On the US election day in 2016 I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, attending the African Investigative Journalism Conference hosted by WITS University. As can be remembered, it was a momentous election with high stakes. A politically inexperienced businessman with lots of questions about his capabilities, Donald Trump, and a woman with long standing political experience, with the potential to become the first female president of the US, Hillary Clinton both were at the verge of making history.
There were journalists from other parts of the world, including America. The general outlook of the gathering was that, hopefully, Clinton was going to win.
The organisers of the conference planned to have large TV screens set up to enable the delegates watch live announcements of the votes. I opted out. I wasn’t going to stay awake to follow the vote count, I will look out for the results the following day. But like many others, I was certain that Clinton was going to break the glass ceiling.
I went to sleep. But the morning after turned gloomy and most delegates expressed disappointment, pain and a sense of resignation, when it became apparent that Trump, the underdog had won. For some, the pain still lingers.
And true to character, the Trump presidency has been exhausting. He seems to have broken any and every expected way of behaviour for someone occupying the high office of president.
His incessant, illogical and sometimes incendiary tweets were not only disturbing, but unacceptable, but he was the law and no one could hold him to account. He attacked and berated every and anyone he believes disagrees with him. He taunted, devalued and demeaned anyone he feels like targeting. He lied, misinformed and double-spoke as and when he felt like.
His conduct has affected how the rest of the world sees America. Following him and listening to him can be exhausting.
After he was impeached following a lengthy and acrimonious process, it appeared Trump came out of the impeachment process fiercer, unrestrained, somehow meaner, reckless and retributive.
Disturbingly enough, he had enablers within his government. It appeared anyone who went the opposite direction of where he was headed, either was fired or resigned. Some of his appointees clearly broke traditions, acted in partisan ways and in some cases openly supported some of the president’s misconduct.
His handling of the coronavirus pandemic was below par. It was as if he thought like the wind, the pandemic would blow away, all against the best technical advice at his disposal. So far, more than 200,000 Americans have died as a result of the virus. He is withholding funding to the World Health Organisation and accusing China for the COVID-19 pandemic while he did precious little as a leader, instead he made suggestions to his health experts to use bleach and ultraviolet light to kill the virus in the inside.
His handling of racial tensions, immigration, minorities and others, reflected poorly on the US. The way he ran the country, strengthened the argument that, economic well-being is not the only necessary indicator of a country’s general good health. He destroyed the Affordable Health Care Act, a system that took Americans many years and attempts to finally adopt, in order to provide health insurance for as many of the citizens and hasn’t replaced it yet. He cut funding for reproductive health and pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement. He did everything in his power to reverse a lot of the achievements of the previous government.
Trump as President could have been conciliatory after winning the elections. He could have built bridges, but he didn’t. He widened the divisions, deepened hatred and endorsed behaviour that normally would have been openly condemned by an American president. He goaded gun-totting citizens on, defended people who openly expressed hatred for others. His actions instead of drawing people to him and binding them together, pushed them away.
His conduct at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests following the heartless murder of George Floyd by the police officer, Derek Chauvin was unhealthy. He asked armed officers to forcefully remove protestors so he could do a photo op holding a bible in front of a church building. The police and national guard officers during that time assaulted and injured journalists covering the protests – the shocking images of police hitting TV cameramen was one of the horrible reminders of Trump’s handling of the protests. That in itself could send the signal to other repressive governments that it is ok to use force on citizens exercising their constitutional rights to protest.
His constant attacks on journalists are unprecedented in the US, seen as the bastion of democracy and free press, and constantly exposed journalists to hatred and danger.
If Joe Biden, wins the elections, would it change anything?
May be it will restore some respect to the White House.
So far, as the results are being announced and Trump is trailing, and the two candidates are addressing their supporters, it is obvious which of the two is showing maturity and is presidential.
Biden’s level-headedness is soothing and re-assuring. If he eventually wins and is declared a winner, hopefully, perceptions of the US presidency built with Trump in office, might change and the American people and the rest of the world on whom American leadership’s words and actions do have an effect, would breathe again.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi