Donald Trump recently posted a remark on Twitter concerning the implementation of a long-threatened South African governmental policy to “redistribute” farmland away from white owners and transfer it to black citizens. Why would he care about some South African farmers being evicted from their land? Here is a guess.
President Trump is a patriot who is not only proud of his country, but loves it. While he is no constitutional scholar, he cherishes a system of government that allowed him and countless other Americans to strive and to prosper. What is more, upon prospering, they keep what they have earned, or at least most of it, unthreatened by any man or any government. Likewise, while his history can sometimes be a little fuzzy, the President embraces the American story.
Like most Americans who grew up during the period he did, Donald Trump absorbed in his early schooling and from the culture at large, an unabashed sense of the greatness of this country. Our heroes were brave and resourceful. They had grit and they kept their word; their struggles were righteous and honorable ones. When they strayed, an innate American sense of what is right eventually brought them back to the right path. While sophisticated citizens of the world like Bill and Hillary Clinton and others who attended an extravagant and bizarre circus-themed Hedge Fund wedding at Harvey Weinstein’s Connecticut estate recently, would no doubt scoff at such simplistic gaucherie, Salena Zito’s Americans overwhelmingly share Trump’s sentiments, forming one of the strongest bonds between them and this President.
It is therefore not far-fetched to imagine that in Donald Trump’s eyes there is a kinship between South Africa’s Boer ancestors of today’s threatened farmers and American pioneers. Both struck out on their own, wrested a home from a wilderness and prospered, wishing only to be left alone. Both fought two wars against great odds to preserve their independence from the British Empire, and both eventually made their peace with aggrieved countrymen. Why wouldn’t Donald Trump spare their heirs a thought? A few details may be appropriate here.
The word Boer means farmer in Dutch. In the early nineteenth-century these primarily Dutch, German and Huguenot settlers, most devout Christians of the Calvinist persuasion, sought to separate themselves from the British who had taken the Cape Colony from the Dutch East India Company and had begun imposing British institutions on the populace. In the Boer version of a founding epic, they picked up and moved their families, livestock and everything they had into the wild north in what came to be immortalized as The Great Trek. They defeated and subjugated the native people and eventually established a thriving agricultural economy, living a simple and devout existence in what eventually became two Boer republics, The South African Republic (ZAR) and The Orange Free State.
Versions of History
Depending on whose version you choose to credit, after the end of their war against the Zulu in 1879, the British began to cast envious eyes on the rich Boer territories to the north of Britain’s Natal, where gold and diamonds had been discovered. (Alternatively, there is the notion that upright Colonial Office Liberals sought to confer enlightenment, separation of church and state and other benefits of Anglo-Saxon civilization upon the backward Boers, oppressed natives and non-Boer “foreigners” – Uitlanders – suffering discrimination in the Boer Republics).
In 1880, war broke out between Britain and the ZAR and after about a year and a half a badly-battered British Army went down to a humiliating defeat at the hands of Boer militias (Commandos) despite their rather peculiar notions of military organization. Most notably, Boer commanders presented a plan of action to their neighbors/troops, and those who concurred went along on the operation in question. Those who disagreed with the wisdom of the plan stayed in camp –with no disgrace attending their sitting that one out. Pretty much the same casual approach governed leave and unit-to-unit transfer. These were rugged individualists, to put it mildly.
In the ensuing peace settlement of March, 1881, the independence of the Boer Republics was conceded by Britain. In 1899, however, Britain renewed the conflict, this time with the Orange Free State joining the ZAR in the struggle. After three years of bitter combat, which included British establishment of the first “concentration camps” to house Boer dependants, the exhausted Boers had to concede defeat and their republics became colonies under British rule.
During this Second Boer War there was considerable international support for the Boers, and foreigners, including Americans, volunteered to fight alongside them.
It is likely this history of scrappy defiance in resistance to supra-national pretensions that explains Trump’s Tweet, and not, as will probably be alleged by somebody on Cable TV, sinister racist dog whistling and secret nostalgia for post-1948 South African Apartheid – that and the fact that he probably has some sympathy for those in South Africa who “made a deal,” and now find it being reneged upon, notwithstanding the validity of assertions of murderous rampages.
Trump’s Tweets reveal more about the man than all of the scripted, nuanced, poll-tested consultant-massaged pap professional Washington feeds us, and on balance, we like what we see, warts and all. We can excuse a lot from a man whose unguarded impulses include expressing admiration for those qualities and aspirations generations of Americans have valued traditionally, whether Karl Rove scowls or not.