In praise of Pras: the ex-Fugee recognized the disruptive potential of Trump long before the 'experts' did
The musician took a celebrity political outsider and got him elected president of Haiti, foreshadowing Trump
Nobody took Donald Trump seriously when he first announced his presidential candidacy, right? No one gave him a chance of winning the Republican nomination, or even staying in the race long. Certainly none of the so-called experts did.
But one politically-astute observer got it: Pras Michel, the musician and former member of The Fugees. He understood the significance of Trump way before the political pundits, well before even the Iowa Caucuses.
I keep telling [my friends, 'Don’t laugh at Donald Trump. Do not underestimate that.'
In an interview with Nonfictionfilm.com in November 2015, Pras said his buddies gave him flak for taking Trump seriously.
"I have friends of mine who keep making fun of me and I keep telling them, 'Don’t laugh at Donald Trump. Do not underestimate that. Because you do not know how disenfranchised people can become," told NFF. "I mean there’s a silent majority out there."
I was struck then by his analysis and keep going back to it in my mind as Trump defied all the predictions in the succeeding months -- knocking off one Republican rival after another in the primaries until he won the nomination. And then the same pattern recurred, of legit media outlets and pollsters giving him next to no chance to win the presidency. Now we know, as Pras had seen, there was indeed a huge pool of support for Donald Trump, his base "disenfranchised" white people of modest education.
Pras' tweeted this Wednesday, the day after Trump's election:
Pras' insight into Trump's potential came from his experience in Haiti in 2011, where he essentially handpicked a complete political novice -- singer Michel Martelly -- and got him elected president of Haiti. Before running for his country's highest office, Martelly was known to his countrymen as "Sweet Micky," an outrageous and hugely popular singer who sometimes performed in a diaper.
Martelly's longshot campaign -- and Pras' role orchestrating it -- was documented in the 2015 film Sweet Micky for President, which Pras produced and Ben Patterson directed.
Pras, a Haitian-American born in Brooklyn, had no experience running a political campaign before he took on the job of getting Martelly elected. Having little to no money for the bid, he concentrated on getting free media for his candidate -- first in the U.S. (TV news outlets demonstrated interest in the narrative because Martelly was running against Pras' former bandmate Wyclef Jean; Jean eventually was ruled ineligible to run).
"What’s interesting about this [documentary] -- I’m watching the parallel between Michel Martelly’s campaign and what’s going on with Donald Trump’s campaign," Pras told us in November 2015. "It’s almost like he went and looked at our blueprint because Donald Trump has not used or raised any money during his [first] six months of campaigning. He’s been using the media. That’s exactly what we did with Michel Martelly. Michel Martelly got on Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, CNN, Fox, Al-Jazeera with no money and plus he wasn’t even an American candidate."
I asked him then why he had selected Sweet Micky as his candidate. He told me, "My calculation was he was the most popular person in Haiti— well, him and Wyclef, obviously, but him a little bit more so because he’s actually Haitian, musically speaking. Secondly, he was an outsider and so I just thought it made a great combination."
Outsider. Celebrity, known for outrageous behavior. Ring a bell?
Reflecting on Martelly's unlikely election, Pras told NFF last November, "Michel only got elected because [people] felt like, 'We are tired of the status quo.' Now the people are not stupid. They know Michel couldn’t really govern this place. But it was a message to the status quo, like, 'Listen, we not fucking with you!' Do you know anyone who supports Donald Trump? I don’t know anyone who supports him or anyone who knows anyone... Yet he’s number one with 32 percent in the polls."
Pras then added, "I don’t have anything against the man. But he has some real aggressive rhetorics to him and whatnot. But still, people eatin’ it up and to me that’s the parallel between him and Sweet Micky. We seen it right here underneath our nose."
Pras might have seen it right underneath his nose, but the great majority of political experts did not.
Related: full interview with Pras Michel; on the difference between an artist and a politician and why his generation is 'like the last of the Mohicans'
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.