FDR and Trump

I have been watching, these past few evenings, Ken Burns’ richly described and absorbing account of the Roosevelts, including Presidents FDR and Theodore (‘The Roosevelts, An Intimate History,’ on Netflix). The past two episodes have focused on FDR – the extraordinary story of his polio, his ascendancy to the Presidency, the whirlwind first 100 Days which laid out the cornerstones of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the enduring legacy of bridges, dams, roads, Social Security, that map the country that is the US today.

Watching these clips of FDR in action – that jaunty grin, the gritty optimism, the ability – despite his patrician upbringing and bearing – to connect with everyone – I could not help but think of the current incumbent of the Oval Office: the Hitler-esque sneering and jibes, the lying and insults, the hatred and narcissism laying waste to everything.

To yoke one of the greatest of American presidents – certainly the greatest of the 20th century – together in the same sentence with probably the vilest of the lot – is to remind ourselves of the gulf – the huge, yawning, appalling chasm – between the fundamental decency – notwithstanding his imperfections – of the one, and the slimy, venal indecency and incompetence of the other.

It’s about actions, obviously, and it’s about behaviour. But also, fundamentally, it’s about values and character. One man had them, the other wouldn’t recognise them if he fell over them in broad daylight.

As I think about the world around me, and my own small role in it, it is values that matter.  Hopefully, when Trump and all who serve and enable him, are mere footnotes in history – shameful and shamed, but eminently forgettable – it will be values that last.

Not only in America.

News Roundup

So here’s a roundup of today’s news (just following a trend here: all sentences these days seem to begin with ‘so’).

In South Africa, the bad news is good news. Attempts to frame the Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, and ‘capture’ the Treasury, have come unstuck. Large demonstrations against corruption and the abuse of power have brought out not only the unwashed masses but struggle stalwarts of the ANC and even captains of industry. Meanwhile, President Zuma has withdrawn his court attempt to stymie the release of a report on ‘state capture’ by the erstwhile Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, whose stature as an icon of South Africa’s democracy is now indisputable: the report itself has unleashed what must be the biggest political scandal in South Africa since the arms deal.

If much of what these developments reveal is bad – confirmation, if confirmation is needed, that there is something very rotten in the state of Denmark – it is also hugely positive: proof, if you will, that South Africa is not its neighbour Zimbabwe. State capture and corruption have done enormous damage to the democratic project, but the democratic project has come back roaring. Viva democracy, viva!

Meanwhile, in that global beacon of democracy, America, the nastiest, most vicious election in modern history slouches towards its no-doubt temporary resolution; with the spectre of that bigoted, know-nothing con-artist hovering over the nuclear button one can only hope that ordinary Americans will elect the only competent adult on the ballot. More, that they will have the grace to celebrate the fact that the best man standing is a woman. Today’s Globe and Mail pretty much sums up the views, I guess, of most Canadians, and the rest of the non-demagogic world, in this editorial.

In other news, it has been announced (by me) that the writer of this blog will be flying to Madrid, Spain, on Sunday, for rioja and tapas. There will also be some work done, preparing for an interview for a major project back in – you’ve got it – South Africa, followed by three days of freedom to explore the city and its multitudinous offerings. I believe the squid sandwiches in Madrid are fantastic.

Finally (to circle back, in a manner of speaking) a story about Zimbabwe. Not about Bob, that bankrupt despot, but Zimbabwe’s elephants. Specifically, the elephants we saw, in their hundreds, along the banks and in the waters of the great Zambezi. Namibia’s desert elephants, as you might expect, are very careful with water:  not so the elephants of the Zambezi, whose playful abandon and exuberance you might detect in these images.

A final word from the editor: blog service may be interrupted next week by squid sarmies and rioja. Expect an update in the week of 14 November, if you don’t hear from me sooner.

Oh, and don’t forget to look at my portfolio.