By Alade Fawole
The United States of America, the country whose diplomats and officials like to project themselves as the quintessence of democracy, the epitome of human rights, a model of good governance and everything decent, is increasingly looking like any Third World dictatorship under the President Donald Trump.
Either way, people around the world have always known that America is a far cry from the splendid image that their spin doctors and propagandists have always projected.
So it is nauseating when visiting American officials who give talks to Africans on how they should imitate "beautiful America" at all, and keep undemocratic competitors, like Russia and China, at a distance.
And many credulous people cling to these sanctuary preachings as a basis for defaming their own nations. But in just three years of Trump's presidency, all of these lies have been exposed; everything that is wrong, rude, undemocratic, unjust and bad in America has become visible to everyone.
The whole world is watching the casual subversion of the governance ethos, just as all that a band of high-ranking US military could do is grumble.
In fact, all the Americans did was grumble, because a president's narcissistic and selfish aggressor deliberately subverted all decent procedures and disrupted all the institutions that Americans always displayed.
And the rest of the world is looking on with utter disbelief, as the United States daily plunges into autocratic illegality. Each day that passes reveals Trump becoming more like Third World despots that Americans love to ridicule.
The question is, why did Americans get so smart about this slide into autocracy under Donald Trump? Whatever happened to all this legendary "American exceptionalism", the myth that what happens in the rest of the world cannot happen in America, that America is too sophisticated to degenerate into the type of authoritarianism of the Russians, Chinese and even Third World "shitty countries"?
Americans are forcibly feeding the clear and invariable realities of their own hypocrisy, the blatant lies they have repeated with Goebbelsian dexterity for so long, the invented narratives that cover their dark side.
What are these lies? The most common include: the illusion of greatness; the myth that there is something uniquely unique in America; that America is a great democracy and a defender of democracy worldwide; that America is the bastion par excellence of human rights and basic freedoms; that America is a true land of equal opportunity; that all men are created equal, blah blah blah.
All of these myths exploded spectacularly in a cloud of smoke after the public assassination of George Floyd through the instrumentality of extreme racial prejudice and police brutality.
Reality check: there is nothing exceptional about an America that lags behind other developed countries in terms of the social well-being of its citizens. Education and health are so expensive in the United States and unavailable to the vast majority of hard-working citizens.
Graduates spend their first decade of work paying off the loans they took for university education. Health care is in the hands of private predatory companies, and God help you if you can't afford health insurance.
In reality, the United States is not truly democratic, nor does it respect human rights, no matter what its specialist doctors say.
So much for democracy and respect for the human being in America, where Donald Trump would unleash armed soldiers against peaceful demonstrators on the streets of Washington DC, in a manner characteristic of Third World despots!
One more thing: America may be a great country, but a great society is not (there is a difference); it is not a country of equal opportunities, but an angry racist society, with justice only for whites; it is a country full of white privileges, structural and systemic inequalities and inequalities for its racial and ethnic minorities, and this is what the mass protests after the assassination of George Floyd exposed.
Often cited as evidence of "American exceptionalism" is the legendary strength of its institutions. Even Barack Obama arrogantly reproached Africans for having strong men in place of strong institutions.
One wonders what happened to those strong and resilient mythical institutions that they failed to address Trump's aberrations.
Obama himself cannot even lift a finger when Trump contemptuously dismantles all the achievements of his two-term presidency.
Why have Americans not been able to confront or contemplate Trump's autocratic (and increasingly authoritarian) tendencies in the way they have always expected Third World peoples to do?
Why is Trump emerging as America's strongman before their eyes and they have no clue but to grumble?
Two Harvard political science professors recorded the incremental subversion of democracy in their recent book, How democracies die, yet, have the Americans failed to contain Trump's predilections for authoritarianism? Americans are like unhappy spectators when Trump attacks and subverts all famous American institutions (the judiciary; the mass media that he classifies as the enemy of the people and provider of fake news; military services, the security and intelligence community; the service diplomatic, Congress), its open incentive to illegality by extremists, its use of divisive and incendiary rhetoric; his thin-skinned, rude and abusive nature; their general lack of decorum and basic decency. Truth be told, many Third World despots are even more refined and polished in their manners and transport!
Institutions mean nothing when a violent autocrat with willing employees is determined to destroy them. Americans look helpless when Trump subverts one institution after another, demands absolute loyalty to him from the state authorities and not the US constitution, rioting with all known values of governance, incites intolerance, imposes extra-constitutional powers on himself at the expense of state institutions, it falters the entire Republican Party and pockets all the senators elected by the Republican Party, and it seems that the Americans are just waiting to see if it will self-destruct or reach the limit of its possibilities.
In its arrogance and recklessness, the United States has the most formidable military force in the world, preparing for a major global conflagration that would never happen. But when a real attack took place on 9/11, not from a foreign enemy nation, as expected, but from a mere non-state actor, his formidable army and arsenal were unanswered.
This is the shame that national arrogance, the illusion of exceptionalism, can bring. How ironic that Americans today are face to face with their own Idi Amin! Remember him! the Stone Age clown despot who tyrannized Ugandans for almost a decade in the 1970s and really ended Uganda.
And speaking of collaborators, Anne Applebaum's incisive article in The Atlantic reveals that there is never a shortage of people willing to collaborate with bad and subversive rulers, and the US is no exception.
The good thing, for me, is that Americans have lost their moral gravity to become courts of democracy, human rights, good governance and decency from now on. We have had enough of American hypocrisy.
Unfortunately, because Americans have been intoxicated with this grandiose superiority complex for decades, it is difficult for them to readily accept that contemporary tectonic changes are taking place across the world that would ultimately demote America.
Unfortunately, the powerful corporate media organizations that control narratives would never fail to project this illusion of grandeur and exceptionalism, even when Trump sinks them more deeply into the autocratic regime.
- Professor Fawole writes from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.