“Nambia’s health-care system is increasingly self-sufficient,” said President Trump last September, during a meeting with African leaders at the United Nations. No singular slip of the tongue, Trump repeated the gaffe again in a speech whose audience included the presidents of both Namibia and Zambia. Hilarity ensued in the Twitterverse: “Can’t wait for Trump to visit Nambia and their technologically advanced neighbors in Wakanda,” quipped Stephen Colbert. (Wakanda is the fictional home of the Marvel Comics’ character Black Panther.)
Yes, it is funny in the abstract, this malapropism of the dear leader. But whether Trump is ignorant, blind, or demented, he consistently confuses individuals for races, races for nations, nations for continents, continents for contagion, and contagion for individual irresponsibility. That’s why all this is ultimately so unfunny in practice: The Trump administration has cut global development aid, reduced funds for UN peacekeeping in war-torn countries, and urged a “merit-based” system of US immigration policy where “merit” excludes “people from high crime countries which are doing badly” and whose preemptive breadth apparently finds no merit in anyone from “hut”-dwelling Nigerians or from any African country, real or (mostly) imagined.
At the same time, Trump, ever the tone-deaf imperial entrepreneur, just loves Africa’s “tremendous business potential…”: “I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you. They’re spending a lot of money.”
Sometimes it’s just so hard to know where to begin, but let me follow one small thread—to wit, the entrenched narrative of the Great White Hunter and erstwhile Deliverer of Little Brown Brothers. Indeed, there’s a literal manifestation of this mindset within the extended Trump clan: After a 2011 safari to Zimbabwe where he killed an elephant, a leopard, a crocodile, a Cape buffalo, and oh-so-much-more, our president’s son Donald Trump Jr. wrote of his beneficence: “Bottom line with out [sic] hunters’ $ there wouldn’t be much left of africa [sic].”
This logic may seem opaque to the uninitiated: After all, there has been a 65 percent decline in the population of forest elephants across central Africa just in the decade between 2004 and 2014. In addition, the population of savannah elephants declined continent-wide by 8 percent every year between 2010 and 2014. At that rate, the population will decrease by half every nine years. If Trump Jr.’s wisdom escapes you, it might help to recall the controversy around Corey Knowlton, a man who won an auction at the Dallas Safari Club back in 2014. He bid $350,000 for the privilege of shooting a black rhino, a species close to extinction then, and which may be extinct by now. Mr. Knowlton explained that he was actually helping their survival because he planned to cull only an older cranky bull, giving younger black rhino males the chance to rise to the top of the hierarchy of aggression. It’s the circle of life! Plus, the money would go to the government of Namibia, which needs it to pay its park rangers to protect against poachers, which Mr. Knowlton most emphatically is not. (That would be the circular thinking of life.)
It oughtn’t be so surprising, then, that this past November of the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump Sr. drafted a policy that reversed an Obama-era ban on importing trophies from elephant kills in Zimbabwe and Zambia, using an exception to the Endangered Species Act that permits importation of trophies if “hunting actually benefits conservation for that species.” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, describes the arrangement as nothing more than “pay-to-slay,” and, after a great deal of public outcry, President Trump suspended the suspension of the ban, promising a thorough review before making a final decision. As CNN reported on January 9, 2018, “White House officials declined to say whether the review is ongoing, when it might conclude, or when the President’s decision may be announced.”
The thrill of the kill is not just about going on African safari, however. Hunting rare and “exotic” animal populations is a billion-dollar business just within the United States. The Fish and Wildlife Service allows the killing of certain rare or threatened species if game-hunting businesses take measures such as contributing 10 percent of hunting proceeds to conservation efforts. At Ox Ranch in Uvalde, Texas, trophy hunters pay $7,500 to kill a Himalayan tahr, $9,500 for an Arabian Oryx, $12,000 for a sitatunga antelope, $15,000 for a black wildebeest, and $35,000 for an African bongo antelope. “We love the animals, and that’s why we hunt them,” says Ox Ranch’s CEO, Jason Molitor. And according to John Tomecek, of Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service, “Ranchers can sell these hunts and enjoy the income, while doing good for the species.”
More enjoyable yet, Ox Ranch “offers its guests the opportunity to drive and shoot World War II-era tanks. People fire at bullet-ridden cars from atop an American M4 Sherman tank at a shooting range built to resemble a Nazi-occupied French town.”
Elsewhere in Texas, wild boars have been deemed far from extinct. Indeed, there’s an overpopulation of them, at least as asserted by many farmers over whose land they roam. In an act of public-spirited volunteerism, Ted Nugent—hard-rock singer and self-proclaimed guru to Donald Trump—Ted Nugent saved the day. Nugent enjoys “machine-gunning hogs,” as he expressed it. “Pigs turn me on.” Armed with a helicopter and a machine gun he flew over a range spraying a wide arc of bullets down upon on the ground. In a swooping rain of firepower, he killed 455 of the varmints. He had quite a good time, apparently, since he conducted the hunt live on SiriusXM, and dedicated the kill to Bill Maher and “other animal rights freaks.”
It should be noted that there is a law in Texas against aerial sport hunting, but in an efficient economy of public-private exchange, Nugent’s sortie was not considered “sport-hunting,” but rather population control. It’s a view that he and that other happy hunter Donald Trump Jr. share. As does their friend Joe Arpaio, newly pardoned by Trump and newly announced candidate for Senator from Arizona. In 2011, then-Sheriff Joe, in his endless hunt for migrant laborers, launched what he has called an “air posse.” As the word “posse” implies, it was made up of 30 private planes, staffed by “citizen vigilantes and deputies from human smuggling and drug enforcement units,” armed with M-16s and a .50-caliber machine gun. According to Arpaio, “We’re going to use our automatic weapons if we have to, and I’m tired of my deputies having to chase these people and I’m sure the air posse will be able to spot these guys running as they constantly do from us.”
Kafka once observed that “A myth becomes true and effective by daily use, otherwise it only remains a bewildering play of fantasy. For that reason, every myth is bound up with the practical exercise of a rite.” The rite of hunting reminds us that without the Great White Hunter’s money, there’s not much else to Africa. Without a little culling of the herds, feral bulls will ravage everything in sight.
As the wise man said: Myth is always bound up with the practical exercise of a rite.