Wannabe Wanes

Wannabe Wanes

Will a democratically-removed former head-of-state lead an armed rebellion to avoid jail and return to power?

We’ll see in less than two weeks when Jacob Zuma’s final judicial ploys end with him being stiff-armed into prison.

I know. You thought I was referring to Trump. In many ways I could have been…or I could have been referring to the leaders of Brazil, Israel and India, and most of Eastern Europe. This is an age of wannabe despots with mad, armed supporters, and the earliest incident finally coming to fruition is in South Africa.

Not long after Zuma fell from power three years ago he and some of his family were saddled with dozens of indictments from corruption to bribery. This always happens to the deposed wannabe dictator. In Netanyahu’s case the indictments came while he was still in but falling from power. It won’t be long now before Trump is charged.

But Zuma was the first, and we can predict what will happen to the others by following him.

The deposed wannabe has an army of angry, now disenfranchised militias but actual use is risky. Trump’s January 6th insurrection was way premature for any likely success. What they all must do first is game the system.

Assisted by many of the once respectable governors and politicians who became sycophantic underlings, the court is used to the fullest. With time, the court prevails. After all the wannabe has been deposed. The deposer prevails.

“End of the line, as top court puts Jacob Zuma behind bars,” South Africa’s Business Insider said prematurely a week ago.

It seemed correct. It was like America’s Supreme Court ordering Trump to jail. But, in fact, Zuma came back with two new court challenges and both will have their day this week and next. But after that? It really does seem like the end of the line.

Unless, as Zuma said standing outside his home yelling to his supporters:

“I was starting to think that today I would be tussling with the police here when they arrived to fetch me. But when I saw you, I thought, ‘How would they ever get to me? How would they even get through?’ I would like to thank you for that.”

Zuma today is surrounded by the armed militia he fostered, literally surrounded on the ground. When the police actually do come to fetch him, what will happen is the after the “end-of-the-line” question.

Jacob Zuma was an inexperienced politician but a huge public figure when he rode a populist wave into power in South Africa in 2008. The worldwide economic collapse is probably the biggest of many reasons for his unexpected success.

Zuma’s success in South Africa was followed by a string of populist victories in Eastern Europe and what I believe has proved a racist regime in India. One of the last of the kind to arise was Trump.

All societies have very specific and idiosyncratic issues that can propel nobodies over centuries of institutions into power.

In South Africa it was the lack of promised housing and the sliding standards of living. In much of Eastern Europe it was the septic hurt from the younger demanding recompense if retribution for the evils of their elders. In America it was actually the successes of certain under-privileged classes relative to the stagnation or back-sliding of the classic classes.

Trump’s Instagram best summarizes them all.

The “American Dream” promised by politician after politician for generations was being stolen by his opponents.

So all it took, really, was a sudden collapse of the economic system to validate the pessimistic incantations of those left behind from the promises that came to nothing. The half of the populations who were the less seriously effected believed remedies came from within. How wrong they were.

In almost all the cases except India, the populist popped out of a fracture from within one of the ruling parties, exposing the most grievous wounds.

To prevail from within a single party before duking it out in a “general,” the populist had to swing a bloody sword against his own kind. The back-stabbing is now legend in South Africa; the duplicitous deals made in Brazil have made it into the cartoons; in America Trump claimed Sen. Cruz’ father assassinated JFK and that Sen. McCain wasn’t a true war hero because heroes don’t get caught.

The anxious and aggrieved populations across the political spectrum ate up the lies to validate the radical alternative. Call it political fatigue. Truth fell further and further behind promise. Shake things up.

So these idiots succeeded. Their success stood on lying; that’s risky, so during their time in power they turned supporters into revolutionaries. Throughout their tenure they warned that illegal forces were trying to get rid of them. More than one said, as Trump so famously did, that if he loses his reelection it will only be through fraud.

The pandemic hastened many a fall. But the earlier ones like Zuma or Netanyahu fell before or in spite of the pandemic, so I don’t think the pandemic is as important as many political commentators in explaining the populist’s end.

Regardless, Zuma is the model for the pre-pandemic, or not-because-of-the-pandemic deposed wannabe.

So stay tuned. If not the end, the climax is nigh.