Broth­ers from dif­fer­ent moth­ers

They did not grow up in a sim­i­lar way, but Trump and Zuma are both do­ing their best to de­stroy their par­ties’ tra­di­tions

CityPress - - News - MONDLI MAKHANYA mondli.makhanya@city­press.co.za

The worlds that US pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Donald Trump and Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma come from could not be more dif­fer­ent. As the son of a New York prop­erty mogul, Trump was born with the prover­bial sil­ver spoon stick­ing out of his mouth. Raised to take over the familly busi­ness, Trump had all the op­por­tu­ni­ties the world could of­fer and, by the time he be­came an adult, he had mil­lions of dol­lars and a nice busi­ness em­pire to in­herit from lov­ing Daddy.

Zuma, the son of peas­ants, had to jug­gle school­ing with cat­tle-herd­ing du­ties. This jug­gling even­tu­ally forced him to leave school be­fore morn­ing break­time. His adult­hood was one of trade union and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, jail time and ex­ile.

The thing that unites these two men at this point in his­tory is that they hold their par­ties – both his­tor­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions – hostage to their pop­ulist whims.

Many par­al­lels have been drawn be­tween Trump and Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers leader Julius Malema, mainly be­cause Malema has been prone to mak­ing prom­ises as wild and out­ra­geous as those of the Re­pub­li­can Party’s pre­sump­tive pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. This is some­what sim­plis­tic. The bet­ter par­al­lel is be­tween him and the leader of the ANC, as both men have lit­tle re­gard for their re­spec­tive par­ties’ rich tra­di­tions, ide­o­log­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion and pol­icy po­si­tions. They even share the com­mon thread of un­con­ven­tional paths to the top of the po­lit­i­cal pile.

Zuma rose on the back of a pop­ulist re­bel­lion against the stiff-necked Thabo Mbeki and the per­ceived con­ser­va­tive eco­nomic poli­cies his govern­ment was fol­low­ing. He was the un­likely leader of a po­lit­i­cal that since its for­ma­tion in 1912, the or­gan­i­sa­tion that had been led by men of pedi­gree. Pre­vi­ous lead­ers had ei­ther been well-ed­u­cated or gen­er­ally had a good re­la­tion­ship with books. They grasped big con­cepts and were pro­gres­sive in outlook. Zuma had a hos­tile re­la­tion­ship with the al­pha­bet and was more com­fort­able grasp­ing bo­soms than grasp­ing con­cepts.

The cam­paign that brought the dodgy Zuma to power was wild and rau­cous. His sup­port­ers railed against the es­tab­lish­ment, pro­ject­ing their man as an out­sider like them who would usher them in­side the tent. They were not big on deco­rum. Vul­gar lan­guage and rude dis­plays were the or­der of the day among his le­gion as he made his way to Luthuli House and the Union Build­ings.

Since he took power, he has been er­ratic in mak­ing po­lit­i­cal pro­nounce­ments. From promis­ing to ex­ile preg­nant school­girls to re­mote camps and en­dors­ing apartheid era polic­ing meth­ods, to reg­u­larly con­tra­dict­ing the ba­sis of the con­sti­tu­tional or­der, Zuma has flown against his party’s well-can­vassed po­si­tions. He would sim­ply ut­ter what­ever came to mind that was go­ing to win ap­plause.

Dur­ing his ten­ure, Zuma has turned the cul­ture of the ANC on its head to such an ex­tent that party vet­er­ans and those who were in­volved in the in­ter­nal mass demo­cratic move­ment say they no longer recog­nise the party. It has, they say, been re­designed in Zuma’s im­age. On his watch the party has been wracked with fac­tion­al­ism and in­ter­nal con­flicts have some­times de­scened into vi­o­lence.

Trump has done pretty much the same damge to the 162-year-old Re­pub­li­can Party.

While the party prides it­self for its com­mit­ment to con­ser­va­tive val­ues and eco­nomic poli­cies, it is not a ra­bid right-wing force.

How­ever, since Bar­rack Obama be­came pres­i­dent, an ex­trem­ist wing of the party has gained as­cen­dancy by un­der­min­ing the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent among white vot­ers. Trump, who has never had a po­lit­i­cal pro­file, has been at the fore­front of this racist cam­paign­ing. He even led the charge that Obama needed to prove that he was born in the US, a pre­req­ui­site for any­one want­ing to oc­cupy the coun­try’s high­est of­fice.

With­out the re­straint of Re­pub­li­can politi­cians who hold of­fice and must there­fore be­have re­spon­si­bly, Trump has pulled out all the stops to de­monise Obama. Over the past eight years, he has be­come a favourite of con­ser­va­tive ra­dio sta­tions and the un­hinged Fox TV, and a pop­u­lar in­vi­tee to red­neck po­lit­i­cal events.

