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USA/Global: When Elephants Fight

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Apr 5, 2016 (160405)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Watching the Trump phenomenon from outside the United States is a strange spectacle. I am often asked to explain by puzzled observers how such a bombastic, obnoxious, moronic, misogynistic, chauvinistic, racist, and hustler businessman with a record of serial bankruptcies could ever be a serious candidate. ... Trump articulates and represents with frightening clarity the Republican underbelly that same establishment has nurtured for generations, the party's enduring values—the incurable racism, bigotry, and intolerance, the reflexive jingoism, nativism, and imperial aggression. In Trump, therefore, the chickens of age-old white supremacy and modern neo-conservatism are coming home to roost." - Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Zeleza's analysis of "chickens coming home to roost" is now common even among mainstream U.S. analysts of U.S. politics. But his eloquent essay is one of the sharpest and clearest analyses this editor has seen of the Trump phenomenon which frightens not only U.S. citizens but many others around the world who cannot escape the effects of a U.S. presidential contest. As Julius Nyerere observed, citing an East African proverb in a speech to the United Nations about the Cold War, "when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers."

This year the term may refer to the Republican presidential candidates, or more broadly to the presidential contest itself. While none of the candidates, Democratic or Republican, are paying much attention to Africa, the outcome in terms of the U.S. stance will be decisive for issues of fundamental importance to the continent, from climate change to global inequality and tax evasion.

This AfricaFocus includes Zeleza's essay, as well as other relevant links to sources that your editor finds particularly helpful in interpreting the U.S. presidential race.

While commentaries on the race and the national polls are too numerous to count, much less to read, much can be dismissed as ephemeral speculation, often based on national polls. These "horse race" analyses can easily be misleading, since what "counts" in the byzantine U.S. political system is the electoral college, based on state level contests. So a presidential candidate can lose the popular vote and still become president, as did George W. Bush in the year 2000.

Currently, while television news tends to concentrate on the horse race at the national level, there are analysts who carefully parse the statistics of the state-level polls and other indicators. Four of these, all worth following, are

The one I follow most closely and rely on is It focuses on "just the numbers," with a minimum of speculative analysis. Excerpts from recent updates are below.[Full disclosure: this site is developed and maintained on a voluntary basis by my son, whose day job is with a technology company in Seattle.]

This Bulletin also contains a small selection of links to on-line articles over the last week that I found particularly useful.

For links to additional commentaries and reflections on the U.S. election, which will NOT be featured regularly in AfricaFocus, those readers who wish may follow my new Facebook page "Intersections," set up for reflections on a variety of topics of interest to me other than those covered in AfricaFocus (

And a reminder to all about AfricaFocus Bulletins, including this one. Your editor does not necessarily endorse all the opinions included in articles in the Bulletins, but does definitely think they are all worth reading.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Republicans, Racists, and the Obama Derangement Syndrome

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza

Mar 28, 2016 - Direct URL:

[Dr. Zeleza is a distinguished African historian from Malawi as well as a prolific and insightful analyst and commentator on current issues. He is currently based in Nairobi as Vice Chancellor at United States International University - Africa]

Watching the Trump phenomenon from outside the United States is a strange spectacle. I am often asked to explain by puzzled observers how such a bombastic, obnoxious, moronic, misogynistic, chauvinistic, racist, and hustler businessman with a record of serial bankruptcies could ever be a serious candidate, indeed a front runner in the Republican Party primaries who seems poised to win the nomination and might be within striking distance of capturing the presidency. Many are often surprised that I am not surprised.

Trump is a Republican creation, notwithstanding the ferocious civil war his candidacy, appeal, and electoral victories have unleashed in the party, the incredulity and panic he has provoked among the party establishment. Trump articulates and represents with frightening clarity the Republican underbelly that same establishment has nurtured for generations, the party's enduring values—the incurable racism, bigotry, and intolerance, the reflexive jingoism, nativism, and imperial aggression. In Trump, therefore, the chickens of ageold white supremacy and modern neo-conservatism are coming home to roost.

Trump is the ultimate embodiment of white racist rage in the Republican Party and American society triggered by the Obama Derangement Syndrome. Obama's historic presidential victory in 2008, engendered racist paranoia, as it symbolically upended the stubborn racist order ushered by America's original sin, slavery; it subverted the abiding hierarchies and hypocrisies of white supremacy and black inferiority. Trump became the prophet of birtherism, the insane notion that Obama was not American born, was not a real American, did not love the country, was a dangerous Muslim radical bent on the destruction of the United States.

