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Thu Jul 23, 2020, 12:36 AM

America has cashed in its values. Now, tyrants elsewhere can flourish.

Last edited Thu Jul 23, 2020, 10:15 AM - Edit history (1)

Two years ago, my partner and I packed up our house in South Africa and hauled our reluctant teenage daughters across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in the United States. Our friends laughed at us.

I had spent the previous 10 years excoriating the buffoonish then-president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, as he systematically destroyed the country’s institutions of accountability; drained the public service of competent leaders and replaced them with yes-men; laid waste to the economy and outsourced the country’s running to his family’s benefactors. It was a ruthless project to capture the state and bend it to one man’s will. I titled my book chronicling Zuma’s betrayal of the legacy of Nelson Mandela, “We Have Now Begun Our Descent.”

Our friends laughed because they believed the move to the United States was akin to jumping from the frying pan of one buffoon into the fire of another. At the time, many of us from what President Trump has labeled “s---hole countries” thought he was an aberration, a bad joke. We guffawed as he insulted, complained and whined about everything and everyone. I argued then that the institutions of accountability in the United States could withstand assaults from the likes of Trump.

I was wrong. With the breathtaking decision to commute the prison sentence of his longtime adviser, Roger Stone, and then insist that the nation’s response to the coronavirus is under control, before admitting that it wasn’t, Trump has demonstrated that it is possible to hollow out and manipulate even the institutions of the United States to serve one individual’s personal interests. It is chilling not just for America but also for democrats in dangerous places across the globe.


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