On a daily basis, and much like Jacob Zuma, Trump challenges the capacity of reporters to play by the rules of fairness and balance. His provocations are deliberate.
Someone tried to blow up the Democratic Party as it gathered in Philadelphia this week to unify around presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Prime suspect? Jacob Zuma’s best friend forever, Vladimir Putin. These are extraordinary times.
The device was an information bomb: 20 000 emails heisted from the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) servers between January 2015 and the end of May this year. CrowdStrike and other private cybersecurity experts have fingered the FSB, successor to the KGB, and the GRU, Moscow’s military intelligence directorate. US intelligence agencies are said to have “high confidence” the Russian government was involved.
In 415 BCE, Alcibiades, a made-for-reality-TV Athenian with a lot of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in him, revved up his countrymen (the women had no say) to add Sicily to their empire. There being no checks or balances to blunt the passions of the voting demos, off they sent thousands of their finest over the objections of Nicias, a seasoned general who knew better. Few came back. Athens was never great again.
The story, as narrated by the historian Thucydides, was seared into my memory at school, the same school attended by Britain’s lame duck prime minister, David Cameron, and his bloated nemesis, Johnson. Had Cameron learnt a little Greek, he might have been slower to submit a question of no less consequence to a similarly unfiltered national plebiscite.
What moved 52% of British voters to opt for Brexit would appear to be much the same disgruntlement that has led to Trump becoming the Republican party’s de facto presidential nominee.
Happily, America does not choose its CE by referendum.
Between 1999 and 2014, more than 165,000 Americans died from overdoses of OxyContin and other opioid painkillers. One in four people prescribed this class of drug on a long-term basis becomes an addict. Emergency rooms treat 1,000 opioid abuse cases a day. Se we are told by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s dangerous stuff. The opioid fentanyl killed the musician Prince.
Thanks in no small part to OxyContin, the heirs of Arthur Sackler were in 2015 named the 16th-richest family in America, ahead of the Rockefellers. Forbes put the clan’s net worth at $14bn. Its closely held company, Purdue Pharma, patented the drug — synthetic heroin in a time-release pill — and has been pushing it very aggressively since the mid-90s.
Mankind, wrote Edward Gibbon, has a “propensity … to exalt the past and deprecate the present”. Donald Trump, the combed-over werewolf at Washington’s door, understands this. The reason he’s so worrisome is that for all too many voters, the past really was better.
In 1998, the median net worth of American families was $102,500. By 2013, measured in constant dollars, it was down 21% to $81,200, according to Federal Reserve (Fed) data crunched by personal finance columnist Liz Watson. Working-class families with incomes in the second-lowest quintile have been particularly hard-hit.
Their median net worth plunged 53% over the 15-year period, from $47,400 to $22,400. The top 10%, meanwhile, did nicely. Their median net worth surged 75%, to $1,130,700.
Which helps explain the distemper Trump is exploiting with his poisonous spew of other-bashing and protectionism. It also accounts for Bernie Sanders’s strong showing on the left. Assuming he does not win in November, Trump may end up doing his country and the world a favour, serving in all his vileness as a reform-inducing emetic.
THE American republic survived Richard Nixon. SA’s will survive Jacob Zuma. Of that John Campbell sounded confident when I spoke to him this week about his new book. He has called it Morning in SA. No “u”.
If you’re looking for a Washington establishment view on SA, Campbell is a good place to start. His state department career began in 1975. It included a stint in Pretoria as political counsellor between 1993 and 1996 and culminated in Nigeria, where he was ambassador from 2004 to 2007.
He is now the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The Nixon-Zuma analogy was his, not mine.
Robert McDonnell was elected governor of Virginia in 2009. Like President Jacob Zuma, he had cash flow problems. He also had a Schabir Shaik, a local businessman by the name of Jonnie Williams with a reputation as colourful as his Ferrari.
In 2014, the by then former governor and his wife, Maureen, were convicted on federal corruption charges. They are free on bail pending the outcome of separate appeals. Williams received immunity as the star witness. The matter is now before the Supreme Court which heard oral argument last week and is expected to rule in June. The justices seem of a mind to let the once rising Republican star walk. Zuma might appreciate their reasoning.
Remember the basic income grant South African labour unions, churches and NGOs campaigned for back in the 1990s and early noughties, but on which Trevor Manuel’s Treasury frowned on as a fiscal nonstarter? Silicon Valley A-lister Sam Altman thinks the US will have to adopt something like it within the next generation or two — and he’s not alone.
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, recently issued an interesting mea — or rather nostra — culpa for underestimating the appeal of Donald Trump. “We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen closely enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I am going to report accurately on this country.”
Wherever Trump is headed after Wednesday’s momentum-killing defeat in Wisconsin, it’s worth examining why almost no one in the US media elite saw him emerging as a genuine contender until he started winning real votes. That failure speaks, as Brooks says, to a disconnect between the American punditocracy and the world it purports to know about.
“WHAT is going to happen to us without barbarians? They were for us a kind of solution.”
So ends Constantin Cavafy’s poem, Waiting for the Barbarians. These lines came back to me as President Barack Obama spoke on Tuesday in Havana’s Grand Theatre. “I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”
What happens to the revolution, I wondered, without an immense and ever-looming external enemy to give meaning to the diet of rice and beans and take home pay of $20 a month on which most Cubans must subsist.