who will not only lead his followers to Godly redemption, but is also uniquely placed to do this for them and for the whole of America.

Scholars like Wariboko have tried to make sense of this both philosophically and theologically, especially given that Trump does not by any means conjure up any messianic ideals yet he is largely viewed by his evangelical supporters as a sort of a messiah, one who will protect America from liberalism and socialism.

Evangelicals and suspicions about science

Trump denies science, climate change and a wide array of environmental issues. While many evangelicals are not necessarily averse to science, they are also not very enthusiastic about it. Many evangelicals are beholden to the miraculous, spawning an entire faith healing and miracle industry that is at odds with science. For many evangelical clergy, science, climate change and environmental issues are not top of their agenda. They would rather pray for healing for ailments such as cancer, COVID-19, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, asthma and many others. Belief in science and medicine could seriously threaten their booming faith healing miracle industry, rendering many jobless.

With the collapse of healthcare in Africa following the structural adjustment programmes of the 1970s and 80s, the religious industry boomed while faith healers moved into the public sphere, spawning a thriving faith healing ministry that has captured the imaginations of many African Christians leading to the emergence of thousands of faith healing charlatans that have led many people astray. Prophet David Owuor, a scientist-cum-faith healer, has claimed to heal cancers, hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDs and various other disabilities. Trump is admired by these types of clergy because he legitimises their trade and gives them the language to oppose science.

Support for dictators: Leaders are appointed by God

Another reason why African evangelicals support Trump is that he appears to admire dictators and has dictatorial tendencies. African evangelicals have a long tradition of not just supporting populist politicians but also providing tacit approval to Africa’s dictators. Kenyan evangelicals supported and provided legitimacy to the late President Daniel Arap Moi. In Nigeria, evangelicals aligned themselves with corrupt leaders who looted the country. Pentecostal clergy have also provided legitimacy to leaders in Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania.

There are also many similarities between Trump and African evangelical leaders many of whom are authoritarian and entertain no criticism from their members or from members of the public. While Trump fires his critics, some evangelical leaders threaten their critics with the famous dictum, “touch not my anointed”, a biblical verse that is often used to silence critics. Others threaten their critics with death and curses. Prophet Owuor has maintained a grip on his thousands of followers using the threat of curses and deaths from cancers and road accidents against anyone who speaks ill about him. This has led to vicious infighting within a ministry that is run by fear to stifle criticism.

At the same time, many African evangelical leaders lack both the theological and philosophical tools of analysis with which to engage the state unlike their Catholic and other mainstream church clergy who have theologically-grounded and philosophical tools of analysis to engage on social and political issues. Many African evangelical clergy frown upon theological education and go into ministry by simply calling themselves to the ministry and relying on the Holy Spirit to interpret the bible.

Islam and evangelicals

There is also the Muslim factor in the evangelicals’ support for Trump. There is enough evidence in his rhetoric against Muslims—many of whom he has banned from entering the US—that Trump hates Muslims and regards them as terrorists who hate America. Evangelicals are suspicious of Muslims and the increase in Islamophobia in Africa, America and elsewhere is directly related to the emergence of Christian nationalism.

In Africa, especially in countries with significant numbers of Muslims, increased islamophobia and emerging and simmering tensions between Christians and Muslim is blamed on the emergence of evangelicals and Pentecostals in public life. We saw this in Kenya during contestations over the Kadhi Courts during the constitution review process. This has also been documented in Nigeria and other countries. Evangelicals feel threatened by increasing numbers of Muslims and Trump’s rhetoric about Islam has emboldened African evangelicals who are suspicious of Islam. Terrorism has also complicated this relationship.

Trump is a tragic hero in African evangelicalism, where many still believe that even though polls show that he lost to Joe Biden, many are still praying for a miracle while evangelical prophets and prophetesses have cast this election between the forces of evil (democrats) and good (Trump and the evangelicals). African evangelicals have cast Trump as a less than perfect person who is being used by God to fulfil his will. In their way of understanding, God uses the weak to accomplish his purpose. Evangelicals have appropriated biblical characters such as Cyrus to save God’s people from their enemies. Trump is therefore seen as a modern day Cyrus who will lead God’s people to peace and prosperity.

