The View from Virginia---Back to the Future

November 10, 2016
Source: Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta
The View from Virginia---Back to the Future

Within hours of the stunning victory by the Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in their election 2016, his second cousins came out of the woodwork.  Congratulations came promptly from Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. 

US President elect Trump has not responded - publicly yet.  What he has been doing in private with a transition team (essentially a cabinet in waiting apparently assembled since August) is planning how this week, his closet and closest advisors will fan out through the government bureaucracy of America.  

With 70 days to go to inauguration, President elect Trump has been given access to the highest possible classified information.  He must hit the ground running.  The type of people he selects for key jobs in his Cabinet will be a powerful and public signal back to America and his second cousins what kind of business he means.   

Many in the Republican Party either stayed completely away from him, slithered in his shadows or required Dutch courage before they would endorse him as their candidate.  Now, a triumphant Trump can fall on the likes of his few loyalists such as Newt Gingrich the fiery former legislator, Rudy Guiliani, the abrasive former Mayor of New York and Dr. Ben Carson, neurosurgeon and a comical but mercifully fleeting contender for the Republican ticket.  

The options are those who  stayed the course or Trump could venture farther forward and tap surprise candidates for Chief of Staff, Secretary of State, Defence etc. The President elect has some 4,000 plus jobs to fill, 1,100 of them will require approval by Congress.  Fortunately the Republican Party has a majority in both Houses, technically, getting nominees through should be a shoe in.  

In Ghana, Oti Bless appeared before the Appointments Committee in Parliament, he survived their ‘grilling’ and is now a Deputy Minister.  It is understandable that some in Ghana see an analogy between Trump’s win and a win for their candidate in our December 2016 elections.  

For the nimble proponents of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), they are the offspring of Rawlings, these days they prefer to be seen as the descendants of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s socialist policies, with such a flexible family tree, assuming the shadow of anything and everything including Trump, a right wing millionaire whose views on Africa are unprintable is perfectly rational.  

As far as they are concerned, if only they could arrange a few minutes with Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama and Trump, a ‘hey dog, how is it hanging’ type tweet, a photocall, Skype, jointfie, some small contact will help everyone to see how much the 2 really have in common.  Obviously.

Trump is a self promoting global celebrity who left private school on the East Coast, reportedly took a loan of a mere $1 million from his real estate developer father and drove off in a limousine to make his fortune on Wall Street, in board rooms and via products made in China and such third party countries where labor is much cheaper than the good ole U.S. of A.  

This is the man that blue collar America, the rust belt - male, low to medium income, non college educated - turned out in overwhelming numbers to put in the White House. The quintessential insider and elite has morphed with resounding success with the very people who should on paper repudiate him, into their anti establishment triumphant crusader.  It should hurt that the slick Trump has never served in the legislature, that at a time when America needs experienced leadership, he will stumble and hesitate and blunder as he learns the ropes.

It should hurt that he has lied repeatedly about everything. On the campaign trail Trump has made like a genocidaire in Rwanda, a war lord in Sierra Leone, a fanatic religious cleric inciting hate and violence. No. For his supporters, Trump’s deliberate instigation then lancing of America’s festering boils in public, made him their anti hero and they and the system of the electoral college  have rewarded Trump with the White House. 

Per the ill fitting analogy, President Mahama is the son of a public official (in Ghana that can be equivalent to living large but on the tax payer?), he too was privately educated, as far as his ghostwritten memoirs suggest, Mahama did not borrow a million from his father but he did appear in the legislature when Ghana returned to democracy and amiably made it to the inside track of the party with a straight path (after hosting a state funeral for his befuddled predecessor), to the top.  

Mahama has spent the best part of his life in public office (definitely and definitively living large on the tax payer) and he has learnt the business of politicking fast.  Stuffing and staffing key jobs with a new circle of people faithful to him, Mahama rarely has to lift a finger.  If he does speak in public, unlike Trump, he serves up bland cold goat light soup. It is the underlinings he has appointed and their proxies who lay on the hot stuff.  There are grandees and people within both the Republican and the NDC parties, who will never recover from having grossly underestimated both Trump and Mahama.  

