Thursday, November 17, 2016

I want to be an ostrich

I have the great good fortune of being able to live where I want, when I want.  Normally this is summer in Minneapolis, summer in Cape Town, and bits and pieces in other delightful places, such as Denmark (and Delta Airlines).

You may think this allows me to get away from it all.

Wrong!  Not only do I have to deal with the fallout of the US elections, but I have also to deal with the shenanigans in South Africa.  So I actually want to be morphed into one of South Africa’s great birds – the ostrich.  Head-in-the-sand Stan is who I want to be.

South Africans, as with people all around the globe, are very concerned about what effects a Trump presidency will have on their countries in terms of trade, investment, aid, and so on.  So our papers are full of people speculating about what is going to happen.  Of course, most people here are also concerned by the Trump electioneering rhetoric, particularly the disparaging of anyone who isn’t male and white.

But most of the commentary I read misses what I think is actually going to happen. 

Trump’s personality, at least to my viewpoint, has four major components: a bullying CEO mentality, an over-the-top narcissism, a short attention span, and basic ignorance about the world outside Trump Tower. 

The bullying CEO mentality has not prepared him for negotiations where he can’t just use his money to force closure.  His supporters trumpet the benefits of having a president who behaves like a CEO.  However, I think his CEO experience is a great weakness.  He is used to getting his own way no matter what, but in politics at his level, you never gets your own way.  No matter what you think or say, it’s always give and take.  Trump only has experience with one of these.

I think this weakness is already beginning to show in how his transition is not progressing: I think he’s trying to please everyone who supported him, from both right and far right.  He’s trying to play politician, when he ain’t one.  He’s trying to give to all sorts of people and give in to all sorts of ideas.  But he doesn’t understand the art of giving nor the consequences of giving badly. 

In terms of narcissism, one only has to look at the cloud of hangers-on at the moment, at the people whom he has either appointed or is considering appointing: lobbyists being prominent among them.  And what are lobbyists good at?  Flattery!  Trump will have his ego polished and stroked in so many ways, he will be in a state of perpetual egotistical orgasm.  He won’t know which way to turn.  He won’t be able to hold a steady course.  He won’t even know which course he should be holding.

And who may be the biggest flatterer of all?  I think it is Putin.  He must be rubbing his hands in glee at the pickings ahead.

Third, presidential politics is a long-term process, requiring attention and discipline.  Nothing Trump has done so far convinces me that he has either of these.  In fact, I thought he may even drop out of the race because it took too much focus.  Lack of attention gives others the opportunity to take advantage of you.  Lack of discipline is like having a rudderless boat.  It knows not in which direction to head.

Finally, having listened closely to most of what Trump said, I believe he is naïve in terms of the world and ignorant of history.  George Santayana once said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I would modify this for Trump to “Those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So I think the greatest threats of a Trump presidency are not racist or misogynistic policies or a jingoistic approach to international relations, but rather vacillation, policies based on quicksand, changes of direction, uncertainty, and a rotating door of personnel.  He built his campaign on discord, criticism of the establishment, and hate.  Even he can’t ride those through his presidency.  He will modify everything he’s already promised.  And modify them again.  And again.  No one will know what he or the country stands for or where it is going.

All is not hunky-dory in South Africa either.  We don’t have a President-elect, but rather a President who has passed his sell-by date.

President Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma was prominent in the anti-apartheid movement, for which he should be complimented and applauded.  However, whatever skills he learned in those years have not made him a good president.  In fact, probably his greatest two skills are graft and survival.

There is not enough space or time to describe the litany of accusations made against him, some of which he has been found guilty in the highest court of the land.  However, his canny survival skills ensured he surrounded himself with people who owe him something – usually because he has given them something, either position and/or its first cousin – money. 

Other people's money is not important to Zuma.  Here he sleeps during the budget debate.
Actually money is probably the more important motivator.  Lots of it.  Siphoned off from much-needed projects to raise people from the deprivations of apartheid.

However, there are signs of a few teeny-weeny cracks in Zuma’s omnipotence:  his party lost significant numbers of votes in the national municipal elections a few months ago; last December he fired a very competent Minister of Finance and replaced him by someone few had ever heard of.  Such was the outcry that Zuma was forced to fire him and replace him by another competent person.  This little episode caused the local currency, the rand, to plummet, wiping trillions off the markets.

Recently, the new Minister of Finance was accused of fraud by the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, and charges were laid.  The markets tanked once again, and legal experts shook their collective heads and said there was no case.  Even to the ostrich, this was a Zuma set up.  Now those charges have been withdrawn.  The head of the NPA probably will take the fall, but a new puppet will rise.

But throughout the land, even ex-colleagues of Zuma are calling on him to resign.  Of course, he won’t since his pocket is more important than the future of the county.  And the pockets of his supporters will continue to bulge.

Oh yes.  Did I mention that the Security Minister has been implicated in the poaching of rhinos?

Did I mention that an family of Indian businessmen, the Guptas, is widely thought to have had Zuma and many other high-ranking officials in their payroll?  That they were indulging in state capture – they wanted the whole country to be channeling funds towards their various enterprises?

To mention everything bad or suspicious within the ruling party here at the southern tip of Africa would be impossible to chronicle.  A truly sad state of affairs.

For which the USA should perhaps prepare itself.  After all the best presidents come from Africa.  Just take a look at this intriguing clip.

To end on a positive note, I have to say that there is freedom of the press in South Africa.  We know about the corruption because the press digs it out – unlike under the apartheid regime, where reporting on corruption was against the law.  Also, the courts have shown themselves to be strong and impartial – particularly the Constitutional Court, which interprets our wonderful constitution without regard to political pressures or personal biases.

And the best news of all is that the Proteas, South Africa’s national cricket side, thrashed the ever-arrogant Australians twice in two weeks – in Australia.  Even the ostrich pulled its head out of the sand and applauded.

Multi-racial, multi-faith Proteas celebrating


  1. Stan, The dark side: I prefer your expectations of a vacillating Trump to mine of Trump the perfect puppet to Pence and Godforbid Steven Bannon. The Light side: I love Trevor Noah. Thank you so much for giving me--in that video--something to pull my head out of the sand and cheer about. (PS: I remind you once AGAIN that you promised to escort me to a cricket match and explain to me what is happening. Is your delay because delivering on this promise is impossible because no one actually understands cricket, not even the players?)

  2. Annamaria, yesterday during the 2nd English/India test match a dog held up play by have a wee wander about on the pitch. That was the most exciting thing that happened. The players went off for an early tea as they couldn't cope with the trauma!

  3. I guess, Caro, that you are into spectator sports more energetic and exciting than cricket, such as curling or tossing the caber. Or perhaps omphaloskepsis.

  4. If more folk did that there would be a lot less trouble in the world!

  5. I, too, would like to be an ostrich and put my head in the sane while Trump and his racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, pro-war cabal jumps around.

    I fear for a lot of communities here and those being put in charge of the asylum, Steve Bannon, to start with. He is very dangerous.

    At least protesters are revved up. I think next year will be one of opposition and protest. It seems like even some Democrats are being moved to action.

  6. In keeping with the sports reference analyses, much the same as I react to watching cricket I reacted to the election results: "What the f*** is going on?"

    Sadly, the answer was blond curling.