Point of View Columns

What is Happening in South Africa and America? Democracy is Messy

Recently a Guest Essay entitled “South Africa is Falling Apart” by the South African journalist William Shoki appeared in the New York Times. The turmoil that currently exists in South Africa is real and undeniable. What also is real and undeniable is that the basis for that turmoil is due largely to political and governance disputes. And what is also real and undeniable is that in the history of virtually all democracies there are many instances of turmoil. In other words – democracy is messy.

Coincidentally, in that same issue of the New York Times an Opinion piece by Jamelle Bouie appeared describing the history of the messy democracy of the United States in historical detail. It is probably a surprise to many that during the early decades of the American republic that there were multiple disputes, schisms and rebellions that threatened the very existence of the nascent United States.

In the first seventy years of the United States the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay’s Rebellion were only two instances of civilian unrest that had to be met with federal armed forces. George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were viciously attacked and vilified to the extreme while serving as president. A vice president, Aaron Burr, conspired with foreign forces to establish his own empire in North America.

And, of course, there was the Civil War, still the bloodiest war in American history. And let us not forget the American insurrection and the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Clearly democracy is messy. Clearly the United States endures and no one is seriously suggesting that the United States is falling apart – at least not yet.

The South African democracy is only 27 years old – born at the ending of the monstrosity called apartheid. And that new democracy had to address serious sabotage by the white South Africans who, on their way out of office, removed the files, telephones and other elements of the governmental infrastructure in its earliest days. Further, while many white South Africans have accepted the end of apartheid and the establishment of Black majority rule, there are still too many white South Africans who have sought to destabilize the new South Africa through political and economic means.

Nevertheless, democracy in South Africa endures and is one of the most robust democracies on the African continent. And while some Black South Africans have seen true change in their lives, there are many more Black South Africans who have yet to see systemic and substantive change. Indeed, democracy is messy.

Throughout the current turmoil in South Africa the democracy has remained stable as disputes continue about how that democracy can work better, and not whether or not the democracy should be replaced. It may be true that the eradication of all of the debris and decay and dysfunction that is the legacy of apartheid could be removed more effectively by an authoritarian regime but that would be at the cost of rights and protection of freedoms that were attained through decades of true struggle.

We have seen a trend towards authoritarian governments throughout the world, including in these United States. History tells us that in the long term the authoritarian governments always erode and eventually remove human rights until they become more myth than memory.

It is true that South Africa has its challenges and they are very real. To say that South Africa is falling apart is untrue – but it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy if it is repeated often enough.

Which is why it is always important to remember that the Republic of South Africa is a democracy and democracy is always messy. But then it is always better than the authoritarian alternative.

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Point of View Columns

Impeachment Week in America – Again

February 9, 2021

27,097,885-465,083 (number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

The second impeachment trial of 45 began today. The first day is when the House impeachment managers and the attorneys for 45 making their initial presentations. The House managers’ presentation was professional and excellent. It was not intended to try to change the minds of Republicans who have taken a blood oath to worship at the altar of 45, till death do they part.

Team 45’s presentation immediately cleared up the question of how was it possible that in their initial brief they misspelled “United States” (seriously?). To call the two attorneys incompetent would be a compliment. They were so bad that it is reported that 45 was screaming at the television as the lawyerly version of Laurel and Hardy stumbled and bumbled and rambled and brayed until they totally exhausted all possibility of facts or competence.

Luckily for 45 the threat of his vengeance has intimidated virtually all fifty of the Republican men and women in the Senate that it is likely that no more than a few of them will dare to find out if the emperor really has no clothes and that his bark is far worse than his bite. But they just won’t take that chance.

Tomorrow the trial begins in earnest. And while the outcome may not be in question it is still important that the crimes of 45 are put on the record for all time. The notion that this impeachment trial postpones reconciliation and healing is a naked and mythical right wing lie. The right wing of the right wing is only interested in supremacy – not healing – and we can be sure that even during this trial and in all the days afterwards the Republican-led legislatures in over thirty states are in the process of advocating further voter suppression measures so that white minority rule in America can become a reality.

Right out of the pages of the playbook of apartheid-era South Africa.