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Trump Fired, Biden Hired: America’s Democratic Reawakening

The American nightmare of an unhinged, chaotic, incompetent, cruel, crude, corrupt, authoritarian, and exhausting Trump presidency is over. The United States can now exhale and begin to dig itself out of the abyss of national and global ignominy. But will the euphoria last?

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Trump Fired, Biden Hired: America’s Democratic Reawakening
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Donald Trump will be remembered as one of the worst presidents in American history, a man who brutally and blithely exposed the failings and fragilities of American democracy, the enduring polarisations of its body politic, and the deformities of its institutions. Many commentators have bemoaned how the Trump presidency severely damaged American society and the United States’ global standing.

Trump’s transgressions are aptly captured by leading columnists in the New York Times in the series, “What Have We Lost”. They variously claim that Trump’s shocking election led to the loss of naivety as the country was dragged to the brink of ruin; America was robbed of its innocence and optimism as he extravagantly exposed some of its hideous history and attributes. The perpetual state of emergency impoverished the national imagination, culture, creativity, and thinking; his boorish behaviour smashed the decency floor of society; he emboldened moral cynicism that eroded the spirit of generosity as selfishness was normalised and turned into a national credo; his incendiary populist partisanship systematically undermined the social capital of trust, connectivity and community; his perpetual and pervasive outrage, lies, scandals, and incivility sapped national pride and discourse; his corrosive nationalism and belligerence dimmed America’s aura and standing in the world and accelerated the demise of Pax-Americana, he tarnished democracy,  emboldened autocracies and facilitated China’s great leap past America.

The roots of Trump’s loss lie in the incompatibility of his 2016 electoral promises of authoritarian nationalism and economic populism, and in the Republican Party’s fiercely anti-populist economic agenda by which he actually governed. So instead of enacting a popular infrastructure bill, he supported a massive tax cut that benefitted the rich. His trade war with China did not revive domestic manufacturing; instead it ravaged farmers, and did little to cut the trade deficit.

Trump inherited a growing economy from the Obama administration, which improved little under his tenure. The United States grew at an average annual rate of 2.5 per cent during Trump’s first three years, which is almost identical to the 2.4 per cent rate during President Barack Obama’s final 36 months. This made it difficult to distinguish the Trump economy from the Obama economy, notwithstanding Trump’s promises and boasts of his business prowess, which was fake, given his history of serial bankruptcies, staggering business incompetence, and tax avoidance, as revealed in a sensational expose by the New York Times in late September and early October. Not surprisingly, voters showed increasing faith in Joe Biden’s ability to rebuild a pandemic-ravaged economy.

Photo. Flickr/ jlhervàs

Joe Biden. Photo. Flickr/ jlhervàs

As the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic surged across the country, the Republican Senate balked at passing a new stimulus bill that would have helped millions of people and bolstered Trump’s populist economic agenda. To the delight of Republicans, the Trump administration ended up redistributing “wealth upward even more aggressively than Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush did. But for Trump, the political consequences have been dire”

All too often, condemnation of the Trump presidency becomes a deflection when he is depicted as an aberration rather than an embodiment of the profound and long-standing disabilities and deficits of American society and democracy. The fact that about 40 per cent of the population consistently supported him throughout his presidency, and that he won 70 million votes in the 2020 presidential election, shows he represented a large swathe of American society and embraced their values of intolerance, bigotry, and racism.  But he also made more inroads than any Republican president among non-white voters, especially Hispanics and Black men gesturing to the appeal of his strutting conservative machismo.

In the New York Times series noted above, some acknowledge the ugly truths of the Trump phenomenon. Jamelle Bouie puts it well:

For many millions of Americans, the presidency of Donald Trump has been a kind of transgression, an endless assault on dignity, decency and decorum…But his transgressions are less a novel assault on American institutions than they are a stark recapitulation of past failure and catastrophe…What is terrible about Trump is also terrible about the United States. Everything we’ve seen in the last four years – the nativism, the racism, the corruption, the wanton exploitation of the weak and unconcealed contempt for the vulnerable – is as much a part of the American story as our highest ideals and aspirations. The line to Trump runs through the whole of American history…

But instead of generating a serious reckoning with the uncomfortable realities laid bare by the Trump presidency, another commentator laments that there “has been widespread retreat from revelation, let alone from any subsequent conversion, and a rush back to the comforts of one’s preconceptions and one’s tribe”. The right, the left, and centreof American politics responded to these revelations “sometimes with recognition and adaptation, but more often with denial”.

The backlash and the rise of the Democratic Party 

However, it is also true that the breadth and depth of Trump’s perverse omnipresence and invasion of the fractious nation’s political space and discourse shook Americans out of their complacency; it provoked a massive backlash among women, minorities, aggrieved independents and livid liberals who promised to revitalise American democracy.

In the vanguard of the democratic resistance were Black women, the unshakeable bedrock of the Democratic Party, and the conscience of the beleaguered nation. They marched and mobilised, volunteered and voted overwhelmingly for the Biden-Harris ticket to rescue the country that had oppressed, exploited and marginalised them for centuries.

The fact that about 40 per cent of the population consistently supported him throughout his presidency, and that he won 70 million votes in the 2020 presidential election, shows he represented a large swathe of American society and embraced their values of intolerance, bigotry, and racism.

Trump’s train wreck was brought to a halt by facts he failed to bend to his will, to banish to the fantasies of fake news, to denigrate and deny. He was mauled by the deadly facts of the coronavirus pandemic, the undeniable facts of economic collapse, the haunting facts of tens of millions of lives and livelihoods destroyed, the hideous facts of a country coming apart at the seams, and the humbling fact of a superpower surging towards decline in compressed time before the gaze of an incredulous world.

The election represented the repudiation of Trump by a majority of Americans who had never voted for him in the first place. He has lost to Biden by more than 4 million votes. However, the election of Trump in 2016 and the nail-biting finish in 2020 showed the inherent flaws of American democracy. The election also represented a resounding affirmation of the Biden-Harris ticket.

Six dynamics propelled Biden to victory. First, he captured the mood of the country by campaigning for the “soul of America”. He sold himself as the sober and decent pragmatist who would bring back civility and compromise, pursue national unity and public service, and rescue the country from the abyss of political partisanship, greed, corruption, and moral nihilism. He successfully made the election a referendum against Trump.

Second, like Obama before him, Biden’s was a crisis candidacy, forged in the burning inferno of the worst health and economic crisis in a century that the Trump presidency squandered through staggering ineptitude. Biden seized the moment as he exuded empathy and competence steeled by personal tragedy and a long political career. He said he believed in science, facts, collective action, and government capability and intervention as part of the solution to resolving crises and promoting national well-being. Unlike Hillary Clinton after her bruising 2016 campaign, he managed to unite the party behind him, including the restive left. He also revived the Obama coalition.

Third, he chose an inspiring running mate – Senator Kamala Harris. As a Black and Asian woman, Harris carried the historical weight of struggles against racism and white supremacy and women’s marginalisation in a charged moment of unprecedented national and global protests under the banner of the Black Lives Matter Movement following the murder of George Floyd. Trump’s misogyny had also revitalised the American women’s movement. As a daughter of immigrant parents from India and Jamaica, Harris recreated Obama’s multiracial and migrant appeal and attracted the new African and Asian diasporas at a time of draconian anti-immigration rhetoric and policies.

Photo. Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Kamala Harris. Photo. Flickr/Gage Skidmore

As a graduate of Howard University, she affirmed the intellectual prowess and transformative power of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and mobilised the Black middle class produced by HBCUs. The stature of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, soared “and people began to understand precisely what a Black sisterhood is – the strength and support of those bonds. These women, 300,000 strong, organised for the Biden-Harris ticket. And their wondrous blend of accomplishment and poise was writ large”.

Harris has become the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first woman of colour to ascend to the second highest political office in the United States – a monumental achievement that has electrified women across the country and around the world.

Fourth, Biden’s campaign skillfully reinstated the blue wall around the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and looked poised to flip the red and rapidly diversifying states of Arizona and Georgia. He was saved by the cities without alienating the suburbs by his reassuring balancing appeals to the anxieties and aspirations of African Americans and other minorities, as well as white workers and white women, who gravitated towards him in larger numbers than they did towards Hillary Clinton. Particularly challenging was how to address issues of police brutality, law and order, and racial equality and justice.

Fifth, Democrats have progressively won the battle of ideas, so that ideas espoused by the Democratic Party platform in 2020, which would have seemed radical when Barack Obama ran for office, suddenly appeared moderate. Over the last century, four major ideological battles have been fought in American politics and society: on the role of the state and the market; social mores and policy; racial equality and justice; and America’s international relations with its allies, rivals and developing countries.

Following the demise of Keynesian economics and the rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s, Republicans unapologetically favoured small government and free markets, while Democrats stuck to their preference for larger government and regulated markets. To quote David Brooks, “That debate ebbed and flowed over the years, but 2020 has turned out to be a pivotal year in the struggle, and it looks now as if we can declare a winner. The Democrats won the big argument of the 20th century. It’s not that everybody has become a Democrat, but even many Republicans are now embracing basic Democratic assumptions. Americans across the board fear economic and physical insecurity more than an overweening state. The era of big government is here.”

Harris has become the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first woman of colour to ascend to the second highest political office in the United States – a monumental achievement that has electrified women across the country and around the world.

If the Great Recession dented the neoliberal hegemony of limited government and unfettered markets, COVID-19 has buried it. To quote Brooks again, “Covid-19 has pushed voters to the left. It’s made Americans feel vulnerable and more likely to support government efforts to reduce that vulnerability…This greater support for social safety net programs transcends political ideology.”

About 60 per cent of Americans now believe that the government should do more to solve national problems, and two-thirds believe that it should fight the effects of climate change.

American society has also been moving to the left on contentious social policies, such as gender equality, abortion, and sexuality. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020, 57 per cent of adult Americans say that the US hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving women equal rights with men; the figure is 64 per cent among women and 49 per cent among men, and 76 per cent among Democrats compared to 33 per cent among Republicans. Seventy-seven per cent say that sexual harassment is a major obstacle to gender equality. 

On abortion, the majority of Americans (61 per cent) continue to support legal abortion and 70 per cent oppose overturning Roe vs. Wade. Sixty-one per cent support same sex marriage while 31 per cent oppose it – the reverse of attitudes in 2004 when 60 per cent were opposed and 31 per cent were in favour. There are, of course, variations by political party, religious affiliation, and demographic group.

As for foreign policy, 73 per cent say that good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace, while 26 per cent say that military strength is the best way to do this. By a similar margin, more Americans say the US should take the interests of its allies into account, even if it means making compromises, than those who think the US should follow its own national interests when allies disagree (68 per cent vs. 31 per cent). Democrats and Independents score highest, at 90 per cent and 83 per cent, respectively, on the two questions, while Republicans are more evenly split, with 53 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively. Those under the age of 50 are more likely to favour diplomacy and compromise with allies.

On the US’s involvement in the global economy, 73 per cent say it is a good thing, an opinion that is highest among those with a college education (86 per cent) and lowest (64 per cent) among those with a high school education or less.

Clearly, notwithstanding the loud fulminations of America’s right wing that was inflated by the Trump presidency, the United States of 2020 is more liberal than the United States of 2016, or 2000, let alone the United States of 1950 when conservatives sought to restore in their plaintive cry, “Make America Great Again”.

Progressives need to deconstruct the narrative that sees the United States as a naturally conservative country whose authentic overlords are Republicans and in which Democrats come to power only as periodic interlopers. This often leads Republicans playing hardball and Democrats playing softball; the former are always ready for combat and the latter for compromise.

Sixth, America is becoming more diverse and is destined to become a majority-minority nation in the mid-2040s. The demographic shifts are evident even in the electorate in 2016 and 2020. Demography is of course not destiny. The country changes, and so do political parties. At one time African Americans largely voted Republican, the party of Lincoln, then drifted to the Democrats, the party of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that propelled the Republicans to adopt their Southern Strategy of racist appeals to white voters.

