Look, it’s happening all over the world. I’m going to compare two places I know, South Africa and the U.S.
South African society is just beginning to seriously hurt about a year after a similar sort of political turmoil hit them to our Trump election, the re-election of a clearly incompetent executive that an entrenched political party was then only partially able to control.
Year-long protests nearly shut down the country’s educational system and the economy has started to decline much more seriously than globally or for other African countries. About a year ahead of the U.S. in terms of political change, this could foreshadow the U.S.
South Africa had a truly major political change about 25 years ago when it ditched apartheid, much greater than anything that’s happened in the U.S. in the last half century. But the point is that in both societies the “change” wasn’t enough to satisfy the electorate.
Perhaps because of the lightning speed of information transfer, electorates seem irrational when actually they’re perfectly consistent. Obama was elected to effect change. He didn’t, at least not enough. So along came his polar opposite and won. Obama abandoned change and became institutional. He, his party and his clone, Hillary Clinton, could not mask that from the electorate.
The background is different in South Africa but the process is the same. Jacob Zuma was already in office. While in office his temperament and actions grew erratic, mischievous and finally, outright illegal. He became someone else. His political opponents couldn’t have been happier.
Problem was that only old faces in his party and other parties arose to challenge him. The electorate moved decisively to supporting this “new” him. He defied all political norms – even openly broke laws. He was re-elected because he was the only candidate of change.
It’s a protest vote. It throws the government into disarray and galvanizes opposition within and outside the party in control. Once elected these are lonesome mavericks. They won little or no organized political support. Nothing rode their coattails.
Trump now walks under the umbrella of the unchanged Republican Party just as Jacob Zuma took umbrage under the ANC. But these guys’ strong personalities are awfully erratic. Opposition easily plays them against their defaults.
Under such anxiety the government pretty much stalls. The candidate of change – regardless of whether he really wants change or not – can’t. Everybody vies for power under an unstable chief executive. All that happens is that the cycle resets for the next election: Each time the electorate will vote for the candidate that seems most likely to be really different.
PS. Check out the Philippines, Peru, maybe now even the UK. This is a global phenomenon.
Some argue this is futile, that governments worldwide are just too entrenched. How do you shake up a steel ball? Clearly, electorates don’t believe this.
If you buy my analogy we may have a glimpse of what the U.S. will be like a year from now:
Continuing protests in the streets, the press and mostly among the young but no successful challenges. Donald Trump won’t be in court for his business crimes. He won’t be impeached.
No deportation of 12 million people. Maybe just 3. Or maybe just criminals … if they can be identified. No repeal of the Iran deal. Maybe not a wall, just a fence. Maybe not a fence just more bombast. No real change, just gridlocked government. Social programs – including entitlements like ObamaCare – will definitely be strained as sections that require Congressional renewal won’t be and parts that require funds that can be cut back without legislation will be, but no statutory changes. There won’t be any more pipelines approved or not approved. They’ll be no new Supreme Court justice or the justice will not change one iota the balance that existed under Obama.
The insiders, elite politicians and other powerful people will view all this as either wonderful or terrifying, but they’re hardly the common man. To the electorate it will be just the same-old, same-old.
For the first year nothing really changes in the daily life of the elite, the very ones targeted by the electorate in the first place. Rather, the pain will be felt by the electorate: In South Africa the pain was in the educational system and not just at the university levels where the protests continue. Funding got tied up for primary and middle school education. Many, many rural schools lost many resources.
The massive project to build new houses first announced by Mandela embodied in a constitution that guaranteed housing for every citizen almost stopped. Progressive programs to better electrify the nation stopped, replaced with growing power outages, including nearly unbelievable “scheduled outages” far greater than under apartheid.
The rich and elite handle this pretty well. Those out of power point to those in power and claim they made the electorate vote against their own self-interest. Those in power point to those out of power as disruptors who blocked great benefit intended for the electorate. The meaningful rumblings will be confined to the bowel of the electorate as it realizes no change is happening: students and minorities who didn’t vote for Clinton, white and disenfranchised who elected Trump.
There are two potential flaws to my analysis: (1) the head of the U.S. is much more powerful than the head of South Africa. He commands more reigns of power and his actions are further reaching at home and abroad. (2) I think that Zuma and Trump are equally abnormal. To the extent that one or the other is more psychopathic, that will prejudice my analysis.
We’ll have to wait to see and the ticking of time is not helpful to us impatient souls. It’s another thing that doesn’t change.
But if I’m right, take this out a few more cycles. How long will the electorate try to shake up the steel ball before they simply roll it off the cliff?