Land of the Free and Home of the Brave indeed.

February 10, 2021

27,193,586-468,217 (number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

Even though 45 is in a time out in his Mar a Lago playpen, he is still a continuing part of the national story. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, he is the first president to be impeached twice – and within one year. The blood runs cold at the thought that of what havoc he could have visited upon this planet if he was re-elected. After all, look at all the havoc and turmoil that he has left in his wake like a giant leaking oil tanker.

Meanwhile, the House impeachment managers were surgically magnificent in laying out the case against 45. Not surprisingly, his own words were used to nail his impeachment coffin shut. The man just can never shut up and so there were videotapes and audio tapes galore where he convicted himself with his own loose lips.

Not satisfied with just skewering 45, the impeachment managers barbequed him to well done by provided multiple videos of the actual insurrection attack on the Capitol. Even a month removed, the heat and fury and pure savagery of the 45-inspired mob was a sight to behold and fearsome even in retrospect.

There can simply be no doubt that Mitt Romney and Chuck Schumer, caught on video running like Olympic springers, believed that their lives were literally in danger. The insurrection mobsters spoke on video about putting a bullet into Nancy Pelosi’s head. And these mobsters actually brought a gallows – complete with a homemade noose (who actually knows how to make a noose in the 20th century anyway?) – as they shouted “Hang Mike Pence”. There is no doubt that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Maxine Waters would have been torn to pieces.

Clearly the members of the House and Senate barely escaped with their lives. And yet, the Republican bootlickers will still vote to exonerate 45. They are more afraid of the Wrath of 45 than the cloak of shame that they will have to wear all of their lives and in history.

And proving that when the going gets bizarre, the bizarre turn pro (with apologies to Hunter Thompson), QAnon sites are announcing that March 4th is the new date when 45 will return to Washington, DC to take control of the government. All true believers are being told to be ready for yet another Storm.

And we should believe that they believe.

February 11, 2021

27,288,100-471,764 (number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

As the impeachment trial of 45 continues, it is important to remember that Americans are dying every day even as this orchestrated debacle of a spectacle continues. The Biden-Harris administration has brought a belief in science, a belief in transparency and a belief in honesty to the pandemic battle. This is such a difference from the administration of 45 that we have to believe that these changes alone give all of us a better chance to come out of this alive even though there is so much human wreckage across the land.

The House impeachment managers continue to be excellent. Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey Plaskett has been especially impressive. A former prosecutor from the Bronx, she was relentless and artfully articulate in presenting the facts, all the facts and nothing but the facts. And though she could take no joy in hammering more nails into the impeachment coffin of 45, she completed her task with the professionalism that the moment demanded.

In the various commentaries across the air waves three items stood out:

  1. There is serious talk about a true schism in the Republican party. It seems that hundreds/thousands of pre-45 Republicans are discussing the idea of establishing a third party – a Conservative party – to counter the 45 pandemic that has afflicted so much of the traditional Republican party. It will be interesting to see if these “original” Republicans have the staying power to actually pull this off – there is no doubt that they could raise the money.
  2. One of the more interesting aspects of the 45-inspired insurrection were the real time quotes from people who were in the middle of the melee. They were there. One Black Capitol Hill police officer said that he could not recall being called “nigger” so many times in the course of just one day. That tells us a lot about the DNA of the 45 mobsters. It is important to remember that these mobsters were about as patriotic and the Ku Klux Klan or Jefferson Davis or 45.
  3. One commentator quoted Voltaire as saying that once you can get the people to believe absurdity, they can be persuaded to commit atrocities. Words to remember during these times of turmoil.

February 12, 2021

27,507,111-477,239 (number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

It would be a real insult to the memory of comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy, Amos and Andy and the Smothers Brothers to call the 45’s defense team a comedy team. The word “pathetic” comes to mind, however.

What is clear is lawyers Bruce Castor and David Schoen are the best that 45 could get. And while the prestige of representing a former President of the United States would be a great way to attract new clients, the stink and the stench of being in the proximity of 45 is not a great way to retain existing clients much less attract new ones. And so, the Castor-Schoen Show will be on daytime cable news for most of this day.

