“This kind of populism with its undercurrent of implicit violence may go down a treat with the politically unsophisticated, but he could never become president. This country is too wedded to its inclusive, democratic traditions to tolerate a racist, sexist, bigot who spews hatred and bile.”
That’s the US intelligentsia talking about one Donald J Trump, of course. Well, it might have been. But, actually, no.
Those naively optimistic predictions are a distillation of the current political wisdom of SA’s commentariat about one Julius S Malema. It’s just a reminder that it’s not only the US that is vulnerable to an ugly, pseudo-fascist populism.
Sometimes nations experience a definitive paroxysm of angry frustration about an underclass’ socio-economic disadvantage that drowns out rational discourse. A hunger for change that swamps compassion and sense.
No one could have argued more eloquently against the dangers of electing as president a maverick, a reality-star demagogue with a predilection for scapegoating minorities, than did Barack Obama.
The first black president, a man elected twice on his ability to appeal to the loftiest, most generous aspects of the American psyche, warned that Trump embodied the nation’s basest instincts and that to elect him would be rued by the next generation. He was completely ignored.
Hillary Clinton, the woman who was supposed to be a shoo-in as the first female president of the US, was handed a crushing defeat. In the same way that the election of a fire-breathing populist would be a disaster for SA, the election of the crowd-pleasing, tub-thumping Trump is potentially disastrous for the US – and the world.
But the hysterical reaction is overdone. The difference between SA and the US is that we are a fledgling democracy, with a history of hate and conflict. Disorder and chaos are endemic to our politics.
The US, however, is a democracy that has weathered many crises. It is a system stacked with checks and balances. And contrary to the assertion of the surely soon-to-be-ex French ambassador to Washington in a tweet – since deleted – that the “world is collapsing before our eyes”, the world is a robust place.
Just as Britain, contrary to the doomsayers, will survive Brexit without imploding, the US under Trump will not only survive but will explore options previously inconceivable.
There is, in foreign policy, the endearing bromance between Trump and President Vladimir Putin. Clinton had mooted a militant containment of the nationalistically resurgent and expansionist Russia.
Trump, who holds the EU in low regard, sees a potential ally. But what certainly has changed is that the establishment elites who have scripted Western politics for scores of years are being displaced, one after the other.
The era of cosy deals made between privileged private-school chums is reaching an end. Or maybe not. Trump’s ghostwritten autobiography is, after all, called The Art of the Deal.
Trump might transmogrify into a puppet of the Washington elite that he ostensibly despises. The sushi-slurping, Breitling-brandishing Malema would understand perfectly.