Rob Rose Editor: Financial Mail
African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Poor old gullible Reverend Kenneth Meshoe.

Last week, as the US election stretched into a fourth day, the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) announced that he was praying for Donald Trump “because of his support for the natural family, respect for human life, love for his country, protection of religious rights and opposition to a global plan called the Great Reset”.

It was a sentiment wholeheartedly endorsed by Steve Hofmeyr. But on this point at least, Meshoe really has been sold a dummy.

To consider someone thrice divorced, who bragged about molesting women and who separated 550 children from their parents at the border to be a person who “supports the natural family” shows that Meshoe isn’t exactly one for details.

As for “respect for human life”, how does Meshoe think that Trump publicly mocking journalist Serge Kovaleski, who has a congenital joint condition, advances that argument? In his tell-all book, released in September, Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, says it’s an abiding mystery that Trump, who hadn’t darkened the door of a church since the age of seven before running for president, managed to woo evangelicals.

In 2011, when contemplating running for office the next year, Trump met a group of 50 evangelicals to gauge their support, Cohen says.

“Watching Trump, I could see that he knew exactly how to appeal to the evangelicals’ desires and vanities — who they wanted him to be, not who he really was. Everything he was telling them about himself was absolutely untrue … This was the moment, for me: the split second when I knew Trump would be president one day,” he writes.

Later that day, after the evangelists had left, Cohen says he went to Trump’s office.

“Can you believe that bullshit?” Trump said, with incredulity, referring to a ritual in which those evangelicals had laid hands on him and prayed. “Can you believe people believe that?”

(Cohen, who paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet about her affair with Trump, was recently released from jail after admitting he violated campaign finance laws during 2016 at Trump’s direction.)

Now, you can argue to what extent religious beliefs should inform your decision to vote for someone to implement political policy, but at the very least, you’d think, a leader with a minimum degree of hypocrisy is always a better option.

The Atlantic magazine has a much deeper analysis of the religious Right’s Faustian bargain with Trump. “In private, many of Trump’s comments about religion are marked by cynicism and contempt, according to people who have worked for him,” it says.

No wonder that when asked on Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect what his favourite Bible verse was a few years ago, Trump seemed stumped. “I wouldn’t want to get into it. Because to me, that’s very personal,” he said.

Yet this is the person Meshoe is “praying for”, simply because he notionally represents his Christian values.

In SA’s 2019 election, 146,262 people voted for the ACDP – largely, you’d think, because they believed the party represented their values. So it’s not encouraging that its leader can be so easily duped into blindly supporting someone who actively demonstrates the antithesis.

Maybe there’s more to Meshoe’s hero worship.

Like Trump, he’s spurned orthodoxy for years. He was, for example, one of the few politicians to vote against accepting SA’s constitution in 1996; he has spoken about how abortion is never justified even in the case of rape; and he’s roundly rejected same-sex marriage.

And like Trump, Meshoe survived Covid-19; in his case, after attending a religious gathering with a number of International visitors.

Perhaps it’s his admiration for Trump’s character that gets in the way of him seeing the truth.

Martin Jay, professor emeritus of history at University of California Berkeley, knows a thing or two about lying politicians. For one thing, he’s written a book on this subject, titled The Virtues of Mendacity: On Lying in Politics.

In this interview, Jay speaks about how one of the biggest casualties of the Trump era has been trust in facts — from both sides.

“Ironically, the people who support this president think of him as a truth teller. They think of him as authentic, someone who courageously cuts through … ‘political correctness’. So, while some people damn him for telling 20,000 lies, his supporters think he’s the only guy on the block who is, in fact, telling it like it really is,” he says.

(While The Washington Post reckons Trump has told 25,000 lies since elected, Politifact has concluded that just 25% of his statements were “true” or even “half true”.)

For both sides, says Jay, it’s not whether someone is lying that is important for many people, but rather who that person is. We make assumptions about their character, and from there, we brand them as a truth teller or hypocrite — and whatever they say after that is retrofitted to that judgment.

Trump’s economy

Religion isn’t the only myth around Trump.

Many who voted for him argued that he was a better option for the economy than his Democratic rival, Joe Biden: of the 35% of Americans who said the economy was the biggest determinant of their vote, 82% voted for Trump.

But, in a devastating article headlined “Trumponomics was always a lie”, the New Statesman dismantles that myth — from his six bankruptcies down to his antiglobalist trade stance.

“Voters were misled. Trump’s aggressive protectionism masked a failure to address the deep internal divisions in the US economy, which left many of his own voters in a worse economic position than they had been before,” it says.

The New Statesman examines the trade balances in many of the “red states” like Kentucky, which showed that they relied disproportionately on investment from China.

“To vote for Trump, the world’s most vocal antiglobalist, has been nothing less than an act of economic self-harm … key goods traded between Republican states and China, such as grain, have been hit hardest by the trade war’s tit-for-tat tariffs,” it says.

The result: Trump’s “bring jobs home” slogan, and his stated desire to stop American companies from opening factories offshore, have been undermined by what has actually happened on the ground.

The cognitive dissonance in people voting for Trump on these grounds, when their “Make America Great Again” hats were made in China, or when an auto business founded by his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, moved production overseas this year, is stark.

This, says the New Statesman, is another example of his administration’s “endemic hypocrisy”.

Still, it is certainly true that the stock market did well during the Trump years — the Dow Jones industrial average went up 35% — which boosted people’s pensions. Unemployment also fell slightly from 4.7% to 3.5%, and wages grew.

But how much of this was due to Trump?

On Friday, analysts from Société Générale argued that the soaring US stock market is due not so much to Trump, but rather to the policy of quantitative easing (QE) introduced by the US Federal Reserve in 2009.

QE essentially pumps immense amounts of money into the monetary system, stimulating demand for stocks.

“Without QE, the Nasdaq-100 should be closer to 5,000 than 11,000, while the S&P 500 should be closer to 1,800 rather than 3,300,” say strategists Sophie Huynh and Charles De Boissezon.

Their note is covered in depth at marketwatch.com and is worth a read.

If this analysis is correct, then stock markets shouldn’t really care about a Trump loss. This seems to be how it’s panning out: markets are rising after Biden’s victory.

As this article in The New Republic puts it: “Whatever the financial markets are, rest assured they don’t give a damn about Donald Trump and never did. Why should they? As a developer, he borrowed heavily against the future and then stiffed his creditors. As president, he’s done much the same with the federal budget and carbon emissions. The banks were onto this guy long before the rest of us, and they’ll weep no tears for him.”

Clearly the bankers are far more switched on than Kenneth Meshoe.

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