4

Why I think Hillary lost the election

The long awaited presidential debate on Monday set Twitter and tempers alight on both sides of the party pole. It seems when you have two steamrollers coming at each other with relentless stamina (though one steamroller would say otherwise), you end up with little but a debate that falls flat. While I think that Clinton demonstrated her abilities in “looking” and “talking”like a president, it doesn’t quite cinch the election for her when it comes down to the swing states.

Nate Silver, our numbers darling, says otherwise about the numbers:

Start with a CNN poll of debate-watchers, which showed that 62 percent of voters thought Clinton won the debate compared to 27 percent for Trump — a 35-point margin. That’s the third-widest margin ever in a CNN or Gallup post-debate poll, which date back to 1984.

Of course, the audience that took the time to watch the debate may not be comprised of the same demographics as the overall masses that will take to the polls in November. The shared members get smaller when we take the sample from watchers who actually took the time to get polled by CNN.

If we take a look at Nate’s daily rack up of voters via his Nowcast, we actually see a decent plummet of people who would vote for Hillary if they went to the polls after the debate. When Hillary is facing off against a man who yaps about the need to follow “law and order” in the same breath that he uses to claim that he’s been evading federal taxes, the fact that she dropped 3.9% overnight doesn’t make much sense.

 

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And it’s largely because sense isn’t the primary force at play in this presidential election anymore. Hillary is speaking to the educated, young millennials that are ducking through the “he lies, she lies” to look at the actual facts. According to the official fact checkers of NPR following the election, Hillary proved to be speaking truthfully about not only with platform positions on issues, like her commitment to maternal welfare and lower taxes, but also her mistakes and shifts in positioning over the last few years with respect to TPP, NAFTA, and those god damn emails. On the other hand, Trump was a couple of miles away from accuracy in China’s devolution of currency, and his tracking of statements he’s previously made about women, climate change, and tax audits.

While I’m sitting on the couch trying to stop my eye from twitching, I quickly realized that I do not sure Hillary’s qualities at remaining calm and collected in the face of opposition. Staying calm under pressure is an undoubtedly valuable asset to have as the leader of the free world — an asset that Clinton demonstrated at the podium on Monday and one that she pointed out as lacking in her opponent:

His cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons is so deeply troubling. That is the number-one threat we face in the world. And it becomes particularly threatening if terrorists ever get their hands on any nuclear material. So a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes, as far as I think anyone with any sense about this should be concerned.

It is an ironic likelihood that Clinton’s calm demeanor is what caused her to tremble statistically in the polls. By taking the high-road, Clinton missed an opportunity to hold Trump accountable for boundless mistakes and hiccups that looks ugly in any light. What Clinton failed to consider was that those who are listening to facts and aren’t watching to be convinced by her.

Unlike many progressives and democrats, there are masses of blue collar republicans and independents that are turning out to vote in November. This is the target audience that Hillary doesn’t work hard enough to capture. As my friend Baha writes in his blog,

“Trump is leading by 40 points when it comes to having the support of non-educated white youth. Clinton could definitely use the support of the millennials who are not college educated and are not privileged by their economic and educational opportunities. It is imperative that Clinton uses the young blue collar vote to her advantage.”

 

Trump, in the eyes of these young constituents, won the election because he did not lose. He managed to evade humiliation and hard pressed questions, largely because Clinton didn’t it find it useful to bother him. When Trump accuses Clinton of letting ISIS exist for her entire adult life, and Clinton what Bill Maher calls a Jim-from-The Office direct to camera take,” she’s not looking at the non-educated white youth. She’s calling upon her fans to roll eyes with her, to laugh and brush it off. Trump, when given the opportunity to lambast Clinton, grabs it with both hands.

Ultimately, while Clinton did reveal herself to be prepared in answers, presidential in demeanor, and yes, likable in person, she didn’t really show undecided voters anything new.

4

Putting a band-aid on terrorism

When I was a sophomore in college, I received an email about the death of another student. It was an attack on a street that for three years now I have ridden my unicycle through to get from my apartment to campus.

