Did you see the video of President Trump and President Buhari speaking to the press on the White House lawn? The one that is essentially two old men, one clearly exhausted and the other one oblivious, making unintelligible comments into a forest of microphones?
There are good reasons to watch it.
I, for example, was asked to watch it and see if I could come up with an opinion piece. So I did, because nothing could possibly be worse than Trump’s superb clanger on the Fox and Friends show, right? And besides, around the same time, Kanye West was doing a good job of delivering all the aggravation one global community under a 24-hour news cycle regime could tolerate with his version of the history of slavery. I mean, this couldn’t possibly be too bad.
It was bad.
It was bad because it hurt to try to decipher what was being said. For a bit of work, I had violated my own Trump quota, forgetting that watching him actually makes me doubt my own perceptions.
It was bad because no person of colour, and especially no African, should be exposed to his intense and hateful ignorance about Africa, as it is nearly a literal poison.
It was bad because the head of state of Africa’s giant powerhouse was weakly mumbling something that sounded obsequious next to this unfathomable man that the US has inflicted upon us. I suddenly understood the term “emasculated”, which is quite the feat considering I am always game to watch my cocky Nigerians get poked in their oversized ego from time to time.
We have friendly, and sometimes not-so-friendly rivalries, on the continent, but I think we can all agree that Nigeria is too big and too strong and too full of itself and seeing it experience some harmless misfortune is total schadenfreude. But Nigeria has done nothing to deserve whatever happened on that lawn. Now we all have a case of second-hand cringe. That’s how bad it was.
Oh, and then, because he could, Trump made noises about the infamous “Sh****e countries” statement. Confession: I had checked out by then. Watching the press trying press … heh … a coherent answer from the POTUS hurt me in my spleen. And something about Buhari made me a bit too sad. Lion in winter effect, I suppose.
But we learn through all experiences, both good and bad, and this was certainly a teaching moment for me. First of all, it made me yearn for back in the day when the concept of decorum was valued.
Buhari and Trump are ill and so is Kanye West. With the former it is simple physical illness; with the latter two one could add illness of information to a list of suspected ailments of body and soul. The danger is that this kind of thing is contagious: we put these clearly struggling people on podiums and let them wreak havoc to create a “new normal” which has us all depressed, or scared, or believing in Flat Earth theories.
When did it become OK to let the suffering amuse, abuse, bemuse us? Why do we let them?
I also realised that if Buhari and Trump and “Yeezy” were women, by now they would have been accused of some obscure feminine disorder like hysteria and promptly carted off to get medicated into compliance with better standards of behaviour. Let’s not even kid ourselves: If Queen Elizabeth had displayed even an ounce of oratory that woefully bad, half the world would be calling for us to pray for her. And yet she is married to Prince Philip, a man of many faux pas on par with George W Bush, at least. He is legendary.
Oh, you wanted political commentary? Something about what this says about the relationship between Africa and the current incarnation of the US? I don’t think so. That would imply validating whatever that White House lawn horror show was. And I will not.
I will respect myself by refusing to entertain this nonsense. There are too many Africans and too many Americans who are far too respectable to be reduced to this level. So, no. I am going to obliviate this event.
I am going to remain undistracted from the fact that US military presence is growing alarmingly on the continent under the guise of security. I know for a fact that there are many institutions far more influential and capable in this bi-continental relationship … like evangelical churches, or Bill Gates. So, no.
Also, I want to talk about discipline and the culpability of the masses.
Everybody needs that person who keeps you on the steady. Unfortunately for the world, Melania cannot hold Donald’s reins and Ivanka … ugh, let’s just not go there. So here he is, in full monster mode, with no one to help. Buhari … I mean, really, Naija? Kind of let Wakanda down, didn’t you? When your father is sick, keep him home and feed him soup. What shoddy elder care. And Kanye should not under any circumstances be considered a credible source of wisdom. He is the illustration why rich people lose touch with reality.
Because we let them. Rich, powerful, male: we let them speak publicly and validate their rantings no matter how nut-job.
The saying that power corrupts is facile because we rarely go into how and why it corrupts. It happens because we feed our inner darkness and thirst for blood through these poor souls. We feed their egos until their egos consume them alive. We let them forget their mortality and we use the minutiae of so-called “political rivalries” to ignore the bigger and uglier truths. We create these monsters so we can watch them dance for us in the arena of public life. Yes … we, the people.
So, I don’t mind telling you that I watched that video only once, for this assignment, and will now be taking another break from Trump footage. Sometimes averting your eyes is both sane and kind, and socially conscious. As much as I wish someone strong and capable like Claire Huxtable would come along and slap bad presidents and bad rappers all upside the head with her glare of supreme authority, I know it is not going to happen.
What … too soon? Exactly. Beware giving authority to any figure. Especially rich, male, public ones. There is a lot of sickness going around and we need to not entertain it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.