On Thursday evening, the South African Parliament erupted into a vicious brawl in which several members of the opposition were injured. It started when a member of the left-wing opposition called the country’s president a “thief.” When she refused to withdraw the remark, she was ordered to leave. When she resisted, the presiding officer called the police. They dragged her out–and allegedly beat up members of the opposition in the process.
It was the first time that police had rushed into Parliament since the prime minister was assassinated in 1966, local journalist Max du Preez noted. Worse, it marked the first major political breakdown of the post-apartheid era.
There had been partisan violence in the streets, and police shootings at illegal union protests, and mere old-fashioned riots. But never had South Africa’s careful political ritual broken down so spectacularly, and so sadly.
What does that have to do with America? Nothing–and yet everything.
The South African government is further along a destructive path that Washington has begun to follow. If President Barack Obama follows through, as intended, with his proposed “executive amnesty” on immigration, he will poison relations between the branches of government.
He will divide the country; worse, he may convince partisans on both sides to use other means.
Those pushing for amnesty have already indicated that they are prepared to use extra-parliamentary methods to make their case, including civil disobedience. Those opposed to illegal immigration have resorted to vigilantism in the past. The country has been shocked by a string of brutal crimes committed by illegal aliens, and over the summer law and order broke down completely at the southern border, as thousands of children crossed over.
That is a toxic mix, and at this rate of escalation it is only a matter of time before it erupts.
Instead of calming tensions, Obama–who called for “civility” after Tuscon in 2011–is upping the ante. His proposal is even more audacious in the light of his many past declarations that he had no power to act on his own–that doing so would mean violating the Constitution and his oath of office, and that he was duty-bound to carry out laws on the books.
Pushing “executive amnesty” would not result in a “civil war”–a metaphor used by people on all sides of the debate–but it would certainly cause a political breakdown in Washington, and outbreaks of disorder elsewhere.
That is what has happened in South Africa–not the race war observers expected before Nelson Mandela led the country to democracy in 1994, but mounting anarchy as people lose confidence in their leaders and the system.
The rot began in South Africa with a minor scandal–a government-funded musical production, Sarafina 2, that was meant to promote AIDS awareness. Not only was it filled with pseudo-science, but it was also a flop–one for which the government had vastly overpaid. When Parliament began asking questions about corruption, the ruling party closed ranks around the executive. Now the scale of graft and theft has become debilitating.
If that sounds unlikely here, consider that the U.S. government just funded a $700,000 musical in Brooklyn, The Great Immensity, that was meant to educate the public about climate change but closed early. And the National Science Foundation, which was responsible for the grant, has refused to admit that the project was a failure.
That attitude is typical of the administration’s attitude toward transparency in general. It also symbolizes the Democrats’ contempt for the public on a variety of issues.
They pushed Obamacare through, over the protests of those they evidently considered too “stupid” to understand what was good for them. They leapt to their feet when Obama berated the Supreme Court in person, when the visiting Mexican president ripped Arizona’s immigration law, and when the president promised to bypass Congress if he could.
They have been spoiling for a fight–shutdown, impeachment, whatever–since Obama took office. And though Republicans have proved too pliable for the conservative base, they are now promising to resist “tooth and nail.”
The last fight in Congress was in 1856, when Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-MA) with his cane.
We may not reach “civil war.” But unless Obama relents, we may soon see things we all regret.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak