By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Americans go to the polls today (8 November), most of them that is; some already cast their ballots in early voting. The campaigns ahead of the election have perhaps been the most vicious and uninspiring in recent American history. There is currently a wave of populism sweeping through some western democracies. From the anti-immigrant sentiment that underpinned the decision of Britons to leave the European Union to the growing clout of similarly inclined politicians in France and elsewhere, isolationist rhetoric is winning the day, posing a significant threat to years of progress on global multilateralism, inclusion and integration. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two leading American presidential candidates, are bipolar opposites, in the most extreme of ways. As wife to an American president, senator and then secretary of state, Mrs Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee, has contributed to the shaping of global geopolitics for much of the past two decades. Her main opponent, the Republican Mr Trump, a billionaire whose wealth derives from tapping the vanity of Americans, is not similarly experienced. But considering how he has broken almost every rule and convention in American politics and still emerged the Republican Party flagbearer, underestimating him was a huge mistake. But even as a potential Trump presidency is no longer farfetched, Mr Trump, an unashamed bully, would irrespective of the outcome of the election come to exemplify that ugly side of ‘Americanness’ for some time to come. Still, the election is Mrs Clinton’s to lose. But will she win?
Beware of closet Trumpistas
Mr Trump is racist, rude, and disrespectful of women. And he ran a very dirty campaign. Both sides did actually. But it could be argued that with Mrs Clinton’s vast political experience and clout, it would have been almost impossible for Mr Trump to gain an edge over her with a clean one. So to that extent, there is some sanity in his madness. And considering how almost just as much Americans who might vote for Mrs Clinton would do so for Mr Trump, his rhetoric, reprehensible as it is, clearly resonates with not a few of them. Yes, even the educated ones, who for fear of backlash may not voice their support in public and in polls by the media, but may gladly do so in the privacy of the voter polling booth: closet Trumpistas may account for more than the margin of error in the lead Mrs Clinton had in media polls.
Some hitherto undecided voters also pitched their tents in Mr Trump’s camp in the week to election day. That is, before the country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reckoned Mrs Clinton did not commit a crime after all by using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. After clearing Mrs Clinton of any wrongdoing initially, the FBI revealed about a week to the election that it was examining newly discovered emails on a third party’s computer. The revelation proved to be costly for the potential first female American president: angst was that her carelessness could have caused state secrets to be stolen or glimpsed by unauthorised parties. Although it is not all too clear how much of that support she has regained after the FBI clearance just two days to the vote, the renewed suspicions may not have mellowed quickly enough for her to regain lost ground. Regardless, concerns raised by some leading Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan about her inexcusable negligence – she had to have known her error – on the email issue are not entirely without merit: Mrs Clinton did put American national security at risk.
Which of them is best for Africa?
Mrs Clinton, definitely. The Democrats are typically pro-black and pro-Africa. About sixteen years ago, Mrs Clinton’s husband signed the ‘African Growth and Opportunity Act,’ a deliberate and well-considered legislation that has proved to be better for African trade than the European Union’s ‘Economic Partnership Agreements,’ say. Similar Africa-friendly policies – ‘Power Africa’ and ‘Young African Leaders Initiative’ – by outgoing President Barack Obama, another Democrat, would likely be continued and probably enhanced under Mrs Clinton. Mr Trump’s anti-immigrant stance on the other hand, is very unnerving to African greener pasture-seekers in America, whose remittances are a major source of support back home. Not that Republicans are generally averse to the best interests of Africans or African-Americans. For instance, George W. Bush, the 43rd American president, appointed exemplary African-Americans, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to the secretaryship of state, probably the most visible public office after the country’s presidency. Mr Trump is an unusual candidate, however. His barely veiled white supremacist rhetoric is hardly just that: fears are it might become policy should he get elected. Even so, there is a risk Mrs Clinton may be complacent about the continent: Africa was barely mentioned during the campaign, if at all.
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays); http://www.businessdayonline.com/category/analysis/columnist/rafiq-raji/