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February 21, 2019

In politics we’re miles behind

Politics:Imagine that on August 8 it turns out ballot papers in one of the ‘opposition strongholds’ run out. Will Kenyan voters take this as calmly as Trump’s hardcore supporters did?
Politics:Imagine that on August 8 it turns out ballot papers in one of the ‘opposition strongholds’ run out. Will Kenyan voters take this as calmly as Trump’s hardcore supporters did?

If you have any American friends, then by now you know that in conversation with such people it is best to behave as though you are not aware that there is a man called Donald Trump currently occupying the White House as the duly elected President of the United States.

The best comparison I can come up with in seeking to explain this unusual state of affairs is that of VIP guests, gathered at an elegant cocktail party, when suddenly one of them farts very loudly.

The accepted code here is that you pretend you have not heard anything. Or, if it’s a really bad explosion of stomach gas, pretend that you cannot smell anything. Just continue talking about matters of mutual interest, as though nothing unusual has happened.

After all, the poor man who has just farted in this astonishing manner cannot really be blamed: nobody would willingly do such a thing, and especially not at such a place. Something must be seriously wrong with his stomach, and he deserves sympathy.

And, if anyone is to be censored, it would be the man or woman who cannot help laughing at this amazing incident.

Such then, is the situation I have sometimes found myself in, when in conversation or in correspondence with American friends.

We talk (or write) about all kinds of issues, but we never once mention the amazing fact that Donald Trump is currently the President of the USA. And I expect this will continue for the foreseeable future.

But then, there are those Americans who did vote for Trump – millions and millions of them.

And they certainly are not ashamed of their choice.

This brings me to a story I was told, shortly after the election, by an American friend who lives in a rural part of the US, after years spent in a job which took him all over the world.

On Election Day, he drove into the nearest town from his modest “writer’s shack” in a very picturesque part of the country, in order to cast his vote for Hillary Clinton. To his amazement, the scene that met him at the voting centre was like a celebration. A pro-Trump celebration. People had driven in from many miles away to cast their votes for the man they believed would “make American great again”. And they rejoiced in this opportunity to vote for him.

Of particular significance is that these were not some narrow-minded “redneck” racists, but perfectly decent people, many of whom he knew personally, and who had been very kind to him when he first moved into that area.

In telling me this story, there was something he mentioned which – from his point of view – was actually incidental to the bigger story, which was of Trump’s unimaginable election victory.

He mentioned that there was such a huge turnout – so totally beyond anything that could be reasonably expected, based on previous turnouts – that the ballot papers ran out, and some kind of last-minute arrangements had to be made so everybody could vote.

As a Kenyan, this is what I found most remarkable: That in an election as deeply polarised as the American 2016 presidential election, a shortage of ballot papers was only a minor administrative crisis, which was not that difficult to resolve.

And bear it in mind that this happened against a background of the same Donald Trump, while he was a candidate trailing Hillary Clinton in virtually all the opinion polls, repeatedly declaring that there were plans afoot to rig that election in Hillary’s favour.

Let’s consider Kenya in this context: Imagine that on August 8, when our elections are held, it turns out that in one of the “opposition stronghold zones” there is a huge turnout, and the ballot papers run out.

Will our Kenyan voters take this as calmly as these hardcore Trump supporters did?

Or will that be the signal those who have been “denied their democratic rights” should head home to pull out the pangas they had earlier hidden under their mattresses?

We may laugh at America’s choice of President. But we are still miles behind the US, when it comes to political maturity.

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