What was sent out was a brief and suspiciously quick memo to the faculty and students, one that someone could have scribbled in half a minute on the way out the door, trying to make it in time for dinner. “We are devastated to announce the death of a student who passed away last night after being attacked on X Street.”

(What actually happened was that a handful of men approached a young man walking alone in the evening and beat him senselessly with a sledgehammer. The student crawled home and passed away while waiting for help to arrive.)

“We assure you that this was an isolated incident and bear no threat to the rest of the USC community.”

(The truth was that it did. The boy was killed in the act of a hate crime against Asian students. Violence against Chinese international students, which make up 40% of the expansive international student population on campus, has become so severe that the Chinese Ambassador threaten to stop students from flying to the United States until American universities pledged to make them feel safer abroad.

I share these horrific and graphic truths with respect and condolences to the victim and his family. I also say them because administration pretended it didn’t happen, simply as a measure to wave away unnecessary panic, fear, or legitimate questions about university’s agency in letting things like this happen.

On Saturday, in the hours after an explosion rocked Chelsea, New York, initially racking up an injury count of twenty-five people, the only news that was released was that “there was an explosion in New York.” Hours later, the update was that though the attack was intentional, there was no way that this explosion was a terrorist attack. (Clearly, this conclusion was based on empty assumptions of the attacker’s background, I thought. I have many more thoughts on this that I will likely share later.)

Once another explosion was detected, statements released that it was a terrorist attack were followed immediately after by the popular mantras of not letting the terrorists win, and never allowing the citizens of the United States to fear such attacks.

Keeping the truths hidden about the danger people are in. At this point, we’ve become acquainted with fear. The biggest fear is not that horror like violence and public attacks exists, it’s that we are blindsided when they happen to our families, our friends, or ourselves.

Now, it’s obvious that preliminary precautions are taken to in the interest of preserving peace and order in a hectic time. But it’s another thing entirely for the Mayor of New York to step out only to make the statement that “We believe this was an act of intentional intent there is no credible threat against NYC at this moment”.

Besides the fact that the mayor had so little information that he was compelled to recycle the same word twice, there is no possible assurance that the mayor could give that the city remained safe under attack. In fact, even after the arrest of Ahmad Rahani, officials stated that they could not say with certainty that there were no other bombs left undetected.” Sounds like a credible threat to me.

It is no longer constructive to replace valuable and life saving informations with affirmations that Americans are strong and vigilant. It has certainly never been constructive to make traumatic incidents such as this a push for campaign interests (Trump). Most of all, as Ezinne Ukoha says in her article on the same matter:

It is irresponsible and quite frankly repulsive of our leaders to perpetuate the notion that we don’t have any reason to fathom our vulnerability — despite our country’s heightened exposure and involvement in seedy global affairs.

Our nation’s obsession with appearing dauntless and gallant shrouds the legitimate threats to security that will exist, whether we choose to see him or not.

 

0

Mahmood Mamdani: the mouthpiece to the forgotten continent

by Alya Omar

“If power reproduced itself by exaggerating difference and denying the existence of an oppressed majority,’ Mamdani writes, “is not the burden of protest to transcend these differences without denying them?”