However, trends point to what Fessenden and Gamio call “the relentless shrinking of Trump’s base”.  From 1976 to 2018, white voters without college degrees declined from 71 per cent to 39 per cent, while white voters with college degrees doubled from 17 per cent to 34 per cent, and minority voters more than doubled from 11 per cent to 27 per cent. The shifts in age are no less telling. Between 2016 and 2020, voters among the silent and older generations fell from 30 per cent to 9 per cent, baby boomers from 38 per cent to 29 per cent, Gen X from 26 per cent to 23 per cent, while millennials increased from 6 per cent to 25 per cent, and Gen Z from 0 per cent to 13 per cent.

Photo. Flickr/ Geoff Livingston

Young people campaigning for the Biden-Harris ticket. Photo. Flickr/ Geoff Livingston

Notwithstanding the cultural and demographic advantages enjoyed by the Democrats, predictions of a blue wave failed to materialise. In the immediate aftermath of the elections, panic and cheeriness gripped both the Democrats and the Republicans as Trump bagged Florida and Texas, took an early lead in the polls in the battleground states, and Republicans held on to Senate races that had been expected to flip and won House seats from Democrats. Some feared or hoped for a repeat of 2016, and questioned the accuracy of the polls that had shown Biden and Democrats in a commanding lead. But as an editorial in the Washington Post reminded its readers, “Surprise! The election is unfolding as predicted.” As the vote counting continued from hours to days, and Biden’s prospects brightened, the narrative and expectations shifted.

The dysfunctions of American democracy  

Americans are used to getting their projected election results instantly on election night. I teased my African American wife to exercise patience as is common in African and many other countries where election results are often announced several days, even weeks, after the elections. The apparent slowness in declaring the winner of the US presidential election revealed a lot more than American impatience; it reflected the enduring dysfunctions of American democracy. As a member of the new African diaspora in the United States, and a student of international political economy and comparative politics, I have always been struck by the following four structural deficits of the American democratic system.

First, the electoral college is an instrument of minority rule that has primarily benefitted Republicans over the last twenty years, first, George W. Bush in 2000 in which Al Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 while losing Florida’s electoral college by 537 votes, and second, Donald Trump in 2016 who lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes but clinched the electoral college by a whisker in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Altogether, in American history, five presidents – three in the 19th century (John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888) – won the presidency while losing the popular vote.

Over the past 30 years, only once, in 2004, did a Republican president win the popular vote, but they have been elected three times. Republican minority rule by the presidency and Senate are baked into the system. The US Senate “gives disproportionate power to older, whiter, more rural and more conservative interests”. Right now, states representing just 17 per cent of the nation’s population could elect a majority of senators. By 2040, the 15 most populous states will be home to 67 per cent of Americans yet will be represented by just 30 per centof the Senate. Add up the actual votes received in the winning election of every sitting US senator, and you will see that Republicans haven’t won a senate majority since the mid-1990s. Yet they’ve controlled the Senate for 10 of the last 20 years, and used that advantage to shape the ideological balance on the federal courts.

The electoral college system, writes Bob Carr in the Guardian, represents an unenviable form of American exceptionalism. “It confirms the proposition that the US is simply not a democracy, not in the sense Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are democracies.” If America’s systematic voter suppression and rigged elections “were practised against, say, Caribbean or Asian communities in the UK or Sicilians in Italy or Māori in New Zealand, its peculiarity would be a subject of domestic scandal and international embarrassment. The American electoral system is a shambles defying democratic norms.”

Second, American democracy is haunted by the spectre of voter suppression, which goes back to the nation’s founding. In the US constitution, enslaved Africans were not only deemed three-fifths of a human being, they could not vote, nor could women of any race. After the right to vote was extended in the Fifteenth Amendment that enfranchised all men (but not women), culminating in the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, new voter suppression strategies were devised, which were especially targeted at African Americans.

During Jim Crow, poll taxes and literacy tests were used to disenfranchise African Americans in the South. In the post-Civil Rights era, voter suppression encompassed the disenfranchisement of ex-felons in some states, the purging of voter rolls, the placing of limitations on early and absentee voting, disinformation, and the imposition of discriminatory voting identification requirements. Trump’s angry denunciations against absentee voting is rooted in the tattered undemocratic playbook of voter suppression.

