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A not-so-proudly South African link to Trump’s inner circle

People are trying to figure out Donald Trump’s real agenda. There are big clues in the people around him.

Trump appointed Steve Bannon as his campaign manager last year and Bannon is now his chief political advisor and strategist. Bannon is a multi-talented (journalist, naval officer, investment banker and Hollywood producer) white nationalist, Islamophobe who ran, and presumably still controls the tone of, an online news service called Breitbart News. Breitbart was started by Andrew Breitbart, an American arch-conservative who went to war against the American “liberal establishment”. Bannon took over the news service when Breitbart died unexpectedly in 2012.

Joel Pollak works for Breitbart. If you are connected at all with the Democratic Alliance and remember the glory days of Tony Leon, some bells may be starting to ring in your head. Pollak was a speechwriter for Leon from 2002 to 2006. He was born in South Africa, but was raised in the US when his parents immigrated in the 1970s. He has a law degree from Harvard. He also studied for an MA at the Kaplan Center at the University of Cape Town, and turned his dissertation into a book on “The Kasrils Affair” of 2007, when Ronnie Kasrils criticized Israeli Zionism on behalf of the Palestinians and ignited a small furore about in whose name he claimed to be speaking.

In 2009, Pollak married Rhoda Kadalie’s daughter, Julia Bertelsmann. Their wedding was held at Western Cape premier Helen Zille’s official residence.

Then Pollak returned to the US and became a member of the Tea Party – a noisy faction of the Republican Party, singlemindedly dedicated to the electoral overthrow of Barack Obama’s agenda. Pollak ran unsuccessfully for the US Congress from the 9th District of Illinois in 2010. The district includes some of the wealthy white suburbs surrounding Chicago to the north (why are northern suburbs always white and wealthy?). Pollak was walloped in an election year when Tea Party candidates cleaned up around the country. Maybe one reason he lost was a set of amateurish campaign ads, one of which featured his wife Julia, and his mother-in-law Rhoda Kadalie being embraced by Nelson Mandela. 

Another ad entitled, “Flip My Ride” looks like it was produced by a 4 year old.

Anyway, following this electoral failure, Pollak started to work for Breitbart. Perhaps his South Africa connection accounts for a Breitbart article about #RhodesMustFall entitled, “ Rhodes to Ruin: How Africa is Traducing the Legacy of a Great Man”. I had to look up “traducing.” It means, “to tell lies” about something. So now, there’s an ultra-right wing US view of contemporary South Africa!

Back in the home of the brave, one of those “OMG not another one” moments of the 2016 US presidential election was when Michelle Fields, a reporter for Breitbart, was allegedly groped and assaulted by Trump’s then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Some Breitbart staff resigned in protest at the way the news service refused to support Fields. Pollak did not resign. Ben Shapiro, a staffer who had been so close to Pollak that a left-wing website once basically called them  evil Tweeddledees, did resign and has since come out as a critic of Trump, Bannon and Brietbart. 

Shapiro is still an ultra-conservative but he has a defector’s insights. He cautions people trying to figure Trump out to dig deeper than sound-bite journalism to see the complex political and conceptual alliances that are tying the most recent version of “America First” together. He says that Bannon and the US radical rightwing believe that they can and must save Western civilization from the depredations of Islam, and that any Muslim anywhere is a sleeper agent for worldwide jihad. Trump has been a godsend for these latter-day crusaders.

Meanwhile, Joel Pollak has become Breitbart’s “senior editor-at-large and in-house counsel”. He now defends Bannon on US national TV shows, and recently described Bannon as  “a national hero” for saving Donald Trump’s campaign.

Breitbart.com has a lot of articles about Africa and a couple about South Africa; this is surprising because the US media generally maintains a near-total silence about the African continent. Most of the articles on Africa are about how African immigrants are flooding into Europe. And guess what – Africans are even trying to  sneak into the US via Mexico .

Africans – more bad hombres (that’s what Trump calls Mexicans)! Let’s include them in an Executive Order banning travel and immigration and cancelling the issued visas of 100 000 people from seven countries! Because the border wall is not up yet and those Africans are sneaky! And, guess what – those Africans are not only black, they’re Muslims! Two for the price of one!

Perhaps Pollak’s old DA connection accounts for a Breitbart  article about DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s recent visit to Israel. Believe me, the average American has absolutely no interest in South Africa, Maimane or the DA. But Zionism may be a solid link between the DA in South Africa, Breitbart’s political agenda, Bannon, and the Trump White House. Trump’s other closest advisor is his billionaire son-in-law Jared Kushner. Pollak and Kushner are both Zionists. Last year, Kushner described Bannon approvingly as “an incredible Zionist who loves Israel”.

On the bright side, there’s at least one person in that mix who can find South Africa on a map. On the other hand, maybe some good old-fashioned South Africa-style xenophobia has dripped into the bubbling All-American cesspool of white supremacy, misogyny, disaster capitalism and Islamophobia that is Trump’s presidency.

If the DA’s coffers fill with piles of American cash in the coming years, the trail might lead straight to Trump Tower. Just sayin’.

Terri Barnes is an associate professor of history and gender/women’s studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a former faculty member in History, and higher education policy at the University of the Western Cape.

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