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In his essay titled, “The Decline of Public Intellectuals?,” Stephen Mack pushes against the lamentation of unheard public intellectuals by touting the enormous “financial, technological, and cultural power” of academic institutions, emphasizing that education continues to be the centerpiece of some of our most cherished social myths. This merits some truth. In fact, the evidence of this fact can be seen in my own backyard (quite literally) at the University of Southern California. With a 4.71 billion dollar endowment and the nickname “University of Scattered Construction,” the bricked administrative buildings and residences are seeping into the Los Angeles community like a gentrifying, domineering powerhouse. From a less cynical standpoint, the money generated by the business that is the university serves to fund groundbreaking research that does indeed change the scientific, economic, and political fields as we know them. Many of the charitable endeavors to “give back” to the community are campaigns with USC student organization names stamped on them. But what Mack fails to mention is in order to maintain the cultural power that these academic institutions carry onto their pupils and neighbors, they are deliberate in selecting and building a backbone of intellectuals that do not challenge its status quo. On the contrary, such institutions must find and only hire faculty and staff that color within the lines of the picture they work so hard to paint. After all, as “the centerpiece to some great social myths,” not many universities can afford to hire just about anybody with loud ideas. Such was the mistake that was made in the case of Dr.  Mahmood Mamdani, the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. While many American people reading this blog wouldn’t think or blink twice at the name, Mamdani is famously known in African studies as a spearhead of changing the way historical Africa is taught and contemporary Africa is seen. In assigning these two objectives as his academic mission, Mamdani is shouldering the struggle of not only undoing the colonial structure that continues to govern African institutions of learning, but also of dismantling the apathy and the limited worldview that the rest of the world has historically viewed the concept of “Africa.” What I mean by this can easily be seen at media depictions of Africa, which are often limited to topics of war, poverty, and the occasional ebola threat. Such depictions feed (or don’t feed, rather) our worldviews, and we end up with even our own Vice President describing Africa as a “great nation.”

So Mamdani has a lot of work to do. More specifically, however, Mamdani is an intellectual that studied African intellectuals. His book, Citizen and Subject, was contributive to the long had discourse of the racial legacy in colonialism because he uniquely focused on how it persisted in institutionalized academics. In South Africa, whose racial segregation and racial power dynamics ended in astonishingly recent history, Mamdani notes that the oppressive British and Dutch systems continue to shape the way government is structured, classes are taught, and the city is organized. “If power reproduced itself by exaggerating difference and denying the existence of an oppressed majority,’ Mamdani writes, “is not the burden of protest to transcend these differences without denying them?” (Mamdani 8).

It has since been named one of Africa’s greatest books of the 20th century. Following the success of his book, Mamdani moved to went on to teach at the University of Cape Town, a stint which ended after a disagreement between him and the rest of the university on how African studies should be taught (more on that later.)  Following that dismissal, from 1998 to 2002, Mamdani served as President of CODESRIA – the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa, headquartered in Darkar, Senegal. He joined the faculty at Columbia University in 1999, where he currently spends a semester each year while also heading up the Makarere Institute for Social Research. And just in case he would find himself with any free time between writing journals, he is also Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University in New York. Many who are arrogant with their ignorance would say that a man they’ve never heard of couldn’t rightfully be considered a public intellectual, considering that the “public” part is noninclusive to the majority of my readersphere. On the contrary, Mamdani was once voted the world’s ninth most important public intellectual by the US’s Foreign Policy and the UK’s Prospect magazines. Despite these badges on his sash, much of his teachings have never been caught by the Western world, a cultural barrier between the “west and the rest” that ironically serves as the focus of his writings. Nevertheless, he firmly stands as the quintessential public intellectual of Africa, one whose teachings could make significant impact on the budding intellectuals of individuals in the United States.

In 1996, Mamdani was appointed by the University of Cape Town as the AC Jordan Chair, a position whose mission is to “champion the integration of African studies into research, teaching and learning at undergraduate and postgraduate levels within the university’s various faculties.” Subsequently, he was appointed the director of the Centre of Africa Studies, tasked with the job of developing a foundational course for the new field of study that would best resemble a most holistic and honest education on a very wide and misrepresented subject. Mamdani immediately set to work on designing a course, and was surprised to find himself quickly dismissed and his project hurriedly deferred to another director. It seemed the faculty that reviewed his curriculum found that the course had “too much focus” on history, an approach that was too derivative from the university’s goal of focusing on modernity. From my interpretation (and Mamdani’s), the faculty did not seem to consider the African narrative before the arrival of the white man to be anything of importance. In fact, the curriculum that substituted Mamdani’s was split into three phases: pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Africa. This last part was focused on Africa’s disintegration after the departure of the white man. In the precolonial section, Mamdani reports that the new curriculum had a focus in Archaeology, an approach that he says is a “poisonous introduction for students beginning school in a post apartheid university.”