Trump lent his name to a dodgy University where students paid fees some didn't get classes and were awarded degrees anyway.  Mahama has several honorary degrees.  So yes, there is something there to compare and contrast.  It can feel like Back to the Future.  A sense of deja vu but not quite.  What is there is not enough to equate Trump the man and his victory to Mahama and our December 7th.  Or?

After a bruising campaign where the speculated size of and discussion about bodily parts outweighed policy debates, Trump has inherited a country that is evenly split - 50.50.  Literally.  59 million people voted for him.  59 million people voted for Mrs. Hilary Rodham Clinton.  He won the electoral vote (290 - 232), she won the popular vote (an additional 200,000 chose her). In his acceptance speech, Trump has acknowledged that America has wounds to heal.  Political pundits here are calling this the ugliest of all elections led by 2 of the most deeply disliked candidates.  

Continuing the lazy analogy, the Americans are indeed apprentices.  in Ghana, from ‘bulu’ to offering to ‘marry’ a female Supreme Court judge, degradation is par for the noisy course.  In the 6 months leading to the 2012 elections more than a dozen government ministries and agencies in Ghana including the Office of the President overspent their allocated budget some by 300 percent on unexplained and unprecedented expenditure.  

Even with this sudden injection of public funds, it still took a run off for the incumbent Mahama to be declared winner of Ghana’s 2012 elections.  His opponent Nana Addo Danquah(a lawyer turned politician) took his grievances to the Supreme Court, 9 excruciating months later, the ‘pink sheets' verdict emerged. Mrs. Clinton (also a lawyer turned politicianl) has conceded defeat and so far, there is no suggestion whatsoever of her mounting a legal challenge.  If she does try, there is a fortuitously empty seat on the Supreme Court that Trump has vowed to fill with grievous intent.  America too can indeed add its Atuguba to the bench.  So there is indeed something there.  And it is not enough. 

Before November 2016, Trump was not in government with access to the public purse and pliant government officials to do his bidding.  Over the course of his bid for political office, Trump pledged and probably spent some of his own millions on the campaign and he raised money as all candidates did, using a system that is far from perfect and does allow an intrepid public prosecutor, tax inspector,  journalist or interest group to follow the paper trail.  

Indeed, it this access to information, servers, laptops - the checks and balances - that has led directly to Mrs. Clinton’s woes.  It Is this very ability of the sceptical and the empowered to ask questions and trigger investigations into her private and financial life that crippled the Democratic contender at critical times and eroded her credibility and stature.  

Compare and contrast.  The Right to Information Bill still gathers dust in Ghana’s Parliament.  Our Auditor General’s reports into the ruinous public expenditure are like the judgement debt of Mr. Woyoeme, to be ignored.  There is something there and it is not nearly enough.

Yesterday, there were flash protests in at least 10 large cities in America.  From Portland, Oregon to New York City, they waved plaques and swarmed onto the streets, organised it seems by social media amongst the millennials (young voters) and others concerned that Trump’s incendiary campaign rhetoric will now harden into concrete policies that will erode their civil liberties, some people took to the streets.  

3-4 million registered Democrats did NOT turn up to vote on Tuesday when it really mattered.  It is some of these very same millennials, civil rights activists and liberal left wingers who didn't vote that have been stung into belated action. "Hey Ho, Donald Trump is not my President” they chanted.  Oh yes, he will be.

In Ghana, after quietly grumbling, a coalition of civil society groups and individuals - those who didn't bother to vote because the lines were too long; the ‘I don’t do politics’ neutral brigade; the passive aggressive 'I don't like the him/her - ‘he/she is arrogant’; the complacent 'after all its a done deal’; those who made sympathetic quiet noises in public and voted in the secrecy of the ballot box to buy the product called Mahama and then after the fact wanted their money and it seems country back; the cynical ‘I told you so’s’ - got together under the OCCUPY banner.  

