Allister Sparks

Crazy first world trends that boggle the mind

2015-09-30 07:05

Allister Sparks

Travel, it is said, broadens the mind, but I must confess that after travelling in Britain and the United States for the past six weeks I come home with my mind in a befuddled state. For those two supposedly sane societies seem to have gone round the bend.

First, the British Labour Party, having just lost an election it should have won, has, as I noted in a column earlier this month, replaced its left-wing loser with another leader, Jeffrey Corbyn, who is even further to the left. Indeed he is the most extreme left-wing leader the party has ever had.

I was brought up to believe that politics was the art of the possible, but it would appear that lust for loss is the primary sentiment among the reborn old-Labour puritans who brought Corbyn to victory. Purity rather than power. Idealistic but inadvisable.

Then, across the Atlantic, I found myself exposed to the alarming possibility of the property mogul, Donald Trump, becoming the next US president. If Corbyn is way to the left, then Trump is out of sight on the far distant right. Should both succeed in leading their countries, that would surely be the end of what has been fondly known as the "special relationship" between Britain and the US.

Trump is the ultimate caricature of the Ugly American, the stinking rich, loud, overbearing figure so many foreigners love to hate. No one knows how much he is worth, but a book he once wrote, The Art of the Deal, made it clear that the way to get mega-rich is by doing deals with other people's money. Trump also hosts a TV programme called The Celebrity Apprentice, a game show about hiring and firing people.

Not a nice man. As one US columnist put it the other day: "Trump does a dead-on impersonation of a defensive, insecure, schoolyard bully."

One would expect ordinary, decent Americans to reject such a figure outright. But he is leading a pack of 15 aspirants competing in the Republic Party primaries to see which one will be its candidate to run against the Democratic Party's choice, almost certainly Hillary Clinton, in next year's Presidential election.

And his lead is well ahead of his nearest challenger, Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the pack.

Friends assured me when I arrived in the US that he couldn't possibly become the Republican candidate. He's too bombastic, too outrageous, they said. He's just got curiosity value. It can't last.

But that's what my British friends had told me about Corbyn before Labour's voting day. So, as one inured to the survivability of our own walking disaster here in SA, I'm sceptical. Trump's substantial lead in the polls seems to be holding, and as The New York Times has noted, with such a long list of candidates he could win the primary with only a third of the Republican vote.

That, of course, could improve Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency, particularly because I sense that the US feels it is time to have a woman President after having broken the colour barrier with Barack Obama. But Hillary has her own problems with a scandal that has yet to reach its climax, about her using a private cellphone to make calls involving state security. So she is vulnerable.

Let us take note, therefore, that a far-right RepublicanpPresident of the US is more than an outside possibility. And even if Trump doesn't win these trial runs to become their candidate, his popularity has impacted on the other candidates who are trying to compete with his extremism.

As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni put it last week: "Trump warps the whole field of candidates, drawing others into ludicrous spats, yanking them towards stances they might not take so easily, turning the spectacle into a farce."

In other words, Trump's lead in the polls is drawing the whole Republican Party ever further to the right. They are all becoming infected by his policies and the apparent public approval of them.

Trump's declared policy statements are few but revealing: expel 11-million illegal Latino immigrants in the US, build an apartheid wall across the Mexican border to keep others out and make Mexico pay for it; ignore global warming, there's no such thing and campaigns to slow it are obstructing big business; ignore economic inequality, unfettered big business is the way to go; stop planned parenthood nation-wide.

And above all, of course, the chorus of condemnation of President Obama's peace-making efforts towards Cuba and Iran. These critics are the inheritors of George W Bush's wars against the "axis of evil" and the belief that one can bomb people into accepting the American way of life.

Obama has tried to turn that around by using diplomacy instead of military intervention, but these people despise him as a weakling who is diluting the decisive strength of American military power - even though, as recent history is showing in the Middle East, it is spawning more jihadists than conversions to democracy.

Then into this maelstrom of right-wing extremism plunged the humanitarian Pope Francis to present his gentle alternatives. Accept the immigrants, he implored: "all of us who are not Native Americans are fugitives from somewhere else". The plight of the poor, he warned, was the greatest threat to global security, and as for global warming, his message was about how to live an open-hearted life and to share a vulnerable planet.

He didn't scold and he didn't lecture, but he delivered a message that responded to every one of the self-seeking themes the Tromp cavalcade espoused.

What impact it had on those Republican campaigners we do not know. All we know is that the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Bohener, himself a devout Catholic, wept on the White House lawn after hearing the Pope speak there. He was apparently overcome by the sound of humility.

Next day Boehner announced his retirement after 24 years as a Congressman. He was considered a decent mediator between the naysaying Republican Congress and the Democratic President. Things are likely to get even rougher in American politics without him.

But what troubles me is not only the prospect of a hard-right-wing President in the Trump mould emerging from the November 2016 American election, which would itself be bad enough given an American President's enormous influence on world affairs. But both the House of Representatives and the Senate are currently under Republican Party control and would almost certainly remain so after a successful presidential election.

That level of total Republican control would also lead to a deeply conservative US Supreme Court, bad for America and thus for the rest of the democratic world for many years to come.

There is also the possibility that such a right-wing lurch by the world's most powerful country, not beloved by the African National Congress, might thrust South African politics in more of a leftward direction - which is not where we want to go.

What we need is what Trump and his Republican trailers reject. The social democracies of northern Europe are the models to follow.

News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.



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