Voter suppression makes a mockery of America’s self-image as the world’s leading democracy. Sam Levin laments:

To understand how voter suppression is shaping the 2020 election, just look at Texas. While many states do not require voters to have a reason to vote by mail, Texas only allows voters to do so if they are 65 or older or meet other conditions. The state does not allow people to register to vote online. Even with a flood of Covid cases, Texas has successfully fought tooth and nail in federal and state courts to uphold those restrictions. Last month, Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican, abruptly issued an order that limited each county in the state to offer one ballot drop box. The move meant that Democratic-friendly Harris county, which covers more than 1,700 square miles and is home to 2.4 million registered voters, could only offer one place for voters to return their ballots. The state of Rhode Island, which is smaller than Harris county, will have more drop-off locations this year…The battle playing across America is in some ways a continuation of a centuries-long fight over access to the franchise.

Third, the establishment of electoral boundaries and constituencies through gerrymandering is deployed as a powerful weapon to dilute the voting power of an opposition party and concentrate that of the ruling party in a district. In America’s first-past-the-post electoral system, gerrymandering has been used by the two main political parties to reduce competition by maximising the voting power of supporters and minimising that of opponents often segmented on the basis of race, class, religion, or ideology.

In effect, in the absence of a neutral or cross-party agency, the party in power draws the electoral boundaries and chooses its voters. It does so by spreading groups of known or likely opposition voters among several districts or concentrates them in one district to dilute their votes across the state – what political scientists call the wasted vote effect. Gerrymandering is designed to bolster the electoral prospects of incumbents and undermines descriptive or proportional representation.

American democracy is haunted by the spectre of voter suppression, which goes back to the nation’s founding. In the US constitution, enslaved Africans were not only deemed three-fifths of a human being, they could not vote, nor could women of any race.

Fourth, the American judicial system is highly politicised. At the federal level, the president makes judicial appointments, which are reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee before a vote is taken by the Senate. Presidents nominate individuals who fit and are likely to promote their party’s ideology and interests, while the balance of power in the Senate among the two parties often determines who is appointed. Fights over the appointment of Supreme Court justices are fierce because of the court’s extensive powers of judicial review. In 2000, the electoral contest between Bush and Gore was decided by the Supreme Court.

Trump hopes that the Supreme Court will also save him, especially now that it is packed with three of his appointees, and conservatives enjoy a 6-3 advantage. The last appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, was nominated by Trump on September 26, 2020, six days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a revered liberal icon, and confirmed by the Republican-dominated Senate of October 26. The same Republicans suddenly forgot their injunction against considering a nominee in a president’s last year that was directed at President Obama who sought to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died eight months before the 2016 elections, with Merrick Garland.

No resounding rejection of Trumpism 

The renowned economist, Paul Krugman wonders, “Is America becoming a failed state?” His answer is not reassuring. Even with a Biden victory, “it seems likely that the Senate — which is wildly unrepresentative of the American people — will remain in the hands of an extremist party that will sabotage Biden in every way it can…Every state, of course, has two senators — which means that Wyoming’s 579,000 residents have as much weight as California’s 39 million…An analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight.com found that the Senate in effect represents an electorate almost seven percentage points more Republican than the average voter”.

Larry Diamond, a theorist of democracy, warns in Foreign Affairs that “a new administration won’t heal American democracy” because the “rot in U.S. political institutions runs deeper than Trump”. He argues:

The broad signs of political decay are familiar – and alarming – to comparative scholars of democracy: the growing polarization, distrust, and intolerance among supporters of the main opposing parties; the increasing tendency to view partisan attachments as a kind of tribal identity; the intertwining of partisan affiliations with racial, ethnic, or religious identities; and the inability to forge political compromises across partisan divides – and hence to mount effective policy responses to national issues.

Baskar Sunkara concludes ruefully:

America is a failing state…In 2020, America has shown itself to be exceptional in the worst possible ways…Winning mass support for a program of Medicare for All, green jobs, affordable housing, and more seems within reach. But the left must find a way to not just popularize our goals, but secure the means – institutional reform – to achieve them… But we can’t just stop at the abolition of the electoral college and the Senate filibuster, or even full Congressional representation for Washington DC residents. We must more fundamentally fight to transform the pre-modern political system that we’ve grafted on to our modern economy and society. For progressives, that’s a battle far more daunting than just getting Trump out of the White House – but it’s just as necessary.