Red Friday doesn’t really fly anymore as a brand, however having tasted the power of coming together, the OCCUPY lot have taken on issues of governance in a myriad of ways.  On social media, on the campaign trail (some are candidates) in lecture halls, offices, volunteering for causes....  Individuals affiliated with the OCCUPY movement have morphed into smaller second generation fluid coaltions.  

One such group proceeded to court and forced the Mahama government to make public the murky procurement and payment details regarding the branding of public buses with the faces of national leaders (only Mahama’s face was provided in living colour).  On matters branding, Trump would probably give Mahama ten out of ten for self-promotion, using public funds.  So there is something there and it is not by far, enough.

America is a deeply litigious society. Trump has been investigated, sued, counter sued and declared bankrupt, multiple times.  The imperfect system of checks and balances in America will not allow even the crude Trump to distribute V8’s purchased using a well of undisclosed funds to Govenors and District Attorneys.

 America does have its own version and of the pork barrel and Trump who knows this system of bluster, sleight of hand, misspeaking, staged outbursts, opportunistic photocalls will do well to remember that in public office as opposed to private dealings, the collateral damage that these outraged latter day saints on the streets of Boston can deliver if he messes up, can be costly.  

His 4 years administration will be scrutinised like no other, the paper cuts that the disgruntled and embittered middle classes and social activists can deliver, could see that even with the support of the rust belt, Trump could find that before the next US election in the same place that Mahama does.  As Clinton did.  Battered and bruised and fighting a rear guard action.  

Our Attorney General has difficulty entering appearance in court cases to collect judgement debts on behalf of the government of Ghana.  America does have its own version of a Justice system including a twitchy FBI Director.  The timing of the announcement by the FBI of the possibility of a second investigation into emailgate, was for the Clinton campaign, an unwelcome last minute full body slam.  There is something there to compare and contrast and it is not enough, not by a long shot. 

Over the course of the 16 month campaign, Trump made the headlines by issuing 10 key fatwas.  America being what it is, busybodies like have pulled these together and published them online. For free.  In Ghana, Mahama’s people have done no such thing.  

Instead, they used public funds and time (no need to disclose how much and who benefitted from the contract) to publish a Green Book, replete with phantom projects and unrequited promises, the Green Book is essentially the party propaganda fluff piece masquerading as a document of national achievements.  To get that sort of publicity, Trump and his supporters would have had to spend millions in advertising.  There is still something there and its fading fast.

In further service of the 'Mahama will do a Trump in December’ analogy here goes with 10 wooly reasons why there is something there. 