Like Zuma, he fash­ioned him­self as a po­lit­i­cal out­sider and a cham­pion of the masses who feel ex­cluded by the pro­fes­sional politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton and the state cap­i­tals. This posh, stink­ing rich New Yorker was to be the com­mon man’s man. Trump sup­port­ers have not shied away from vul­gar­ity and crass­ness to­wards op­po­nents in their own party and in the ri­val Demo­cratic Party.

The owner of sev­eral beauty pageants has his own lik­ing for bo­soms – fa­mously say­ing dur­ing a TV in­ter­view that his then one-year-old daugh­ter, Tif­fany, had a lot of her mother in her, but he didn’t yet know how her breasts would look – and is very back­ward in his think­ing about women.

“The smart ones act very fem­i­nine and needy, but in­side they are real killers ... The per­son who came up with the ex­pres­sion ‘the weaker sex’ was ei­ther very naive or had to be kid­ding. I have seen women ma­nip­u­late men with just a twitch of their eye – or per­haps an­other body part,” he wrote in his mem­oirs.

And just like across the At­lantic, the Grand Old Party’s main­stream lead­ers ini­tially took Trump lightly and rea­soned that he would burn out sooner or later.

By the time the GOP grandees woke up to the se­ri­ous­ness of Trump’s ap­peal dur­ing the pri­maries, he had rewrit­ten the cam­paign book. His racist, xeno­pho­bic, misog­y­nist ways – and all the things that a party of govern­ment does not want to be as­so­ci­ated with – seemed to make him at­trac­tive to the base.

More scary for the party lead­er­ship was that the sup­port base was buy­ing into his crazy po­lit­i­cal mes­sages, which strayed far from the party plat­form and ide­ol­ogy.

His “Amer­ica first” for­eign pol­icy – a throw­back to the early part of the 20th cen­tury – con­tra­dicts the party’s po­si­tion of want­ing the US to lead the world from the front, some­thing that nec­es­sar­ily means be­ing en­gaged with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. His ap­petite for trade wars and pro­tec­tion­ism are also not in the party script. Nei­ther are his lu­natic po­si­tions on im­mi­gra­tion, on which the party is quite prag­matic. On eco­nomic pol­icy, he sup­ports bet­ter tax­a­tion of the rich and has warmed to the idea of a higher na­tional min­i­mum wage, the bane of free-mar­ket con­ser­va­tives. Even on so­cial se­cu­rity, he has taken a stance to the left of the party.

Of great con­cern to the elected lead­er­ship is that while they run the party ma­chin­ery and are in con­trol of the na­tional leg­is­la­ture, Trump has the peo­ple’s hearts. In essence, he has hi­jacked the party and re­con­fig­ured its mes­sage to match his bath­tub mus­ings.

It is a ter­ri­ble po­si­tion to be in when the party plat­form is sup­posed to be a sus­tain­able one, which has been sci­en­tif­i­cally crafted with the help of think-tanks and based on years of ex­pe­ri­ence on the part of those who have been in govern­ment or in Con­gress.

A bru­tal civil war is now rag­ing in­side the party, with Trump and those who sup­port him ef­fec­tively telling the top dogs that it is they and not him who should fall in line. Vet­er­ans such as the two Bush pres­i­dents and other Re­pub­li­can heavy­weights who have crit­i­cised Trump have been rudely shouted down or ig­nored by his tri­umphal­ist camp. Sound fa­mil­iar, fel­low South Africans?

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who, like his se­nior col­leagues, is re­luc­tant to en­dorse Trump un­til he falls into the party’s ide­o­log­i­cal and pol­icy line, met him this week to “dis­cuss the core prin­ci­ples that tie us to­gether”. “Go­ing for­ward, we’re go­ing to go a lit­tle deeper in the pol­icy weeds to make sure we have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of one an­other,” said Ryan.

Whether or not Trump wins the White House in Novem­ber, one thing is clear: he will have pro­foundly changed the char­ac­ter of the Re­pub­li­can Party. He will have caused the most dam­ag­ing di­vi­sions in the party’s re­cent his­tory, rifts that will take ages to heal.

Trump and Zuma may never get to sit down over tea to share notes on their lega­cies and, of course, bo­soms, but, should this ever hap­pen, they will have a lot to dis­cuss about the art of de­stroy­ing ver­i­ta­ble in­sti­tu­tions for the sake of one’s ego or per­sonal in­ter­ests.

SPOT THE DIF­FER­ENCE Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma (right) and the US Re­pub­li­can Party’s pre­sump­tive pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Donald Trump

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