Although they have been allotted 16 hours, 8 today and 8 tomorrow, the Lawyers Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight have stated that they only need 3 hours today and none tomorrow. And that may be the best way to minimize further embarrassment and professional shame.

And the reality is that since the Republicans have already shed even a pretense of being willing to withhold judgement until all arguments have been presented, all that Castor and Schoen can do is lose votes for acquittal. The Republicans in the Senate are so afraid of the Wrath of 45 that it appears that no more than 6 out of 50 will vote to convict.

Meanwhile Nikki Haley – former governor of South Carolina and former appointee of 45 to the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations – seems to have “discovered” that 45 is not good for the country and that “it was wrong to follow him”. One has to wonder at what moment did this revelation occur?

Because just three weeks ago Ambassador Haley was railing against the impeachment of 45, stating that Congress should “leave him alone”. But now, the presumed 2024 presidential candidate must sense that 45’s blood is in the water.

Opportunism is part of the training program for any political candidate. But since Nikki Haley has seen and hear and worked for 45 over the past five years, one has to wonder at what point did she finally, finally, decide that “it was wrong to follow him”. Nikki Haley should start getting prepared for that question within minutes of her announcing her presidential candidacy.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 29, 2013

This week we learned that Michele Bachmann is under investigation for violating campaign law. It is possible that more charges will be added. Meanwhile, every day that the sequestration collar tightens on the American economy we find ourselves headed towards a true cliff. And finally, Nelson Mandela was hospitalized this week and thankfully is recovering. Perhaps other leaders throughout Africa will start to look at him as a model and not only an icon.

Michele Bachmann’s Real Crimes

The news reports from this week revealed that Representative Michele Bachmann is under federal investigation for campaign law violations during her bizarre and clownish campaign for president in 2012. What may be more interesting are the crimes for which she is not being investigated.

Fortunately for Ms. Bachmann there is no law against mangling the English language or distorting the facts until they bear no resemblance to the truth. Fortunately for her there is no law against repeatedly lying about the President of the United States and there is no law against being ridiculous.

If there were laws like these she would be in the process of being fitted for a nice orange jumpsuit right now.

On the Brink

Every day during the past four weeks that the sequestration scenario started to play out there has been a gradual tightening of the noose around the neck of the American economy and the American people. Grover Norquist infamously says that he would like to shrink government to a size that it can be drowned in a bathtub. And he may just get his wish.

Just this past week it was announced that 173 air traffic control towers in smaller airports across the country will be closed. Every day there are reports of the further reduction of the government workforce which, of course, means the further reduction of services provided to the American people.

In Durban, South Africa this week the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) met to discuss economic development and investment in infrastructure. They met to discuss a progressive plan for the future – a plan that envisions growth and a better way of life for the citizens who live in the BRICS countries.

Meanwhile in the USA, the supposed leading nation in the world, the prevailing narrative speaks of austerity, the need to do less with less. The fear of the future is palpable and it is that fear and shortsightedness that is moving this country closer and closer to the brink of true decline.

Grover Norquist and the Teapublican terrorists should be very happy.

Mandela

When you go to the dictionary or Google and look up the word “icon” you would not be surprised if a picture of Nelson Mandela. His iconic biography is the stuff of true legend and he deserves every honor that has been bestowed upon him.

It is important, however, to remember that Nelson Mandela is also a revolutionary leader. Indeed, he is one of only two successful revolutionary leaders in modern history to freely relinquish power (the other being George Washington).

Mr. Mandela realized that the democratization process in South Africa could not be built on a foundation created by a cult of personality, no matter how admirable and honorable that personality might be. By safeguarding the free and lawful transfer of power to his elected successor, Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Mandela set in place a tradition that almost has to be observed by South Africans for generations to come.

The leaders of too many African states should consider the Mandela Model. Too many of these leaders have stayed in power for decades stunting the democratization process and strangling progressive measures in society through their overbearing personality cults.

Nelson Mandela is more than an icon; he should be a role model for anyone who presumes to lead a country in Africa or anywhere else in this world.

Happy Easter and have a great weekend!

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