Leadership Changes Are Essential

WASHINGTON: I’ve been asked multiple times in the past week whether the January 6th invasion of the US Capitol undermines American democracy.  My reply is yes, the pro-Trump mob posed a threat, but it was rather quickly turned back despite the tragic loss of five lives.

The president, of course, bears much of the blame for the catastrophe. While he did urge non-violence in his otherwise incendiary remarks to a crowd of at least 100,000, he urged them to march on the Capitol where congress at that moment was certifying votes of the electoral college.  The rioters’ invasion is an outrage.  The insurrectionists must be tracked down,  arrested and face the full weight of the law.  This is the first assault on the US Capitol since 1814 when British troops attacked the building and set it alight.  The Capitol was saved then only by a fortuitous downpour that doused the flames. 

Tragically, President Trump became unhinged after the November election. He has been obsessed by alleged vote fraud that neither his backers nor the courts can find. The president’s failure to concede defeat and congratulate president-elect Joe Biden disgraces himself and the nation.  He will be only the third outgoing president not to attend the inauguration of his successor. The first two were John Adams, who was at odds with Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams—John’s son– who loathed Andrew Jackson. 

Despite this fury and acrimony, let us not ignore the positive. There will be a transition of American presidential power. The will of the people prevails. After four years the Donald Trump era is ending. American democracy survives. And isn’t it useful that voters cast presidential ballots every four years? 

The US body politic is almost evenly and bitterly divided. Donald Trump received 74 million votes—more than he won in 2016—and within striking distance of Joe Biden’s 83 million.

There are other countries and situations where leadership doesn’t occur because there is no credible opposition. This was the case in South Africa during the long uninterrupted rule of the National Party. That problem came home to me in a conversation with Afrikaner nationalists when I was the southern Africa radio correspondent for NBC News.

It was November of 1976. I had joined other foreign correspondents at Pretoria’s Waterkloof air base for a press flight to the war zone of northern Namibia. For several hours we sat shoulder to shoulder in canvas seats aboard a lumbering SAAF Transall.  At some point the conversation turned to the just concluded American presidential election  in which Jerry Ford had lost to the upstart Democrat, Jimmy Carter, a peanut grower and former governor of Georgia. 

I observed that after Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and eight years of Republican rule it was useful to clean out the incumbents and have new leaders.  “Wouldn’t you agree?” I said to the foreign affairs official who was strapped in beside me.

Vlok Delport, in charge of dealing with foreign media, was momentarily flummoxed and then softly replied “yes, I suppose that might be useful. Of course, it doesn’t really apply in our case.”  By which he meant ‘I wouldn’t have a clue since the Nats have been running this government for 28 consecutive years.” There the conversation ended.

Fast forward to the new South Africa and the same phenomenon is being repeated. The ANC has ruled SA for 27 consecutive years and as with the Nats before them the ruling party faces little electoral opposition. 

One party rule over an extended time becomes sclerotic and often corrupt. 

Here in the States people are tired of Trump and very much looking forward to a new cast of characters leading the government. I sense the same sentiment holds in SA but without the prospect of any early change of leadership. #

Barry D. Wood was the southern Africa radio correspondent for NBC News from 1975 to 1977. He writes the American Dispatch column from Washington, DC.

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