I started US election week in San Francisco, hanging with a bunch of Māori and native Hawaiians and Alaskans, mulling over indigenous values and leadership. By the weekend, I was back home, speaking at the Te Aute College prizegiving. The hall shook as students erupted into a spontaneous mass haka to induct one of their own as head prefect for 2017. Seeing him stand there, head bowed, strong yet humble — then watching him join the haka with equal pride and passion — well, it made my heart sing.
Because, in between those two invigorating celebrations of native leadership, a nasty, narcissistic reality TV star with dodgy business credentials, a short attention span and obnoxious attitude — a self-confessed sex offender and serial liar —was voted Top Dog in the World. Decisively.
Democracy had not just spoken, it had screeched.
While Bernie Sanders initially had “nothing polite to say” about the Democrats or the president-elect, commentators and journalists are still picking over the carcass of one of the nastiest elections in American history.
Trump beckoned to the poor and the privileged, the racist and the God-fearing. His off-the-chart shameless rhetoric drew in anyone who felt hard done by and angry. Yes. Even women. Latinos. People on a good whack. Republican diehards. There were black folk wearing the red caps at his victory event.
Trump tapped into their real and imagined grievances. He captured all that pent-up resentment, frustration and anger and then, like a charlatan hosting a séance, channeled it into convenient scapegoats. He spoke in tongues and people heard what they wanted to hear. Even as he lied through his teeth, even if he was lacking in ideology, policy, expertise, detail and logic, it wasn’t what he said that was important. It’s how he made his followers feel. And he made them feel like he was one of them smashing up against “the establishment”.
Bernie Sanders also railed against the status quo and neo-liberalism. “A Future to Believe In,” he said. Bernie excited and mobilised a movement by connecting with young people in particular — and that’s no mean feat. But we never got to see the Sanders movement go up against the Trump one.
Now the self-proclaimed “greatest democracy in the world” is descending into the Disunited States of America. As a dangerous cabal gathers around the authoritarian Trump, protests are erupting. Reports are coming in of racially-motivated attacks and abuse. Trump has let the genie out of the bottle and it’s an ugly little bastard. But it was always there. Trump just gave people permission to be upfront about it.
We can stab it with our steely knives, but we just can’t kill the beast.
Hotel California keeps running through my brain.
Many of us outside America are simply shaking our heads. “Ana — kaitoa. Karma. Chickens have come home to roost.” Look at their record — the consequences of US foreign policy, the expansion of America’s military presence, the history of slavery and ongoing brutality against Afro-Americans. And in San Francisco, I heard native Hawaiians continually refer to the invasion of their islands, and how the US bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867, before it became the 49th state in 1959.
As supporters piled into Standing Rock in opposition to the state of North Dakota and oil corporations, mainstream media ignored the biggest protest in their midst. I kept waiting for a discussion panel on CNN that would include a First Nations commentator, or a poll that would take the pulse of America’s native people. We heard about blacks, Latinos, women and youth — but not from or about tangata whenua. Democracy doesn’t work for those who don’t have the numbers. In the lead-up to election night, First Nations people were invisible. Make America Great Again would’ve had a whole different meaning for them.
As we move towards our own election, can we afford to get too smug? Is there a possibility that New Zealand could produce our own Trump? I mean, there’s creepy stuff going on here too.
Iwi/Kiwi. Māori privilege. We are all one. One law for all.
We have political leaders here who aren’t averse to scapegoating Māori to score points. Winston Peters springs to mind. Don Brash. Read the comments section under any sane article about racism or Pākehā privilege and you understand how disconnected some New Zealanders are from facts. There’s a Māori4Trump Facebook page, for God’s sake, and plenty who, despite Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, are adopting a “let’s wait and see” attitude.
In San Fran, I asked participants to identify those core values that define us as First Nations peoples, to explore what leadership traditionally looked like. Then I ran an exercise similar to one Moana Jackson led for a bunch of us in the ‘80s: “What would your country look like if your lot took over at midnight? How could you use those key values we just talked about to build new systems and processes that are inclusive, kind, and respectful, so the whole country remains functional in a global sense?”
I gave them 20 minutes.
When each group reported back, there was no mention of deportations or retribution or isolation or building walls. The new power structures began at community and island level, and spread out and upwards. The new world order envisaged by these young people was based on old school values: whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga. In other words, what’s good for Māori and other First Nations people is good for everyone.
These kids were actually talking about constitutional transformation. It’s big and important stuff that a relatively young country like ours can do. Heck, we’ve been talking about it for long enough.
Now I’m no politician or academic, but hanging out with these young folk in both the US and New Zealand was uplifting. It was a celebration of legacy and potential. I’m reminded of the visionaries in our whakapapa, the academics and activists in our midst — and the fresh, young, critical minds we can tap into in order to think and dream big.
I believe Māori are entering a very interesting time. We’re starting to critique our own people and institutions at grassroots and national level, which is a big thing. More and more Pākehā are doing the same thing.
It’s important we draw on our shared values and keep joining forces. New Zealanders do it so well in times of adversity. Last week, as Rūaumoko, Tangaroa and Tāwhirimātea rose defiantly from their slumber, Ngāi Tahu and local marae worked alongside emergency services, the defence forces and volunteers to help those affected by Monday’s earthquake. Manaakitanga is something New Zealanders are famous for.
The US election was a wake-up call. It taught me how important it is to support responsible and quality journalism, and to be wary of newsfeeds on social media. We have to prepare to deal to a Trump talkalike, because someone here will have been taking notes from the nasty dude (who didn’t even bother to have his wife standing next to him when he did his victory speech).
It’s time to whip our own passions and anger into a movement that’s transformative and visionary and values-based. One that has kindness and respect at its heart, and that political parties will be forced to respond to.
If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. (Reverend Al Sharpton.)
Courage. Integrity. Authenticity. That’s what counts. Collaboration. Mobilisation. That’s what we need to do.
You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.
So it’s game on. Keep calm and fight on.
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