Trump will, of course, do everything to subvert the will of the people, including inciting his tens of millions of supporters. As one columnist in the Washington Post put it, there was no “resounding rejection of Trump and Trumpism”  Even with Trump evicted from the White House, “Trumpism will not have been swept into the dustbin of history; it will remain all over the furniture. It’s part of the furniture. Unsweepable.” Another commentator in The Atlantic reminds us, “A large portion of the electorate chose the sociopath. America will have to contend with that fact.”

Zeynep Tufecki warns that compared to Trump, who was ineffective and easily beaten because of his incompetence, “America’s next authoritarian will be much more competent”, like the current politically talented autocratic populists of India, Brazil, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and elsewhere who have mastered winning elections.

Photo. Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Donald J. Trump. Photo. Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Trumpism – a reincarnation of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy that has been reconfigured to incorporate digitalised angry populism and the laager of white supremacy and racial capitalism – is likely to survive and to cast a shadow over the Biden presidency.

Others are more hopeful that American democracy has survived “its brush with death”. Nell Irvin Painter, the distinguished African American scholar, concedes that the election shouldn’t have been this close, but she sees hope “in the long lines of voters”, and in the indelible images of “Americans in 2020 re-enacting the South African voters of 1994” as they voted the ghost of apartheid into the dustbin of history.

Jonathan Freedland sadly notes:

It’s a form of progressive masochism to search for the defeat contained in a victory… Yes, in a high-turnout election, Trump got more votes than he did in 2016 – but Biden got more votes than any presidential candidate in history, more even than the once-in-a-generation phenomenon that was Barack Obama. What’s more, Biden looks to have done something extremely difficult and vanishingly rare, taking on and defeating a first-term president. That would ensure that Donald Trump becomes only the third elected president since Herbert Hoover in 1932 to try and fail to win re-election. Trump would take his place alongside Jimmy Carter and George Bush the elder in the small club of rejected, one-term presidents.

America’s return to the world

Joe Biden’s victory has been greeted with great relief by many democracies around the world, and with some consternation by authoritarian populists and autocratic rivals who reveled in America’s democratic recession and descent under Trump. “U.S. allies stressed the need to rebuild ties and multilateral cooperation after President Trump’s ‘America First’ approach upended decades of U.S. foreign policy. For traditional allies who endured sharp criticism, unpredictable behavior and new tariffs under Trump, the election of Biden offered a return to normalcy.

In the global environmental movement and the health sector, many anticipate the quick return of the US to the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organization to combat COVID-19 and other long-standing and future global health threats. Multilateralism seems poised to enjoy a new burst of diplomatic energy. But the hegemonic rivalry between China and the United States is fated to continue, and the decline of the American model is unlikely to be reversed. The Trump saga and his expulsion from power has exposed both the fragility and resilience of American institutions. In that sense, it has made the United States ordinary.

Trumpism – a reincarnation of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy that has been reconfigured to incorporate digitalised angry populism and the laager of white supremacy and racial capitalism – is likely to survive and to cast a shadow over the Biden presidency.

For Africa, the US can be expected to return to its traditional diplomatic preoccupations of economic development, human rights, anti-terrorism, and competition with China. But the Biden administration will encounter a different continent from that of the Obama years – one that has lived without serious engagement with the departing Trump administration and demands more respect, a continent whose economies have been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic and require productive and transformative relationships.

For me personally, it has been fascinating to watch the elections in the two countries whose citizenship I carry: Malawi and the United States. Earlier this year, the Malawi Supreme Court annulled the presidential election of May 2019 because of irregularities by the Malawi Electoral Commission. The opposition proceeded to win the election re-run in June. What I have learned from the two elections is that the notion that American democracy is more mature than that of an African country like Malawi is false.

The Malawian Supreme Court exercised judicial independence that is unlikely to come from the highly politicised US Supreme Court. Moreover, the losing ruling party demonstrated maturity that has not been demonstrated by the infantile, irascible and entitled Trump administration and his unprincipled Republican sycophants. This underscores a sobering and empowering fact: democracy is not a monopoly of developed countries; it is always a work in progress that needs to be jealously guarded.

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