Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House spokesperson who tried but failed to make US President Donald Trump’s rubbish sound less like rubbish, was out spewing more rubbish this week.
Huckabee Sanders, who is now a talking head on TV, said the most ridiculous thing when commenting on the Democrat-sponsored War Powers Bill that will enable Congress to limit a US president’s war-making powers.
“I can’t think of anything dumber than allowing Congress to take over our foreign policy … The last thing we want is to push powers into Congress’ hands and take them away from the president,” she said.
This is the former spokesperson of the president of what is regarded as one of the most democratic countries in the world disparaging an institution that is a vital cog of her nation’s democratic infrastructure. As shocking as the statement was, it was not surprising coming from Trump’s former mouthpiece. It has now become an accepted fact that the president of the US has very little regard for the institutions and norms of democracy. A wannabe dictator himself, Trump has put the playbook of despots to maximum use during the three years that he has been in office.
Dictatorial leaders and wannabe dictators do not succeed on their own – they are aided and abetted by forces in their political parties and in their inner circles. They are assisted by those who suck up to them, and who help spread their lies and suppress alternative points of view. In no time, they develop god complexes and are impossible to call to heel. They and their supporters create their own realities to explain away terrible behaviour and governance failures. They are so convincing in their lies that they end up believing them.
That is what has happened to the US under Trump. The enablers have become hostages of the monsters they created or helped create. The incidents this week that saw Trump take the world to the brink of war were the culmination of this enabling of a wannabe despot.
The Republican Party, of which Trump is the standard-bearer, has allowed him to be bigger than the vehicle that carried him to power. Not even Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes, who were all proper political conservatives, were allowed such leeway as the poser Republican who is now in office.
Cultish behaviour was very much on display during the confirmation hearing of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Reading from a Trumpian script, Republican senators sunk to their lowest levels as they went about discrediting a woman who claimed that the judge had tried to rape her when they were in their late teens. She was stripped of all dignity as the Republicans sought to humiliate her and reduce her to the status of a village pub storyteller. Republican lawmakers behaved the same way during Congress’ impeachment hearings and they will do the same when the matter comes before the Senate. They have made it clear that they will not even pretend to put Trump under scrutiny.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a Republican, put it bluntly when he said in December that “this thing will come to the Senate, and it will die quickly, and I will do everything I can to make it die quickly”.
He continued: “I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here. I see coming, happening today is just a partisan nonsense [sic].”
This is a playbook we in South Africa are all too familiar with. We also had to contend with a man who was a wannabe dictator. He was aided and abetted by a party that had given up on its principles and was only interested in defending its leader. We witnessed the same lows that the Republicans sank to during the Kavanaugh hearings and the impeachment hearings during that Nkandla scandal and the succession of votes of no confidence that the trickster who was in power at the time faced.
Leaders of the governing party – including the most credible of them – lined up like Prophet TB Joshua’s disciples to speak of the virtues of a thief and wrecking ball. Today, many of them behave as if they were not party to the mess, but most of those in senior positions were complicit, including that old man with mkhaba who was likened to a tiger by a slay queen.
The person we had in charge of our country at that time was dangerous to us and our region. We are feeling the effects of that period today and will for at least the next decade. The little comfort we can take from it is that the damage was largely limited to us and our neighbours. In the case of the wannabe dictator in Washington, the whole world is affected, including ourselves.
When the world expresses dismay at Trump – as we in South Africa did about the two-headed guy’s errant ways – it is not adequate. The dismay and disapproval should be aimed at those who enable such species to rise to the top and stay there. The enablers are just as much to blame.