The birthers and other white supremacists were cheered on by the Republican Party, shamelessly cultivated, courted, cuddled, and celebrated. The party adopted unyielding opposition to President Obama's policies even those borrowed from Republicans such as the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, his signature achievement. They treated him with utmost personal disrespect, vowed to make him a one-term president, and when that spectacularly crashed in 2012, to turn him into a failed president. Most recently, in an unprecedented break with tradition the Republicans even refused to hear the president's budget and flatly declined to consider his nomination to replace the deceased racist Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Republican obstructionism and intransigence, their contempt for government and governing, and racist disdain for Obama paved the way for Trump, the hypocritical outsider, and celebrity neo-fascist. Trump's bloated ego and desperate rhetoric to make America great again tapped into and inflamed the dark forces of white supremacy threatened by vast disruptive forces at home and abroad. Domestically, there is America's changing demographics, and the rekindled struggles for equality most powerfully represented by the Black Lives Matter movement spawned by police brutality. Globally, American power is in decline, sapped in part by the very historic geopolitical strategic blunders of the neo-conservative wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rise of new powers especially China.

These disparate developments are connected in the collective mind of Republicans and white racists by the Obama Derangement Syndrome. This syndrome derives part of its power from the fact that Obama's election simultaneously underscored changes in American society and stoked fears of those changes by many whites whose claims to privilege have historically been embodied in the color of their skin, not the content of their talents. No wonder the widely reported rising self-destructiveness of so-called white Middle America through suicides, alcoholism, and an epidemic of substance abuse. These angry whites constitute the bedrock of Trump's campaign and followers. Thus the Obama and Trump phenomena underscore both the erosion of racism as a result of generations of civil rights struggles and its resurrection from the battered closets of white supremacy.

The Obama Derangement Syndrome offers a potential historic turning point in American politics on the scale of the realignments of the 1930s-1940s and the 1960s-1970s. The Roosevelt New Deal created a new coalition of the Democratic Party that included African Americans who drifted from the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln. In the immediate aftermath of the successes of the Civil Rights movement, the Republican Party launched its 'Southern Strategy' that turned the South from the Democrats to the Republicans.

The transformation accelerated with the defection of the 'Reagan Democrats' discomfited by the growing presence of minorities and women and their agendas in the party who found succor in the predominantly white and masculinist Republican Party. The Clinton administration largely conceded Republican hegemony with its 'New Democratic Coalition' and 'Third Way' rightward centrism. Under President Obama the Democratic Party not only recovered and flexed its long muted liberal voice, the Republicans lost the cultural wars and began spiralling into the tailspin of the Obama Derangement Syndrome. This was evident in the rise of the fundamentalist zealotry of the Tea Party and Washington's descent into shameless incivility and ungovernability.

Now, we are witnessing the fracturing of the Republican Party under its incurable infection by the Obama Derangement Syndrome. This is one reason Obama is a historic president, notwithstanding all the limitations of his administration both self-imposed and those inflicted by Republican obduracy. His era will be remembered for ushering a possible realignment of American politics reminiscent of the interwar and post-civil rights eras. The future will be played, at least for a while, on terms his presidency has set.

The Obama Derangement Syndrome is of course not confined to electoral politics, to the flirtations and fixations with Trump's dangerous buffoonery. It can be seen in other institutional contexts from corporate boardrooms to college campuses, and in the often deadly encounters of black communities with police, in the backlash against diversity and inclusion, in the perverted discourses of white victimization. The Obama Derangement Syndrome gave rise to the Tea Party and Trump phenomenon, which spawned new struggles for equality and inclusion spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the academy, the institutional context I'm most familiar with, the Obama era initially seemed to open new possibilities for minority faculty, students, and administrators but gradually gave way to the corrosive reversals of microagression and the persistence, even new reincarnations, of structural exclusions. For example, at one of my former universities in New England, far from the allegedly more racist South, after I and another black administrator left, the senior administration reverted to being blissfully all white. This would make Trump and his fervent supporters proud and at home there.

No wonder Trump is making electoral waves across the proverbial divides of the North and South. He is the Frankstein created by Republicans and racists, inflamed and unhinged by the Obama Derangement Syndrome. He offers America an ugly mirror of its past and present and future in its failure to slay the beast of racism, bigotry, and intolerance.

Election Graphs

Excerpts from recent posts. For current updates, visit and

Electoral College: Trump still dropping, Clinton makes it close in Missouri

April 2, 2016

[Note: These posts are updates based on the data on Election Graphs tracks both a poll based estimate of the Electoral College and a numbers based look at the Delegate Races. All of the charts and graphs seen in this post are from that site. Additional graphs, charts and raw data can be found there. For additional background go to / and /]

Since the last update there have been polls added in Wisconsin, New York, and Missouri. Missouri makes a difference in our models for Clinton vs Trump.

