I have been spending an unhealthy amount of time wondering about something.
I’m trying to understand the logic behind the popularity of certain people.
Leaders like Donald Trump, Jacob Zuma and lately the ANC boss Ace Magashule.
It is confusing to me how people, who are unequivocally and often by their own admission objectionable, can still have such a groundswell of support from masses of adoring fans.
The entire thing has had me going around and around in my head, trying to understand what exactly it is that allows people to lower their own standards to support a public figure who openly acts against their own interests.
It doesn’t seem to make any sense, and yet to them, it does.
There are very few public figures that I fanboy over openly.
And it usually takes me years before I get to the point of blinkered admiration.
I also accept that they are human beings with flaws and not all benevolent.
But I am also inclined to change my mind, should their flaws go against a core principle of mine.
Take Kevin Spacey for example. For a long time, he was one of my absolute favourite actors and I would pretty much go and watch any movie he was in.
I even went as far as watching YouTube videos of some of the theatre productions he starred in.
That’s until I learned about the sexual abuse allegations. The acts and his response to them were so repugnant to me that I can never again bring myself to watch anything to do with him.
So you can understand how hard it is for me to digest the fact that more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump.
Or that our own political landscape was wobbling last week around the arrest of Magashule, to answer for allegations of tender fraud and corruption to the tune of R255 million.
Just to drive home the obvious, this is taxpayers’ money – your and my hard-earned contributions that was used to finance lavish lifestyles of greedy individuals, who couldn’t care less about the dignity of the people they claim to represent.
So how is it that they can still have so much support among those very people?
And it’s not just tacit support either. Victims of their greed will often take to the streets to demonstrate their support for these individuals, who happily hoodwink them and steal from them.
After months of head-scratching, I think I may have happened upon an answer, albeit one I find almost as unpalatable as the people it refers to.
And I don’t think you’re going to like it very much.
If the evidence against these individuals is as clear as daylight and there are still people who support them, then the obvious conclusion is that their morals are a reflection of the morals of those who support them.
To put it differently, if you still support Zuma after he admitted that he slept with his friend’s daughter and exposed himself to HIV, then it means you have either done the same, or would, if given the chance.
And if there’s clear evidence of theft and corruption, and you continue to support them, then it must mean that you would do the same thing in that position.
Is it admiration for being able to actually steal the millions that you wish you could?
Either that, or character doesn’t matter that much to you.
Whichever one is the better logic, it doesn’t reflect very well on us as a society.
The fact is, we only overlook crimes that we ourselves are guilty of, or which we would easily commit ourselves, if given the opportunity.
I told you that you wouldn’t like my conclusion.
It may not be nice, but it does allow us to ask whether we want our leaders to reflect or values, or to live values that we strife after; in other words, for them to be better than us, morally superior to us.
I don’t mean for them to be wholly angelic, but rather to be able to easily resist common, premeditated temptations, like theft and fraud. Is it too much to ask to have leaders that we can respect and admire for their integrity and strength of character, rather than just vague, populist rhetoric or posturing platitudes?