  1. Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.  Physically it will be 1,200 miles long and 30 foot high. This is unlikely to happen.  Ditto for Ghana.  We built a wall around an Embassy in Burkina Faso so its not as if we can’t   If we have to build a wall with Togo then it will wait until after the elections.  After all one must ensure free movement of voters to participate in our ECOWAS election on December 7th.  After the elections call Engineers and Planners.  The company successfully demonstrated private sector initiative by dredging a flood prone blocked waterway in Accra using government equipment that was temporarily branded with the company logo to demonstrate that if government really wanted to it could give them the contract again to actually do the job.  With expertise in all extractive industries, E&P's CEO reportedly leases/owns a private jet and has a portfolio of loans contracted from local banks, with highly negotiable payback terms.  The CEO can fly in for meetings.  Trump also flies in private jets and helicopters.  Trump has a background in construction, real estate and bankruptcy.  Yes, this one is a great fit. Toaso.
  2. Temporarily ban muslims from entering the United States.  Tricky.  The Zongoes for Mahama clubs will need new T shorts, branding, jobs and its too close to the election so leave this one alone.  The cheque is in the mail, that is American for Toaso, it will not come to be.
  3. Bring manufacturing jobs back. Over 40 years plus, America has lost up to 4 million manufacturing jobs - exported overseas because its cheaper, faster and smarter.  Mr. Trump the business man has exported work abroad as well and he also knows that prestige projects like golf courses, hotels and casinos garner headlines and don’t make economic sense, they can lead to bankruptcy.  However, as Trump the business man is now President elect, having promised his equivalent of Ghana’s ‘World Bank’ a resurgence in their fortunes to 'make America great again’, he will have to pull something out of his hat. Something like Hope City.  GYEEDA.  SADA. Komenda?  Yes, this one is also a great fit.  Toaso      
  4. Impose tariffs on goods made in China and Mexico.  Toothpicks and textiles imported from China; tomatoes from Burkina Faso; Cement from Nigeria (Dangote), One Explorer car from the US via a grateful Burkinabe contractor (see position 1 on building expensive walls); shopping in Dubai via Emirates.  We impose high costs on goods produced in Ghana to freely enable cheaper imports.
  5. Re negotiate or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Please. We have our own acronym. ECOWAS. 
  6. Full repeal of ‘Obamacare' and replace it with a market based alternative.  Easy.  Mahama inherited the National Health Insurance System (NHIS).  Why bother to repeal, fully starve the system of required and budget approved funds.  Ensure that when the Psychiatric Hospital in Accra and other medical facilities across the country must close wards and stop providing services, you belatedly come to life and your wife, family and underlings (they all have private insurance) turn up and look directly into the lens of the hired cameras they have bussed in to ‘capture’ the moment of handing over equipment sourced once again from undisclosed deep pockets.  This goes down very well with the party faithful and the media.  Obamacare RIP?  Print T-shirts and anniversary brochures for this.  
  7. Renegotiate the Iran Nuclear deal.  Easy.  You should see how we play chaskele with the IMF and the gullible enabling Development Partners.  It is a game of masochistic public spanking called ‘who’s your daddy’.  We play, they pay.  The Iranians know this game as well.  Toaso,  
  8. Leave Social Security as is.  Of course.  No one you know will ever need that rubbish  If in doubt look up fatwa 6 and apply. 
  9. Cut taxes.  Trump’s plan according to comwould give the 0.1% top earners (like himself) more tax relief than the bottom 60% of taxpayers in the rustbelt and other low income earners across the country.  Combined.  President elect Trumps fully committed to this pledge and demonstrated this during the campaign by breaking with convention and refusing to release his tax records.  He claims that to avoid a conflict of interest when he is Commander in Chief he will turn over management of his businesses to his children.  In Ghana, the President does not pay taxes.  Asset declaration is not required.  There is no concept of conflict of interest.    Toaso.  
  10. ‘Bomb’ and/or take the oil’ from ISIS.  Wars like political campaigns are a good business strategy with supply chain values it you play it right.  Wars distract, they whip up emotions, they focus collective angst, war sends commodity prices up, financial markets already skittish become volatile.  When the bloody reality of the repatriated body bags (the children of others, not yours) are shown on television and the bombed out refugees from the countries you have liberated begin heading to safety, arriving en masse on your coastline and your border, see fatwa 1, apply fatwa 2 as above and then blame the tanking economic fortunes on moslems, blacks, veterans, women, gays, Mexicans.  Blame the elite decision makers in the corridors of power who are blocking you the Commander in Chief from delivering on any of the above.  

In Ghana, mammoth rallies, distribution of outboard motors, LPG cylinders… that sort of thing will do as well.  The party faithful will buy into it, the urban elites will scoff, the party faithful will buy it.  The next election will be Back to the Future.  The middle classes will do exactly what they did previously - they will not go out to vote.  That is the art of the deal called democracy.  And there is something there. Toaso.

’The View from Virginia’ comprises a series of (7) online articles written by Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta, commissioned by the Business and Financial Times, to cover US Election 2016 between Monday, November 7 and Thursday, November 10, 2016.