So, the next president of the United States is the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. I will let that sink in for a minute.
A Trump presidency wasn’t something many non-Americans were excited about; I mean, not only would he probably annul many of the international trade deals that opened the US markets to goods from developing nations, his administration would also probably terminate many of the environmental deals that aimed to slow down global warming. .
Trying to understand the rise of ‘The Donald’ in the US gave me pause for thought. As I watched the Trump tsunami gather more and more strength, I kept asking myself, “Why were the poorest of the poor voting against their own best interests”? “Couldn’t they see that this man was simply using them to further his own political career?” “Couldn’t they see that if he won, the people who would benefit the most from his policies are the very people that they are railing against”? “Didn’t they understand that globalization was a GOOD thing”? “Didn’t they understand that clean energy was the only way that they could guarantee a future for their great-grandchildren?”
You know I’m a firm believer in the reasonableness of the The Average Joe (or in our case, the Average Umutoni). What most people want in life is to simply give their families the opportunity to prosper the best they can. It is as simple as that. Every choice they make is based on that one singular goal.
The problem is, for that goal to be reached, certain choices need to be made. And all these choices being made are all based on one thing; good and accurate information.
When you look at the average Trump supporter, you’ll notice just how weak on the facts that they are. I mean, they actually believed that he was a self-made man, who would build a wall across the entire US-Mexico border and ‘make America great again’.
When his Republican rivals called him out on his policies, saying that they were untenable, his supporters ignored them. When the traditional media called him a liar, a hypocrite and unworthy of the presidency, his supporters plugged their fingers in their ears. I found it fascinating that despite the wall to wall election coverage, the average Trump voter was as ill-informed as ever. What had gone wrong?
I understand that there were various factors to explain the rise of Trump, but is my opinion that the Trump phenomenon is simply a symptom of the disconnect between the establishment and the poorest segment of the population.
I was very happy last week when I noticed that quite a few readers took issue with the opinions I spouted in my column. What I found slightly disheartening was just how many reactions were based on bad and/or incomplete information. This bothered me more a lot more than the people who labelled me arrogant and all sorts of names online because I felt that it could have been prevented.
Whereas I could have blame those people for their lack of a factual argument, I came to the realization that the only reason that they took their stances was because they simply didn’t have the necessary information to form a coherent and fact-based argument .
In many of my interactions with both Rwandans and non-Rwandans, I’ve realized that there is a ‘fact deficiency’ in many spheres of our conversations especially when it comes to government programmes and other ‘complicated’ topics.
This is, in my opinion, quite easily remedied. All that government needs to do is TELL people what it is doing and WHY it is doing it. And most importantly, HOW it will benefit them. I am not saying that that is not happening because that would be the furthest thing from the truth. However, there is a certain disconnect that we cannot afford to leave unbridged. The media has a huge role to play in this. In mature media markets journalists can do this all by themselves but here in Rwanda, a little ‘spoon feeding’ might be needed.
Donald Trump was able to use the existing disconnect to rally millions to his side. That is something that we can ill afford. The Rwandan establishment must do all it can to ensure that our people have the necessary information to know when a snake-oil salesmen is using them to further their goals.