Missouri has been very lightly polled. This is only the second poll that specifically asks about Clinton vs Trump, so my five poll average is still filled out with the election results from 2004 to 2012. Without those old elections, the average would move even further in Clinton's direction. The newest poll actually shows Clinton ahead, but it is just one poll. Never trust one poll. We look at averages. As it is, the average now stands at Trump +4.7%.

This now puts Missouri back in the "close enough it could go either way" category.

This improves Clinton's best case against Trump:


Clinton's best case if she wins all the states she is ahead in, plus the two where she is close (Colorado and now Missouri) is to win 357 to 181, an 176 electoral vote margin.

Looking at the chart above, since the new year there have been eight changes (5 to the expected case, 2 to Trump's best case, and 1 to Clinton's best case). Seven of those changes have favored Clinton. Only one has been a move toward Trump.

Trump's situation has deteriorated significantly in the last three months. The question is of course if he is near a bottom and about to rebound, or if he has only started his fall and soon the real discussion will not be who would win, but rather how big a win Clinton would have.

Of course, all of that is only relevant if he ends up as the nominee. The delegate race is still underway and Trump has a very narrow path to follow to get to the convention with a majority of delegates. If he falls short, we get a contested convention, and it looking less likely by the day that Trump walks out of that scenario with the nomination.

220.0 days left until polls start to close on election night 2016. There will be lots of ups and downs between now and then. Stay tuned!

Republicans: Still in the contested zone... barely

March 1, 2016

When I did my last update there hadn't been any recent polls in either Arizona or Utah, but the results there ended up matching pretty well with the results of the few polls that came out since then. Namely, Trump won Arizona which was straight up winner take all, and Cruz got over 50% in Utah, so he got all of the delegates there.

So the net for the night was Trump +58, Cruz +40.

Adding in other delegate adjustments since the March 15th results we have a net change of:

Trump +62, Cruz +43, Rubio -3

So effectively, Trump got 60.78% of the delegates since the last update. He only needed 53.07% to improve his position.

So what does this look like?


The raw delegate count is now Trump 755, Cruz 466, Rubio 169, Kasich 144, Carson 8, Bush 4, Fiorina 1, Huckabee 1, Paul 1.

Trump's pace of delegate accumulation actually looks like it has accelerated, while everybody else has slowed down.

But the raw delegate counts are not the right thing to look at.


In percentages of the delegates so far, both Trump and Cruz improved. But of course Cruz is nowhere near the 50% line. Trump meanwhile is now at 48.74%. He doesn't have a majority. Close. Very close. But not quite.

But % of delegates so far isn't the right thing to look at either.


This is the real graph to watch. The percentage of the remaining delegates that Trump needs to win in order to get to the convention with a majority of delegates. This has been dropping in the last couple of contests.

Trump now needs 52.22% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination outright.


It is a real possibility that we could get to the end of the primaries and caucuses in June without knowing if Trump has an outright win, or if he'll come up short on the first ballot at the convention. It might end up depending on what those uncommitted delegates decide to do.

We are still right on the edge between a Trump win and a convention where nobody wins on the First ballot. And which way that goes may end up depending on the uncommitted delegates. What percentage of the uncommitted delegates Trump would need ... if he even needs them at all ... will depend on how he continues to do in getting pledged delegates between now and June.

But meanwhile, the pace of primaries and caucuses now slows down quite a bit. So there will be a lot of waiting before we know.

Democrats: Huge Wins for Sanders... but...

March 27, 2016

Although the best delegate tallies are still estimates that will almost certainly change a bit before they are final, the general outline will not change. Sanders crushed Clinton in all three states that caucused on March 26th. With Washington, Hawaii and Alaska together, the delegate haul was 104 for Sanders to only 38 for Clinton.

Since the last update Sanders has also been on a roll gaining four new superdelegates (while Clinton got no new supers), and having four delegates move from Clinton to Sanders as results in states that voted earlier got finalized.

Between all that, since the 23rd the net change is Sanders +112, Clinton +34.

So Sanders got a whopping 76.71% of the delegates since the 23rd. That is well above the 67.70% he needed to improve his position in the race in terms of the % of the remaining delegates needed to win. So unlike some Sanders "wins" where he gets the most delegates but still just ends up in a worse position because he didn't win by enough, this time Sanders supporters are fully justified in celebrating the win.


See that downward slope right neat the end of the green line? That is the improvement in Sander's position because of these three states. Despite all the states that Sanders has won, this has not happened often. Aside from days when a stray superdelegate committed to him or when states revised their results by a delegate here or there, the only previous times so far where Sanders has improved his position are February 9th when he won New Hampshire and March 6th when he won Maine. (OK, probably Democrats Abroad too.) This new result on March 26th swamps both of those in the magnitude of the improvement.

