My Dear Americans,
So very sorry to hear about your new president and the appalling way he’s treating you.
I really, really feel your pain.
But you’re not alone. We, here in South Africa, know what it’s like to elect a paranoid, grandiose, delusional, narcissistic, demagogic and probably sociopathic president.
Our version is Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma — a corrupt, giggling, barely-educated Zulu polygamist worth some $215-million after a lifetime in various forms of politics, who says his ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) will rule “until Jesus returns” and that the ANC is more important than the nation.
Your version is Donald John Trump — a coarse, dyed, lying multi-billionaire who in the short time we’ve had the displeasure of knowing him, shows every sign of copying Zuma’s blatant disrespect and disregard for truth and democracy.
So, using Zuma as an example, let me warn you about what happens when a narcissistic, paranoid, grandiose, delusional, demagogic and probably sociopathic person becomes president of a country.
The first and most obvious symptom for the sickness to come is that he believes — along with the French Sun King, Louis XlV — “L’etat c’est moi.”
This inevitably translates, as it has in South Africa, into something called State Capture.
Ongama Mtimka, of the Department of Political & Conflict Studies, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, describes State Capture this way:
In a nutshell, it denotes holding the state ransom to the private desires of a particular group or for their selfish gains. A level of aggression and foul play is implied.”
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma (most appropriately, Gedleyihlekisa translates roughly as “he who laughs while hurting you”) has been plotting to capture the South African state ever since he took power some nine years ago.
Over those years, Zuma has been spectacularly successful at looting the nation’s rapidly dwindling wealth and redirecting as much as he can into the pockets of his huge family — including four very expensive wives — and the sordid gang of lickspittles, sycophants and cronies who flourish on the leftovers.
For most of these years he’s faced — and used millions of state money to fight — a total of 783 corruption, fraud and racketeering charges connected to an extremely shady $2.1 billion arms deal.
Only last year, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma violated the Constitution by failing to “uphold, defend and respect” it.
And that he acted unlawfully when he tried to saddle taxpayers with the bill for his private U$19-million home.
He appoints often wildly incompetent government ministers whose only loyalty is to himself. One example last year was a new Finance Minister who lasted just four days before even ANC grandees noticed the rapidly-dying Rand and forced a far better choice on him.
Which is where Zuma’s very, very good friends, the Gupta family comes in.
The Guptas are a stinking-rich, naturalised Indian family who’ve known Zuma ever since he became president. The two families are so close that South Africans refer to them collectively as the “Zuptas.”
Over the years, a Zuma wife, a Zuma son and a Zuma daughter have worked for Gupta companies and been most appropriately rewarded.
Not coincidentally, The Guptas have built a massive business empire on the backs of ANC government contracts.
The family are seen to be co-conspirators in Zuma’s inexorable drive to seize and loot those parts of the South African state — like the Treasury — which are still relatively honest and independent.
They’re believed to have directly offered Cabinet appointments — and huge amounts of cash — to people willing to do anything the Zuptas desire.
Don’t take my word for it. That’s the considered opinion of Thuli Madonsela, the former South African Public Protector (a sort of state ombudsman).
She said flatly that there’s evidence of corruption at the highest level of the South Africa’s government.
The family owns a blatantly Zuma-loving newspaper — which flourishes on huge, out-of-proportion government advertising — and a 24-hour TV news channel even more Zumian than Fox news is Trumpian.
The good news is that our own narcissistic, paranoid, grandiose, delusional, demagogic and probably sociopathic president hasn’t yet destroyed our democracy.
And not for want of trying.
But he keeps working on it.
Only last year Jacob Zuma said if he were a dictator he would solve South Africa’s problems.
“If you just give me six months to be a dictator, things will be straight. Right now, to make a decision you need a resolution, decision, collective, petition. Yoh! It’s a lot of work.”
Those exact words could have come from Donald Trump, twelve thousand kilometres away in Washington D.C.
Except that he would have said “sad!!” rather than “yoh!!”.
Zuma and Trump have much in common.
Both men reject the media’s historic constitutional role as watchdog over the powerful, particularly the government of the day.
Both men despise the law and the courts.
Both are secretive, arrogant bullies who believe journalists and news outlets that don’t slavishly respect and support them are therefore conspiring against them and are even guilty of treason.
Zuma wants a Protection of State Information Bill to grant state agencies broad authority to classify a wide range of information as in the “national interest” with potential prison terms for violations.
“Every morning” he’s said “you feel like you must leave this country because the reporting concentrates on the opposite of the positive.”
Trump of course, goes a lot further.
He wants to destroy the news media entirely. He describes them — while offering not a shred of evidence — of being “dishonest,” “disgusting” and “scum.” “The press is out of control,” he says. “The level of dishonesty is out of control.” The media are “the enemy of the American people.”
Both men loathe the Free Marketplace of Ideas which, in a democracy, is served and guarded by the media and holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse.
Both Zuma and Trump have parliamentary majorities which have long since abandoned any pretence of real democratic debate and vote strictly along party lines.
Both believe in their own omnipotence, grandeur and invincibility.
And, of course, both are narcissistic, paranoid, grandiose, delusional, demagogic and probably sociopathic.
But there’s one big difference between Zuma and Trump.
Zuma — unlike Trump — doesn’t have his finger anywhere near the nuclear button.
That’s because apartheid South Africa destroyed all six of its very own nuclear bombs shortly before the 1994 election which ended apartheid and birthed democracy.
The official reason was that ending the nuclear program “will inspire other countries to take the same steps.” In fact, it’s widely believed that the then-white government was terrified that the bombs might one day fall into the hands of some future black government.
Just imagine Jacob Zuma’s finger anywhere near that button!
Now go really, really pale and realize that Donald Trump’s finger hovers near that button every single hour of his presidency!
The terrible truth is that both Zuma and Trump are the real thing. These are not the adopted personae so many politicians use to reach and hold office.
What you see is what you get.
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma and Donald John Trump are narcissistic, paranoid, grandiose, delusional, demagogic and probably sociopathic men who will destroy our democracies if we let them.
And they’re not going to change.
I guess the only possible solution to the problem is that if they won’t change, we have to change them.
And excellent start would be to somehow force them out of their high offices.
We in South Africa haven’t been able to do that.
Not so far, anyway.
So good luck to you Americans.
I wish you peace and love,
Apropos of nothing to do with the above … back in 1964 while a reporter/producer for ABC News, I covered Arizona Republican senator Barry Goldwater’s run for the U.S. presidency.
Goldwater’s motto was: “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right.”
The Democrats fought back and won with: “In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts.”
Tim Knight is an Emmy Award winner who’s worked on three newspapers, United Press International (three years and two wars in the Congo), and was a producer/reporter/filmmaker for ABC, NBC and PBS out of New York. For ten years he was lead trainer for TV News journalists at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Knight is author of Storytelling and the Anima Factor, now in its second edition.