Trump, the billionaire outsider — but is there a possible silver lining?
I AM surprised and horrified by the election of Donald Trump as the leader of the "Free World". He is sexist, racist, xenophobic and a Muslim-basher. He doesn’t dog-whistle like our prime ministers, but speaks out bluntly on issues in ways I find offensive. Yet, clearly, large numbers of Americans like his populist nonsense.
It seems that Clinton may have narrowly won the popular vote, but Trump has clearly won the numbers in the Electoral College. Perhaps the system was rigged after all — but in Trump's favour!
I have been disappointed so many times in the past in elections. It is not a new experience for me.
The Trump victory is a repeat of what we saw in Brexit and what is developing in so many other countries around the world, particularly in Europe. Many people clearly feel that they are being left behind. Yet the populists who exploit this alienation have no credible policies in response. In Europe in the 1930s, we saw the enormous damage that populists can play in the lives of people who feel alienated and vulnerable.
Some of the world headlines we woke up to on the election of Trump (Image courtesy http://dailyhive.com)
What can we learn from this debacle?
- Globalisation has brought great benefits to many people, but the greedy and wealthy have failed to appreciate that the economy must work for all of society and not just for the "one per cent" with their massive tax avoidance .That is the story that Ian McAuley and I have been putting forward in Pearls and Irritations in recent days. I have also published the concerns of Ross Garnaut on the issue. Political storms are gathering . We cannot continue to ignore them.
- The U.S. media and its Australian fellow travellers have been badly out of touch. Our dependent and servile television and radio organisations provided double the coverage of the U.S. election as they did of our last Federal election. That is extraordinary. The U.S. pollsters were wrong as they were on Brexit. It seems that many voters were unwilling or too ashamed to admit to pollsters that they were voting for Trump. Elitist media was out of touch with public concerns of frustrated people. Through social media, Donald Trump and his followers were able to spread a vile and divisive message.
- Significant numbers of the U.S. electorate are sick and tired of Washington and its wealthy lobbyists, who have produced an appalling logjam in the U.S. congress. It was mainly Republicans who stymied President Obama at almost every turn in Congress. In Australia, there is a similar disquiet about the way our parliament and political parties behave. Just like Washington, “Canberra” is held in contempt by many people.
- Bernie Sanders may have successfully tapped into the millions who felt that they were being ignored by the establishment. But Bernie Sanders could not break the power of the Clinton machine in the primaries, despite the clear enthusiasm that he aroused. But when it came to the presidential election, the Clinton machine was clearly perceived as baggage. Voters distrusted her political machine. Donald Trump may have lacked the money and resources of the Clinton machine but he could enthuse and energise people who felt that the political system was rigged against them. Trump's status as a "celebrity" brought him billions of dollars worth of free publicity. How ironic that it was a billionaire like Donald Trump who could tap into the public frustration. In Australia, our political parties do not reflect the community and its broad range of interests. They are in the grip of special interests and party apparatchiks.
- Many Americans saw the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement as likely to work for the benefit of corporations at the expense of workers.
- White working class voters in the Great Lakes Region responded to Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric. The same nasty rhetoric is at play in Australia.
- Hillary Clinton was clearly seen as part of the Wall Street and business elite. Trillions of dollars were spent by the American Government to rescue the banks after the Global Financial Crisis, but not one banker ever went to gaol. Main street America paid the price for the Wall Street bail out. So main street decided it was time to get square.
- The late intervention in the campaign by the FBI Director will be seen by many as highly partisan.
The U.S. now faces a great divide. There will be push back in many areas including Obamacare and immigration.
Many Americans will feel very hurt and abandoned. U.S. allies around the world will be dismayed. But it may not be a bad thing if the U.S. has to scale back its world role and its penchant for almost always being at war.
Perhaps the silver-lining for Australia is that we might have to decide at last to negotiate our own future in the Asia Pacific region and shake ourselves free of the cringe that we have shown for decades in our relationship with the U.S.
Today, in the Australian Financial Review, Hugh White points to the challenges we face:
'[The Americans] have elected as President a man who does not believe in the vision of American leadership on which Australia has for so long relied. Trump does not think that America can or should accept costs and risks to lead the rules-based order in distant parts of the world. He is clearly happy for Russia under Vladimir Putin to pay a bigger role in Eastern Europe and he plainly does not think it is America’s business to perpetuate the old U.S.-led order in Asia. … Trump may be a bully, but he shows no appetite for fights in which America’s most immediate interests are not engaged. … So don’t assume this is all a bad dream that will swiftly pass. Around the region, doubts about America’s future role in Asia will strengthen and relations with China will be adjusted accordingly. Here in Australia the comforting assumption that America will always be there to keep Asia safe for us will need to be at least laid aside. We will have to start thinking for ourselves about how we build a place in the Asian Century.'
If only we had Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser to help us chart a new future and lessen our dependence on our "dangerous ally". Will we seize the moment?
I was going to launch my ‘White Man’s Media’ column today. That will now wait a week, but this American election is a disquieting illustration of the failure of our derivative media to help equip us for a changing world — a world in which the U.S. is in long-term decline.
This article was originally published on John Menadue's blog 'Pearls and Irritations' on 10 November 2016. You can follow John on Twitter @johnmenadue.
Malcolm Fraser urges an end to Aust-US alliance. Published 21 May 2014.
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