“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.)