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Big Man Politics, Africa to America

We in the civilized, modern, savvy, worldly, urbane part of the world scoff and pity the poor African countries that can’t seem to move past a nearly village-style form of Big Man governance. Those poor benighted foolish people, still trying to learn the ways of sophisticated countries like us.

I mean, when western journalists refer to the likes of Mobutu Sese Seka, the old dictator of Zaire (née Congo, now Democratic Republic of Congo), they slung the term kleptocracy, originally used in 1819 to refer to the thieving rulers of Spain. Nowadays we save it for people of color exploiting their own.

Trump, however, is bringing it all home here. He’s pardoning rightwing anti-democratic criminals like Dinesh D’Souza—convicted of illegal campaign funding—and brutal strong men like former sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for his inhumane treatment of “illegals.” But in terms of sheer corruption, nothing tops his proposed pardon of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the scoundrel who tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Trump said that Blagojevich’s only problem was that he got caught, that really, this is just how politics works.

True, for bottom feeders like Trump. He was clearly saying that this is how he operates, obviously, doesn’t everyone?

No. Obama never had a single scandal his entire eight years in office. Dennis Kucinich never had any as a mayor nor as a Congress member. John Lewis, none. Barbara Lee, none. The list of impeccably clean politicians may not be long, but those as corrupt as Blagojevich and Trump is a short but filthy one.

From the annals of political criminal corruption, Scooter Libby stands out as a nasty suck up to war profiteer Dick Cheney, so of course Trump pardoned him. It’s not ever about justice for Trump; it’s about his Big Man transactions. Those who support me can do anything. I could shoot someone in Times Square and no consequence. Broad daylight. Murder. Easy.

So all of a sudden the pure people power of Gambia last year, taking down Big Man ruler Yahya Jammeh, in power for 22 brutal years, bringing a new level of democracy to that West African nation, looks interesting. And the nonviolent uprising in late 2014 in Burkina Faso ousted President Blaise Compaoré, who was the quintessential definition of African Big Man ruler.

What? As Africa climbs up the scale of democracy, the US is careening down.

Big Man Trump. Is this what we want?

If not, frankly, there is only one way to depose him. Elect a Congress and Senate of Democrats next fall. Articles of impeachment are already in hand. Or perhaps we haven’t descended toward sh_thole status nearly far enough, to use Trump language?

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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