The syco­phancy sur­round­ing Don­ald Trump is of the same or­der as that en­joyed by Cold War-era despots

Financial Mail - - AT HOME & ABROAD - @jus­tice­malala by Jus­tice Malala

OK, I’ve fi­nally made up my mind. When I grow up I want to be pres­i­dent. I don’t want to be a pres­i­dent of a large cor­po­ra­tion, like the Amer­i­cans have. No, those kinds of pres­i­dents like to have peo­ple in the room who ac­tu­ally think for them­selves. Well, some­times they do. I don’t want that. It’s po­lit­i­cal of­fice I’m headed for.

I also don’t want to be just any old pres­i­dent, such as Nel­son Man­dela or Barack Obama or John F Kennedy or any­one like that. When I grow up I want to be a pres­i­dent like Don­ald Trump. The man is just, well, un­be­liev­able. He runs his cab­i­net as if he is a me­dieval lord or some blood­thirsty monarch.

I grew up in the 1980s read­ing about Cold War-era despots lin­ing up their cab­i­net min­is­ters and get­ting them to pledge loy­alty, and I never thought I would live to see such stuff in real life.

I once read an ex­tra­or­di­nary story about how then Ital­ian prime min­is­ter Ben­ito Mus­solini called a cab­i­net meet­ing — it was on De­cem­ber 30 1924 — at which he de­manded a show of sup­port from all min­is­ters present. He had set up two heav­ies in the meet­ing — a gen­eral who rep­re­sented the army and a min­is­ter who con­trolled the po­lice — to sup­port him.

Those in the room were not about to walk out af­ter go­ing against the two heav­ies. The loy­alty pledge passed very nicely and swiftly, thanks very much.

In the 1970s Uganda’s Idi Amin staged a pub­lic­ity stunt for the world me­dia in which he forced white res­i­dents of the cap­i­tal, Kam­pala, to carry him on a throne and then kneel be­fore him and re­cite an oath of loy­alty. Mmm. Don’t let my friends in the EFF see this col­umn. They might get ideas.

I now find that, in the 21st cen­tury, this sort of thing still hap­pens.

Last week Trump called a cab­i­net meet­ing that he opened with a 95minute mono­logue de­scribed by the New York Times as “free­wheel­ing and fact-free”.

Then the ex­tra­or­di­nary hap­pened. Trump asked the cab­i­net mem­bers for their con­tri­bu­tions on bor­der se­cu­rity.

“One by one, they re­sponded by prais­ing their boss,” the paper re­ported. “Kirst­jen Nielsen, the home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, ap­plauded his lead­er­ship on bor­der se­cu­rity. She was fol­lowed by the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Matthew G Whi­taker, who saluted the pres­i­dent for giv­ing up his Christ­mas and New Year’s hol­i­days ‘while some mem­bers of Congress went on va­ca­tion’ … Not to be out­done, Vice-pres­i­dent Mike Pence … piled on the com­pli­ments: ‘I want to thank you for the strong stand you have taken on bor­der se­cu­rity.’”

That wasn’t the first time, ei­ther. In 2017, at Trump’s first cab­i­net meet­ing, pretty much the same thing hap­pened. Pence jumped in first: “The great­est priv­i­lege of my life is to serve as vi­cepres­i­dent to a pres­i­dent who’s keep­ing his word to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

That meet­ing con­cluded with then chief of staff Reince Priebus: “On be­half of the en­tire se­nior staff around you, Mr Pres­i­dent, we thank you for the op­por­tu­nity and the bless­ing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

You would have thought some kind of de­ity was in the meet­ing. A few months later, Trump fired Priebus.

Trump’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily of­fen­sive be­hav­iour has be­come nor­malised in the US. It is sim­i­lar to the way South Africans just gave in to the tor­ture dur­ing the dark years of Ja­cob Zuma.

You may know that the US fed­eral gov­ern­ment is in par­tial shut­down be­cause Democrats will not vote to give Trump bil­lions to build a wall on the bor­der with Mex­ico. Trump had re­peat­edly promised, on the cam­paign trail in 2015/2016, that Mex­ico would pay for the wall.

Now he wants the US to foot the bill. He doesn’t seem to see, or care about, his own about-face.

That’s the way it is in Wash­ing­ton. Ev­ery day there is a new in­sult, a new out­rage, a new mono­logue of “not fac­tual” ut­ter­ances by the pres­i­dent (counted by the press with glee). Ex­pect a tur­bu­lent year ahead in for­eign af­fairs. That’s what hap­pens when you have lead­ers like these.

Don­ald Trump runs his cab­i­net as if he is a me­dieval lord or some blood­thirsty monarch

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