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The Hidden Moral of Trump’s Insults


The most popular response from Nigeria to the shithole insult from the United States President Donald Trump is, perhaps, the one that goes like this: Trump’s statement hurts, but he is telling the truth about the African condition. For this group of critics, that is the moral of the unfortunate story. An attempt is being made to infuse some logic into an insane statement.

In dismissing the case for immigrants from Africa, Haiti, El Salvador and other places Trump reportedly asked: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

Despite some attempts to deny the story, some American congressmen who were at the meeting have insisted they heard Trump say so. In any case, that Trump is an incurable racist and irredeemable bigot is hardly deniable. Besides, what is the moral fibre of Mr. Trump, who is now providing the clues for some commentators to criticise the African condition? Only eight months ago, in a rare pursuit of the public good 27 American psychiatrists and mental health experts questioned the mental state of their president. Their concerns have been put together in a book entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. In fact, a few days ago, one of these professionally courageous experts actually briefed the congress on the mental state of Mr. Trump. While Trump is still probably a philosopher-king in the Nigerian social media, decent Americans are embarrassed about the sort of statements their president has been making in the last one year. At the close of last year, the American ambassador in Panama, Mr. John Feeley, felt “honour-bound” to resign his appointment because he could no longer stand by Trump’s policies in the South America. That is the president whose ignorant statement is now inspiring a cohort of critics in this land strangely imbued with an orgy of self-flagellation.

An unrepentant racist president employed insults in articulating his government’s anti-immigrants policies. In response some commentators in Nigeria, the largest African country, are incredibly admitting that they actually live in shitholes all in the name of criticising poor governance and underdevelopment. That’s the real tragedy thrown up by Trump’s abuse, which many rational persons must have elected to ignore just as Trumpspeak. The hidden moral of the story could be found in this confounding response from Nigeria. There is absolutely nothing to rationalise in Trump’s insults. So the matter becomes doubly tragic when the targets of the insult now attempt to locate some logic in a purely vulgar statement.

The point at issue is an intangible one; it is actually the premium placed on the dignity of the human person and the right of every human being to insist on the respect of that human attribute whether in poor or rich circumstance. The Trump-has-a- point line is riddled with a high dose of Afropessimism. It’s symptomatic of a moral collapse, manifesting in a loss of self-respect. A person should demand respect for his human dignity from another in any situation he finds himself.

That is why the response from decent quarters of the world has been a condemnation of Trump without reservation. The United Nations Commission for Human Rights has spoken for the decent people on the planet in this respect. The African Union has also upheld the legacy of its forebears by demanding a “retraction and apology” from the White House. At the national level, the official and non-official responses have been varied and very instructive on the consciousness about human dignity. When you compare the official and unofficial responses from big Nigeria to the ones from small Botswana, this consciousness becomes more striking.

The government of Botswana swiftly denounced Trump and asserted the dignity of its people. Nigeria officially took its time to respond. Only two days ago a response came in a statement from Abuja. The Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United States of America in Abuja, Ambassador David Young, reportedly told Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama that “the derogatory remark allegedly made by the US President Donald Trump against Africans was neither here nor there owing to the different versions” of the reports of the meeting in which Trump made the statement. So the “veracity” of the statement should be doubted, according to Ambassador Young, who said America would continue “to hold the people of Nigeria in very high regard…” Well, diplomats at both sides of the game are entitled to their styles.

In the past, Nigeria’s style would be different. The contemporary Abuja diplomatic style could not, of course, be compared with that of 44 years ago when General Murtala Mohammed delivered the famous “Africa Has Come of Age” speech in a summit of Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in response to the moves by America to influence the Nigerian position on the decolonisation process in southern Africa. Mohammed called a letter from the United States President Gerald Ford at the eve of the OAU meeting a “gross insult.” Mohammed made the bold statement to the acclaim of other African leaders at the meeting. That was leadership acting with dignity of purpose.

To be sure, Nigerians and other Africans should criticise the African condition as combatively as they could until the problems are solved. It is legitimate to express anger about poverty, joblessness, ignorance and disease plaguing the landscape of Africa’s political economy. It is also a duty to do so. It is even more politically important to join in the efforts take democratic steps to transform the condition. Yes, the Nigerian reality is defined by poor power supply, bad roads and less than decent housing. Yet, nothing in the Nigerian condition makes it a shithole. In other words, all the negative indices of development that define the economy, society and polity could be deprecated in the sharpest tone without unwittingly drawing inspiration from Trump. Trump was not making any intelligent critique of the abysmal underdevelopment of Africa; he was just exhibiting his bad manners by insulting peoples of African descent. He is making no sense at all. It is, therefore, an expression of loss of self-respect and hope for any Nigerian to rationalise a collective insult to Africa.

The story is another poignant reminder that long after the more tangible questions of development must have been answered the moral, cultural and intellectual decay might take a while to tackle. In a tenure of four years, a government with a sense of purpose and vision could build some highways, increase power supply, create millions of jobs and invest more in the social sector to raise the quality of education and healthcare delivery without limiting the access of the poor these good things of life. However, it may take more than a tenure to change the orientation of a generation that cannot distinguish vulgar insults from reasoned arguments and informed criticisms. Unfortunately, this aspect of the underdevelopment story is not yet hitting the headlines.

About Debo Olowu

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