Why our anti-Trump marches matter: the counterintuitive lesson of Africa’s “big men”

trumpRecent anti-Donald protests are hugely important, although maybe not for the reason you think.

I keep wanting to write an article on how similar Donald is to the Big Men of Africa, and I keep losing the will to live whenever I start … After all, the South African Truth Commission final report is a public document. If you want to know how this ends, go read it.

However, don’t think that he’s starting a new fascist state. This is about ties of blood.

If you look to Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria … any of the places ruled by Big Men … they work with what they have to create a support base. The best way to do that is tribalism. Create an in-group derived from your own tribe. Then bind that tribe to you. And you do that through violence.

The in-group must be told they are superior to the out-group. Change the law to subject the out-group to brutal discrimination and suppression. Ensure that there is real violence.

Let it simmer.

The in-group knows that they have done wrong, and what they most fear is the revenge of the out-group. As soon as this situation is in place, the Big Man begins his main task: looting the state. What he cannot steal for himself and his family, he will ensure his friends get.

Welcome to crony-capitalism.

The in-group gets nothing at all for their support. Their loyalty is based exclusively on the knowledge that they are complicit in the torture and brutality, and their fear of ever facing justice for that brutality. The more brutal the tyrant, the greater the support from a tremendously fearful in-group.

And the worst-case scenario for where such behaviour gets you is Syria where Assad’s Alawite in-group preferred to commit genocide on his behalf rather than permit majority rule.

However, one thing that is extremely important is for a significant proportion of those who could join the in-group to refuse to do so.

The protests of the last few weeks are not important as a means to end Donald’s rule. They’re important to ensure that the out-group does not become hardened in its position and seek to exact revenge on the in-group when the roles are reversed.

This is critical and is the main reason South Africa – with its very brutal in-group during Apartheid – managed to transition to majority rule without a civil war.

Keep up those protests …

4 replies »

  1. I think that’s a wan hope, most of us in the “out” group are already plotting revenge. But what’s interesting is the “revenge” isn’t going to be mostly violent – it’s going to be forcing the “ins” to see and have to do all the things they are proscribing now. Plus, much of the “revenge” is happening now: gay dance parties outside Pence’s house, parades and marches and funny hats, the joy of poking the eye of “the man” by giving money to make sure lawyers have wifi and food to bring habeas writs on behalf of refugees, Superbowl ads that are obviously not aimed at the “in” group, withering satire on TV, people laughing at the president, interracial gender queers on TV … it’s all there. And they hate it.

  2. I think I understand what you’re saying, Gavin, but it can be difficult to be sure when I lack your first-hand experience with what happened in SA. The only contention I might raise is that it makes it sound like support of the various protests is grounded in consequentialism. If I’m mistaken, I look forward to correction. If I’m not, then I find it a bit dismaying since I’ve generally taken an extreme dislike to the notion. Case in point, and this hardly applies to all Christians, but it certainly appears to apply to some of them: accept salvation to keep from going to hell. Avoid sin to keep from going to hell. Don’t rape, murder, and pillage…to keep from going to hell. About the only thing I would find worse is the idea of avoiding those behaviors in search of some eternal reward. As for myself, I don’t even feel a need to resist rape, murder, and pillage because they don’t even occur to me as menu options. I don’t need to be scared into not doing them. I don’t need to be bribed into not doing them. And I would hope that the vast majority of people would feel the same, whatever their other reasons may be for either engaging in, or not engaging in, faith.

    That said, I support the protesters when I support their causes. I don’t support them because I feel the need to be bribed to support them. For that, first I’d have to have some optimism that in my lifetime all these social matters would be resolved to my personal satisfaction. I lack that optimism. That and, as a person of many privileges, it’s not that I feel I personally stand to gain from the victories of protesters. I support them because it’s the good and right thing to do. And I certainly don’t support them out of fear of retribution should I not show my support, any more than I need hell to terrify me into abstaining from horrible behaviors. Worse, while I would certainly understand if an oppressed people were to eventually gain ascendancy and did engage in violent reprisals, it seems cynical to me (of all people, cynic that I am) to start with the assumption that they necessarily would given the chance. Time and again I see examples here to the contrary, e.g., members of the congregation attacked by that monster D. Roof who took the moral and spiritual high road rather than calling for what might have been seen as a justifiable call for black retribution.

    In any event, by all means support the protests. If I’m certain of anything, it’s that those who do, do so for their own idiosyncratic reasons.

  3. @Chris a fair comment, unless you’re in that part of the out-group being directly targeted for suppression and abuse … then you can’t really stand back and laugh about it.

    @Rohg, the way it was done in South Africa was conscription. Then the white sons of middle class families were sent into the townships to shoot the protesting children of the black mothers who cleaned their parents houses. The only way to ‘escape’ being a party to that was conscientious objection, which involved going to prison. Or, as I did, be smart enough to go to university and stay there until conscription ended (fortunately, the same year I left school).

    Donald doesn’t need everyone to be culpable, just a voting majority of people – and, from here, it looks as if a voting majority are happy to be culpable …

  4. I think your comparison of Trump to Big Men is exactly right, although I don’t think Big Men create tribalism as much as they simply exploit it. However, the jump to protests seems a bit of a inferential reach to me. Notwithstanding my quibbles, good piece and great insight.