“Katie bar the door,” Sen. John Tester told NPR this morning. It set the host back a half-minute. She didn’t understand what he meant. It terrified me. A flood of horrible memories just before Kenya’s civil war waved through me.
“Ruto n’mbungu!” my most senior driver, quiet James, retorted after I’d scolded all of them to just cool it, “nothing bad will happen” that December, 2007. The two expressions, one in English one in Swahili sound awfully similar to me. And I was wrong in 2007. Really wrong. Thank god James made me heed him.
It’s kind of hard to explain why those two expressions seem so terrifyingly similar. Literally the Swahili is, “Ruto’s a worm!” So there’s no obvious similarity. But my god how they sound alike! Perhaps it’s just the cadence, the fact that “n’”in the vernacular is “is” and often swallowed before said. That makes them both five-syllable expressions, anyway.
They’re also both horrifically sibylline.
William Ruto is currently Kenya’s Deputy President. In 2007 he was the leader of a tribe that had vowed to kill the current president who he serves under, Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta had just defeated the leader of a tribe allied to Ruto’s in the highly contested presidential election. No chance in seven years Biden will still be president and Trump will be vice-president, but hey that’s what happened in Kenya.
James could explain the history of the world in five or six words. He’s part of the formulation for my upcoming book, The World by Ole Surit. Not until this morning did I realize how far-sighted that old man was. His intention back then wasn’t to upstage the likes of Jon Meacham. It was to keep me and my clients from being killed.
Take heed, America.
I just don’t have the training or skills in either politics or language to try to unweave the emotional reaction I had this morning to some rational history. So let me just explain it this way:
Republicans – and I don’t mean Murkowski or Romney or Sasse or Cheney, as much as I dislike some of them. I mean Cruz and Hawley and Trump and the 4 in 10 Republicans who just told an arch conservative organization this week that violence is coming.
Republicans are more pure than non-Republicans. They are wedded to their ideas like the blood that weds families and tribes together. They are also nearly childishly optimistic. They really believe that America is invincible, that nothing will ever replace it.
Like tribalism in Africa they are this way for all sorts of reasons. The most important is time. Republicans have been around longer than any other single political party. Many, many were born long after the first Republican ideas emerged and have many relatives who died while Republicanism prevailed. It’s old.
Its basic ideas are sound, a certain belief in individual worth. Individual worth is all that many minority tribes in Africa have cultivated to keep them from being assimilated out of existence.
There’s a stupid (I think likely racist) belief among westerners that Africans lived forever in vast lands with unlimited resources. Nothing could be further from the truth. Africa isn’t the Amazon. Do a resource-accessible study with ancient peoples in Africa and you come up with some of the most contentious and competitive societies ever seen on pre-modern earth.
Whether it was the San forced out of the Namib by climate change thousands of years ago or the Hausas and Falatahs slaughtering each other along the Niger, The Zulus and Mtebele in southern Africa, Africa smashed humans together like no other place on the planet before the 20th Century.
Republicans have seniority and idealism, both which need time to develop. Frankly I believe most Republicans are nicer than most Democrats. They carry on a grandpa culture, a legacy of can-do entrepreneurism, because they’ve been in power longer than any other group. But it also makes them easily manipulated: confidence lets them let their guard down.
Part of that over-confidence is a belief they don’t need education to the extent we know modern humans need it. Alas, there is no climate change, masking doesn’t help, vaccines give you autism. It gets dangerous when they believe accountability isn’t necessary. All that’s needed is a handshake and quick apology.
So Fox News which is much smarter than Republicans cherry picks images and sounds and events and creates false equivalences with virtually any real event. Fox News does this to make money. Republicans believe it because they believe in belief: They’re naive.
James was telling me that I and many of his fellow Kikuyus were too self-confident for the modern day. He was telling me there was going to be war because the principle instrument of violence, William Ruto, was going to worm out of any accountability.
John Tester is telling us if Trump isn’t convicted, ‘Katie bar the door.’ Look it up. It’s sibylline.
(In that interview Tester said he was remaining open on whether to convict, waiting to hear the defense. That’s polite, trying to trump the best of Republicanism. After all he represents the very center of the lion’s den.)