Get your popcorn and get ready for the greatest political show on earth.
Today sees the official kickoff of the US presidential race, a gruelling marathon that leaves energies sapped and bank accounts dry.
While the battle to succeed Barack Obama in the White House has been raging since he took the oath for the second time in January 2013, today’s primary in Iowa marks the moment the official starter gun goes off.
From there, the show will move to New Hampshire and then countrywide until June, climaxing in November with the election.
It is the most fascinating and high-octane political contest in the world. And what is even more delicious is that we get to experience it blow by blow. Unlike the intrigue-filled succession in that other superpower called China, America’s version is pure entertainment.
This year’s race has thrown up interesting permutations on both the Democratic and Republican slates. On the latter’s side there has been a worrisome swing to right wing populism, with billionaire Donald Trump and conservative senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio leading the pack.
The situation is now such that even if voters tire of Trump’s buffoonery and call his bluff, the other two men, who may not be as absurd as him, are also rabidly right wing.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is facing a tough challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders, a man who self-describes as a democratic socialist. This is weird in a country that has, over the decades, been so obsessively anti-socialist it once conducted official communist witch-hunts.
Terrified at the prospect of populists taking over the world’s largest economy, The Economist noted that “the race for the world’s most powerful office has been upended more by outsiders than any election in the past half-century”.
It worried that because Republicans were smarter campaigners than Clinton, the chances of one of them landing up in the Oval Office were high.
This, of course, would be a disaster not only for the US, but the world. During the campaign, they have been endorsed by crazies on the evangelical circuit, right wing populists on conservative broadcasting houses and gun-loving imbeciles throughout the nation.
They have said some rather scary things as they made promises about what they intended to do to “restore America’s greatness”. Under any of them, the world would be a more dangerous place than it was under hawkish cowboy George W Bush. There will be more bombs landing in desert lands than ever before.
For Africa, it would spell terrible news. They either do not care about Africa or, in the case of Trump, are hostile to the continent. Cruz and Rubio’s Africa consists of north Africa, where they believe lie threats to American security and the safety of Israel.
In Trump’s world, Africa is some infested backwater somewhere that should always be the target of derision. His comment on the #BlackLivesMatter campaign – which was a response to police killings of African-Americans – was to declare that “there’s no such thing as racism any more”.
“We’ve had a black president, so it’s not a question any more. Are they saying black lives should matter more than white lives or Asian lives? If black lives matter, then go back to Africa. We’ll see how much they matter there,” he scoffed.
A few months earlier, he was making waves by saying Africa should be recolonised for 100 years; that Africans are so useless they “import everything, including matchsticks”, that African countries “only qualify to be used as a case study whenever bad examples are required” and Obama “and his Kenyan brothers and sisters should be deported back to Kenya to make America safe”.
Ordinarily, you would place a safe bet that the highest office a man with such outlandish views would reach is chairperson of his local bowling club. Not so.
In less than 12 months’ time, Trump could – together with Vladimir Putin – be responsible for world peace.
He could be representing the world’s biggest economy at multinational forums where issues of integrating developing nations into the world economy, as well as fair trade, are being discussed.
No prizes for guessing what his and his two rivals’ positions would be when such issues arise.
It may sound like a doomsday scenario, but Africa should start preparing itself for a polar night insofar as relations with the US are concerned.
South Africa, whose relations with the US under Obama can best be described as cordial and practical, would be in for a rough ride if the man who once described the country as “a crime-ridden mess that is just waiting to explode” is elected president.
The answer to a possible far-right takeover of the White House will not be to “look East”, as some of our politicians will suggest. It will be to bolster our diplomatic capabilities so as to penetrate sectors of American power and bypass the White House for most of our dealings.