I grew up in Zimbabwe so following American politics is one of my hobbies because it’s like eating cotton candy, mostly sugary fluff and air. Reading coverage of Zimbabwean politics, on the other hand, is like drinking cement. Your whole system might just freeze up.
When U.S. pundits used to complain that the rhetoric between politicians was “getting ugly,” it meant nothing more than some lukewarm insults had been exchanged. In Zimbabwe, when politics gets ugly, it can literally mean a political opponent has been kidnapped, tortured and turns up days later, mutilated and dead.
In Zimbabwe, as in many other developing countries, politics is a real blood sport: blood is shed, people are raped and killed, winner takes all.
In this year’s whack-a-doodle presidential election, American politics is becoming dangerously bellicose in tone like some of the most vicious campaigns in undemocratic “Third World” countries.
Mr. Donald Trump’s erratic behavior, idiosyncratic tics and megalomania have been well documented. His hostile relationship to the mainstream media and “liberal” journalists, commonly-accepted facts or even mere logic, his much younger third wife and his penchant for putting his name on all he owns in huge, gold lettering make him an easy target for caricature. Trevor Noah of the Daily Show successfully caricaturized Mr. Trump as a typical African dictator during the primary season.
But what was comical some months ago grows increasingly sinister as the election looms closer. This week, Mr. Trump is in trouble for again claiming that the election is “rigged” which many dictators like to do when they’re losing. However, that is not the only way in which Mr. Trump’s irresponsible and dangerous rhetoric epitomizes some of the worst traits of Banana Republic dictators.
Dangerous exaggerations: In the run-up to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Tutsis were constantly referred to as “cockroaches” in order to dehumanize them. Dehumanization paved the ideological path that would eventually lead to over 800,000 Tutsis being massacred.
Mr. Trump is doing the same with several groups of people, including but not limited to the media, Muslims and Mexicans. In drawing a thick line between “us” and “them,” he is potentially setting the scene for mass deportations or, as many people have said, something much worse.
Mr. Trump, his surrogates and his supporters do not refer to Ms. Clinton as a political opponent. Instead, they refer to “Crooked Hillary” as a “criminal” who deserves to be “locked up.” Some go so far as to call her the “devil.”
Personality above party: Many African liberation parties become indivisible from their leader. In other words, politics is equated with one man or one great leader instead of centering on a party platform that puts forward particular principles of governance.
Mr. Trump has never been the standard bearer of the Republican Party with his scrambled eggs version of ideologically contradictory policies. He is merely a representative of his own brand of narcissistic politicking. He is the opposite of Mr. Bernie Sanders who has consistently tried to minimize the importance of his own personality by insisting that the political revolution is greater than he is and must go on with or without him as a presidential candidate.
Unabashed nepotism: Nearly every “Third World” dictator is accused of enriching himself and his clan at the expense of the greater good. Mr. Trump and his offspring have unabashedly used their increased media exposure to sell their own products and trumpet their own brands.
One of the most unseemly examples of this is how Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, used her speech introducing him at the Republican National Convention to promote her own clothing line. There is no division in other words between Mr. Trump’s relatives, businesses and political gains.
Amoral will to power: Like many dictators who suffer from tremendous hubris, Mr. Trump refuses to listen to advisors or heed advice. He is mulishly stubborn and cannot muster enough contrition to issue a believable apology. Since the emergence of his 2005 sex tape, he has failed to properly apologize and never even tried to ask forgiveness from Mr. Khan, an eminently moral man with an ethical cause whose son died fighting for America. Trump’s vengeful retaliations against detractors, real and imagined (Miss Universe, Paul Ryan, women accusing him of sexual assault), via lawsuits and tweets make it clear that his goal is power. It does not matter who or what he tramples to obtain it.
Delegitimizing elections: “Third World” incumbent presidents love to complain about “stolen elections” (but only when they have failed to steal them themselves). Mr. Trump’s outsider campaign is staked on the belief that there is a “rigged system” in which “political elites” and the “liberal media” are all arrayed against him. He has started warning his supporters that he may not win the election, not because of his shambolic campaign and dismal candidacy, but because the election may be stolen from him. Although there is no factual evidence that proves large-scale voter fraud, Mr. Trump’s fact-allergic campaign keeps on pushing this dangerous fallacy that the election results are pre-determined by the grand lefty conspiracy to elect Ms. Clinton.
If Mr. Trump should lose the election, will he, as is traditionally done in this mature democracy, call the victor to offer his congratulations? Or will he continue his Apprenticeship in Banana Republic campaign tactics and refuse to gracefully concede, thus pushing America into an utterly new Reality?