With all of the results and adjustments since Arizona, Idaho and Utah last week, Sanders goes from needing 67.70% of the remaining delegates to win, to needing only... 67.03%.

So... an improvement of... 0.67%.

So, uh... big improvement? Suddenly the Sanders path to victory is clear? Well, it is the biggest improvement in this metric Sanders has seen yet, but...


March 26th was a big Sanders win. That should not be minimized. If he matched the March 26th performance in every contest from here to the end of the primary season, he would indeed catch up to Clinton and win. And the visibility of wins like the 26th may help Clinton seem weak, and may improve Sanders' performance in future contests.

But the basic situation has not changed significantly. 67% of delegates is still an incredibly high bar. Sanders would have to consistently meet that bar for the rest of the race in order to win outright.

But wait you say, once again this is all including superdelegates. But surely if Sanders won in pledged delegates, the superdelegates wouldn't deny him the win and would switch to Sanders en masse because to do otherwise would be unseemly? Well, I generally reject starting with that premise and say lets watch the superdelegates and see what they actually do.

But for the moment, as I did once before, let me run the numbers pretending superdelegates don't exist.

With supers the totals right now are Clinton 1735, Sanders 1069.5, O'Malley 1.

Without supers that becomes Clinton 1264, Sanders 1040.

Without supers there are 4050 delegates, and you need 2026 to have a majority.

Sanders would need 976 more delegates to have that majority of pledged delegates. There are 1746 more pledged delegates available.

That means Sanders would need 55.90% of the pledged delegates remaining to end the season with a majority of the pledged delegates.

That bar is a LOT lower than 67%. Consistently beating 67% seems close to unimaginable without a complete implosion. But 56%? Could you get to that just through some momentum, some positive press cycles and good campaigning? Maybe. It seems like it is on the outer edge of the possible given the history so far, but still possible.

If Sanders did succeed at that, he would still need to get a large number of Clinton superdelegates to defect in order to actually win. But Sanders has said he is ramping up his efforts to woo superdelegates. He has gone from saying superdelegates should be ignored, to acknowledging that any realistic path to a win involves getting superdelegates to vote for him too.

If superdelegates do start to defect, you will of course see it on the graphs here.


Wisconsin is next on April 5th. Right now the RCP poll average there has Clinton 46.5% to Sanders 44.0%. If that average plays out and assuming a roughly even distribution of support throughout the congressional districts in the state, it would mean about 44 delegates for Clinton to 42 delegates for Sanders.

If that happened, Sanders would then need 67.87% of the remaining delegates to win, completely undoing the gains he made with Washington, Hawaii and Alaska.

Now, Sanders may get a boost of his recent wins and do better than the current poll average indicates. He may even win Wisconsin. The question though is not if he wins, but if he wins it by enough to actually be on a pace to catch up to Clinton before things are over. Right now, that means he needs 58 of the 86 delegates available from the Wisconsin primary.

We shall see.

Links to other recent commentaries of related interest

"Uh-oh: Where Does All the White Rage Go When Donald Trump Loses," Alternet from Salon, April 1, 2016

"Ultimately, though, whether one views Trump’s supporters as victims of American progress or as a bunch of overprivileged bigots matters less than the undeniable facts that they exist and there are a lot of them and they are stuck. Having lost faith in the traditional Republican Party, they have pinned their hopes on Donald Trump, but even if Trump could deliver the jobs and self-respect they seek—a doubtful proposition, to say the least—they lack the numbers to make him president. So, then what? All that highly combustible anger and fear we’re seeing on the nightly news and in shaky YouTube videos shot at Trump rallies—where will it go once Trump is gone?"

"Sanders is winning the battle of ideas," The Hill, March 31, 2016

"The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Sanders defeating Republican front-runner Donald Trump by more than 17 percentage points, defeating Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) by 10 points and defeating Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) by 2 points, a smaller margin but still advantage Sanders. Sanders runs stronger than Hillary Clinton (D) in match-up polling against all three Republican contenders."

And a few headlines & links to substantive articles in the last few days of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

NYT, Apr 3, "Electoral Map a Reality Check to a Trump Bid,"

WP, Apr 3, "The Racial Anxiety of Trump's Supporters,"

NYT, Apr 2, "G.O.P. Fears Trump as Zombie Candidate: Damaged but Unstoppable,"

WP, Apr 1, "Trump has done the opposite of everything the GOP said it needs to do to survive,"

NYT, Mar 29, "Tougher Terrain for Sanders after a Big Week,"

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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