Opinionista Sanele Zondi 25 August 2015

The Donald & Julius

Donald J Trump reminds me of Julius S Malema, though they are 'polar opposites' in the ideological landscape. They have many similarities: both speak their minds, both couldn’t care less about being politically correct, both are loved by the downtrodden and marginalised whether we like it or not, both are loathed by the political elite, both are heavily reliant on their personalities and both have nothing to lose, making them very dangerous political human beings.

Over the last few weeks I have developed a keen interest in observing US politics given the upcoming presidential election in 2016. Candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties have been on the campaign trail to seek nominations to represent their respective parties in the presidential election. The Republicans and Democrats allow candidates to campaign for nomination in the buildup to the Primaries and Caucuses which are held in each state and culminate in one candidate being elected to represent their party in the presidential election.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Ellis Bush (Jeb) were both widely expected to be frontrunners to win a nomination from their parties to run for president. Clinton is after all a former First Lady of Arkansas, former First Lady of the US, a former New York State senator and a former secretary of state. She is also married to the universally popular Bill Clinton who was famously good friends with the late Nelson Mandela and was the 42nd president of the US. Jeb Bush is the former governor of Florida State, grandson of a Connecticut senator Prescott Bush, son of the 41st president of the US George HW Bush and younger brother to the 43rd president of the US George W Bush.

Expectations that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would easily win their party’s nomination to run for president were therefore not far-fetched. Just like the Kennedy family, both their families are political dynasties. But things are apparently not meant to be easy for both of them in this upcoming presidential election. Clinton’s poll numbers continue to plunge daily, with socialist Bernie Sanders leading Democratic polls in the key state of New Hempshire. Sanders pulls crowds of up to 30,000 in his campaign rallies and Clinton has barely attracted 3,000 to her rallies. Bush has also been trailing in the Republican polls. In fact, some polls show him at a lowly number seven, with a fellow named Donald Trump leading with double digits in ALL the polls. Even the so-called liberal-leaning media outlets in the US, such as NBC, MSNBC, New York Times, etc, have Trump – also known as The Donald – leading with double digits.

The Donald has not only defied the laws of political gravity, he has defied the normal patterns of politics and shattered all the conventions of campaigning in the US. He has fired a broadside at almost everyone, from his fellow presidential hopefuls, to the media – including Fox News which is famously conservative and pro-Republican – to women, to President Barack Obama and Clinton, to neighboring Mexico and John McCain, a former prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam and who ran against Barack Obama in the 2008 US presidential election. McCain was tortured by the Vietnamese for more than five years while being held in solitary confinement as a POW. Trump infamously told a reporter that he does not care about McCain because he only became famous as a POW, otherwise nobody would have known about him. Trump said he personally did not care about soldiers who are captured because he believes they ought to be clever enough not to be captured. The Donald does not even care what the political elite thinks, he just speaks his mind, however uncomfortably this may sit with some people.

Trump is unconstrained by the norms of running for political office, and thrives on not being politically correct. He is often ridiculed by comics, Hollywood, the media, the ruling elite and others as being a clown. The American elite is simply terrified of Trump. He is uncontrollable and some may say, as he often says so himself, he cannot be bought by special interests, because he is a billionaire. A typical example of this is when asked during an interview by a reporter about the Ukrainian political question, The Donald responded: “Why are we leading the charge as the US in Ukraine? I’m certainly not a fan of us being against Russia for Ukraine when Germany is sitting back, you know, accepting all the oil and gas that they can get from Russia.” This frank, and ignorant, statement from Trump has the political elite in the US up in arms.

The fact is, the Republican base loves Trump because he is unscripted and couldn’t care less about being politically correct. The fellow just speaks his mind. Interestingly, rich as he is, his support largely comes from the downtrodden and marginalised, who in the main come from the far-right of the Republican Party. His anti-immigration, anti-establishment, pro-guns and anti-outsourcing of jobs to Mexico and China stance resonates with them. The US’s political elite loathe him. In fact, upon thorough analysis, Trump is actually more centre-left than he is far-right, given his long and public support for gay rights, affirmative action, Planned Parenthood, a regulated economy that is protectionist, an interventionist state, etc, but that is a debate for another day.

Donald J Trump actually reminds me of Julius S Malema, though they are ‘polar opposites’ in the ideological landscape. They have many similarities. Both speak their minds, both couldn’t care less about being politically correct, both are loved by the downtrodden and marginalised whether we like it or not, both are loathed by the political elite, both are heavily reliant on their personalities and both have nothing to lose, with the latter making them very dangerous political human beings. Just like The Donald, Malema was repeatedly mocked by the media, mocked by comedians and mocked in political circles as a person who failed woodwork in high school which therefore disqualified him in their eyes to speak about anything, let alone economic freedom for the black masses.

Some of us have warned that Malema is in fact not the person people wish him to be: he is an incredibly smart, cunning, eloquent and hugely charismatic tactician and politician who defies the odds of political gravity. Both Trump and Malema have throngs of supporters and are mobbed by hundreds to thousands of people wherever they go. I have personally witnessed on countless occasions over many years how Malema is mobbed in malls by both the young and old, by both white and black people, and I have seen how the dude almost brings the airport to a standstill every time he travels.

I have seen him over many years at OR Tambo International, King Shaka International and Cape Town International and how white people both young and old patiently wait their turn to take a selfie with him, like a rockstar. I have often wondered who these white people are who are said to hate Julius, because I have witnessed the opposite firsthand. In the African National Congress Youth League I travelled with him to far flung places like Stellenbosch and have seen how white people including Afrikaners jostle to have a discussion with him and even take a picture with him. I travelled with him when he went to address Jewish groups in the synagogue next to Parliament in Cape Town and witnessed thousands of white people give him a standing ovation every time he raised a point.

Julius and The Donald are often called illiterate, uncouth, unintelligent and rabble rousers, and yet both are fiercely loved by their supporters and continue to grow their supporter numbers. By the way, Trump has a business degree from the Wharton School of Business at an Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, and Malema has a communications diploma and has just finished writing his last exam to acquire his degree in politics and economics.

What is clear is that both men are loved across many divides, albeit silently by some, lest they suffer political persecution; across religions and across racial lines. Both men bring out the extremes in people: they either love them or hate them. Perhaps more accurately, society has a love/hate relationship with these two. Society loves to hate them, and hates to love them. Their charisma knows no bounds. I do not like both men’s politics, but I readily accept that both are smart, media savvy and master tacticians. Maybe, just maybe, the downtrodden are tired of business-as-usual and scripted politicians, hence the rise of civic organisations and leaders who lead ‘service delivery’ protests in communities, especially in South Africa. By the way, even in India ‘uncouth’ nonconformist Narendra Modi, who leads the Bharatiya Janata Party and was shunned by the ruling Congress Party elite, rose to prominence and eventually ousted the Congress Party which had governed India for a total of 27 years, albeit interrupted, to become prime minister.

The only reason why both Julius and The Donald are successful and resonate with the marginalised and downtrodden is because of us, nobody else. We have widened the gap between ourselves and the masses, just as the ruling elite in the US has widened the gap between themselves and those they rule over. People have been unhappy for a long time. They do not feel as though their leaders listen to them, hence the gap that The Donald and Julius so successfully exploit; nature does not allow a vacuum to exist. We have seen this during the Arab Spring and in other corners of the globe.

The only way to close the gap is to listen to the masses. Lest we forget.

I so move! DM


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