By continuing to look at Africa as this unchanging, essentialized process as the birth of humankind and the home of our dusty ancestors, we create no real moving picture of the millions of years that have passed since Lucy died. Instead, we reinforce the framework that plays and replays this still portrait of an undeveloped, archaic land. Another issue to which Mamdani continued to draw attention was the fact that the only real literature in use in African schools was a textbook that was developed for North American students in the 1970’s that had since been updated twice. Furthermore, he points out that though primary texts are widely available, hardly any of them are used in formal curriculum in higher education. What’s more is that little has changed since —  this outline is very similar to the curriculum that I followed in my semester studying at the University of Cape Town just a few months ago, in the spring of 2016.

The support of those following his writings and his suspension spanned across people from every walk of life that were working to decolonize African education. Jonathan Jansen, Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State, states: “What Mamdani may have done was to touch a raw nerve in the post-apartheid curriculum debate: the colonial fingerprints of the curriculum-makers, their own prejudices and histories, passed on to unsuspecting black students as tried and tested truth. He questions not only the geography of Africa but also those who defined it: white, tribal, privileged, powerful. For Mamdani curriculum is identity and this crucial point in missed by his detractors.” –Jonathan Jansen “But Our Natives Are Different! Race, Knowledge, and Power in the Academy.” In this essay, Jansen echoes Mamdani’s submission that post-apartheid Africa could not be actualized without changing the narrative that resulted from all African education coming from sources outside of Africa. From Bantu administration to customary law, it is maintained again and again that the departure of the white man ruined Africa and made it the unstable and dependent entity that it is today. In this example, Mamdani serves as the public intellectual that doesn’t receive his clout from his university credentials or his institutional power. On the contrary, his established space as a publics intellectual came from his resistance to this status quo. By trying to dismantle these aforementioned “social myths,” Mamdani is stripped of his formalized position. His continued success and widely read articles reveal, however, that public intellectualism is not about who the person is, but rather it their importance comes from what it is they have to say.

It is ironic, then, that the Western world and the United States in particular lends a deaf ear to the contemporary challenges of postcolonial and post apartheid Southern Africa. Mack makes a one sided point when he mentions the lack of hostility that the American people have toward the public intellectual. What he doesn’t mention is hostility’s quiet, deadlier brother — apathy. The only time one will see South African news is in the event of a rugby win, a misguided charity campaign, or some idiot that found himself there with a gun and the desire to murder an exotic animal in the savannah. Barring those events, African news rarely makes an appearance or a ripple in the laundry list of American consumption. Hence, there is legitimacy to the lamentation that the American public doesn’t “respect, follow, or hear the intellectual,” in Mack’s words. More specifically, American attention is focused on public intellectuals that speak to issues that most directly affect the lives that are right in front of them. When African lives are seen as tribal, intensely foreign experiences, there seems little reason to believe that such lives matter in the here and now. Maybe the intersection of the American and African political spheres don’t intersect quite enough to lend urgency to our relationship. Maybe the business opportunities aren’t as apparent in countries that are still working to decolonize their governments and establish financial dependence.

But as Mack mentions, it is arguably the obligation of every citizen in a democracy to understand and participate in institutions that would shape their lives. Furthermore, I would submit that it is the obligation to know about institutions that shape other lives as well. And so if public intellectuals have any role to play in a democracy—and they do—it’s simply to keep the pot boiling. The measure of public intellectual work is not whether the people are listening, but whether they’re hearing things worth talking about. And while it’s been accepted in the general public that nobody needs to care about Africa, it is people like Mamdani that serve as a reason for people to start listening. The truth is that the same limited perception that is being taught through the colonial gaze is the same one that has reached our own textbooks and worldview. If UCT can’t offer a post-apartheid education to its students, there’s little chance in hell we’re getting the full picture either. This limited education is what influences our racist media, shortsighted knowledge-base, and our appropriation of cultures and habits that we don’t bother to understand. If not for the interest of lending an ear and a measure of empowerment to African intellectuals, it should be in the interest of knowing the truth for truth’s sake.