Satire or truth…. you tell me….
Laugh? We nearly all died – why my US failed state Twitter thread went viral
The final throes of the Trump presidency exposed America as the bad joke – and danger to the world – it has certainly become
Patrick GatharaSun 15 Nov 2020 03.00 EST
The chaotic US election has undoubtedly been the biggest story in the world in the last two weeks. Watching it unfold from over 13,000km away in Kenya, the election itself – the long queues, the delayed and disputed vote count, impugned credibility – was disturbingly familiar. Our own elections follow a near-identical pattern. The media coverage, not so much.
Gone were the condescending tone, the adjective-laden labels and the expectation of violence and malfeasance so often applied to “foreign” elections. In its place was an easy familiarity and assumption of competence.
The media did not feel it necessary to depict the US as a crisis-racked, oil-rich, nuclear-armed North American country with armed terror groups roaming its ethnically polarized restless interior. But these were exactly the sorts of descriptors that have traditionally allowed western audiences to identify with and follow events in distant, “exotic” places. It seemed to me that the rest of us deserved the same consideration. And so I decided to offer this perspective in a Twitter thread.
Clearly, many across the globe felt similarly, given the response the thread has attracted. At last count, it had been viewed nearly 4m times, attracting more than 50,000 likes and nearly half as many retweets. And there was more than mere interest in the mechanics of what was happening in the US. There was a fair bit of joy at its expense.
In 2016, the Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, may have exaggerated somewhat when he declared: “The world is laughing at us. They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity.” No longer. As counting in the crisis-racked North American state entered its 10th day, around the world it had become the butt of many jokes. After decades of enduring its hubris and condescension, many are happy to see the self-anointed “shining city on a hill” and self-proclaimed “greatest country in the history of the world” knocked down a peg or two.
In truth, it has been a long time coming. For a long time, America has been to the world what Trump has been to America – a bull in a china shop. Rich, entitled, brash, overconfident and often downright stupid, since the end of the cold war the country has traipsed around the world, breaking stuff as it went, throwing its weight around, and playing fast and loose with cherished global norms. Its journalists and moviemakers (and president) rarely missed the opportunity to stress just what an uncivilized “shithole” the rest of the globe was and how much we needed the enlightenment offered by the Peace Corps.
America always seemed surprised that other people did not necessarily appreciate being insulted or told how to live. Like Trump, it has had its enablers. Some, like the British, were true believers in its “manifest destiny” to rule and deliver the world. Others, like the French, were content to give their support while holding their noses.
Like Trump, America’s successes were primarily economic and its monumental failures, in places like Vietnam and Iraq, cost hundreds and thousands of lives. It had a complicated relationship with the truth as exemplified by Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations, laying out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq. Like Trump it cozied up to dictators in Africa and gave a wink and a nudge to the apartheid regimes in South Africa and in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.
Inevitably perhaps, America’s excesses inspired a rival. Today, America finds itself as a bull in China’s shop. It has slowly been eclipsed in many areas where it was once dominant, especially in trade and lately in technology. And America has reacted much like Trump to the loss of its position as top dog – it is throwing a tantrum. From inciting a trade war to trying to wreck global alliances and treaties, to undermining the multilateral system, the US is showing that it will not go quietly into the sunset.
Given all this, many around the world can be excused for feeling a little schadenfreude as the US is humiliated by an election that has ruthlessly exposed its inadequacies, and a president that has made a mockery of its claim to be the king of democracies.
The election and four years of Trump have shown that far from being a paragon of democracy, the US has not only neglected its decaying democratic institutions at home, but has also incubated a dangerous authoritarianism. As the US fixes itself, the rest of us too need to reform the international system which for too long has operated on the mistaken belief that the US is what it claimed to be. The Trump presidency should be the wake-up call we all need to build a better world.
- Patrick Gathara is a Kenyan political cartoonist, satirist and writer. Twitter: @gathara