What we have to lose with Trump: Honor for Africa and the diaspora
OPINION: President Trump has favored inserting his idea of Africa into domestic 'culture wars' rather than engaging the continent constructively.
Four years ago, Donald Trump asked Black voters, “What do you have to lose?” As a foreign policy professional with a focus on Africa and its diaspora, it is clear that we have lost much.
The defining elements of President Trump’s foreign policy posture toward Africa, its diaspora and other communities of color have mirrored his domestic posture. Trump failed to engage them in positive and constructive ways and consistently called into question the intelligence, legitimacy, worthiness of millions of people at home and abroad.
In this way, he has summoned America’s historic hostility to those it seeks to exclude and degrade. Empowering many U.S. political leaders and everyday citizens to follow suit, and providing political cover for foreign autocrats already hell-bent on doing the same.
Despite launching what was touted as his New Africa Strategy in 2018, President Trump has favored inserting his idea of Africa into domestic “culture wars” rather than engaging the continent constructively. Here are some key moments from the past four years:
From the continent of Africa to the island of Haiti, and America’s southern border, President Trump has reserved many of his most spectacularly racist remarks for the ongoing debate over U.S. immigration policy.
The two most infamous exchanges occurred in White House meetings in June 2017 and January 2018 to discuss Congressional proposals for the protection of immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.
In response to immigration totals from Haiti (15,000) and Nigeria (40,000) which Trump deemed too high to achieve his campaign promise of border security, he complained that Haitians “all have AIDS.” Considering Nigeria’s total, he pronounced that once they had seen America they would not “go back to their huts.”
In a second meeting, hearing proposals to safeguard Haitian and African immigrants Trump asked, “Why do we need more Haitians?” – “Take them out”. Regarding Africans he asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
The remarks drew international outrage from African heads of state and the African Union and complicated the efforts of US diplomats serving in African nations.
Muslim Ban Travel Ban
On Jan. 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order establishing the “Muslim Ban” –– later changed to the “Travel Ban” — barring foreign nationals from 7 predominately Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S. for 90 days.
Of the 7 nations originally included, three were in Africa (Libya, Somalia, Sudan) with the central African nation of Chad later added and then removed.
With the stroke of a pen, the president was able to combine anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Black sentiments into executive policy while politicizing it as a campaign promise to secure the nation.
Go Back Where you Came From
In July 2019, Trump waded into an ongoing debate between House Democrats over the progressiveness of their legislative agenda. The debate culminated intense exchanges between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the members of ‘The Squad’ consisted of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib.
Attempting to invalidate the voices of the passionate new members of the House, President Trump tweeted:
In doing so, he employed one of the oldest racist tropes in American society. Holding that certain groups belong and others should “go back to where they came from” — a racist slur with its own particular history in relation Black Americans.
It also exposes a line of thinking which suggests that immigrants have no legitimate say in how their lives are governed in America. We also see the recurrence of the notion that nations governed by people of color are by default broken, corrupt, and mismanaged.
Promoting False, White Supremacist Narratives of South African ‘Landgrabs‘
A recurring theme in the Trump presidency is his routine embrace and sharing of White nationalist talking points and conspiracy theories.
This tendency was evident in an August 2018 tweet in which the president recklessly stumbled onto one of the most explosive issues in post-apartheid South Africa. Land reform.
Echoing an unbalanced Fox News report in which host Tucker Carlson falsely accused South African President Cyril Ramaphosa of “seizing land from his own citizens without compensation because they’re the wrong skin color,” President Trump seized upon a White supremacist talking point by tweeting false claims that the race-based killings of White South African farmers was underway.
The belief in the concept of “White genocide” with South Africa as its tipping point is so widely held in White nationalist communities, that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls it “a lodestar for white supremacist groups at home and abroad.” A statement which appeared to be borne out by the praise President Trump’s tweet received from a variety of well-known White supremacists.
The South African government responded with a firm rejection of these claims and a commitment to “speed up the pace of land reform in a careful and inclusive manner that does not divide our nation.”
There were no government land seizures from White famers in South Africa, neither then nor now. There were no mass killings of White farmers, and the killings of farmers and farm laborers of all races are the lowest it’s been in two decades.
However, these facts should not obscure the pressures the South African government faces in implementing equitable land reform. Pressures largely derived from the Natives Land Act of 1913, which laid the foundation for the restrictive racial caste system of apartheid.
Time and again, Black people, Muslims, immigrants and entire regions of the world have been routinely disparaged by Trump’s bigotry, and quite honestly, enough is enough. Black folks at home and abroad have lost far too much already and we cannot let it happen again.
Travis L. Adkins is a Lecturer of African and Security Studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, a media contributor on issues of social justice and African Affairs, and the host and creator of the On Africa podcast. You can find him at @TravisLAdkins on Twitter.
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