In 1966, as the US escalated its involvement in the Vietnam War, beleaguered president Lyndon Johnson and his administration denied the surge. Congressman (and later president) Gerald Ford coined the phrase “credibility gap” — the discrepancy between what a politician claims to be the case and the facts of the matter. Columnist Walter Lippmann suggested this was simply parsing words: “In order to avoid the embarrassment of calling a spade a spade, newspapermen have agreed to talk about a credibility gap. This is a polite euphemism for deception.”

The rancorous and foulmouthed behaviour of the US president, Donald Trump, and an adversarial media, have long relegated such euphemisms to the trash bin. Still, credibility gap is a useful lens to view the state of the nation speech delivered last week by our own head of state. It seemed incredible at two levels from the outset: first, that Cyril Ramaphosa commendably kept his cool in the face of the race-spewing rage and resentments...

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