G’day America

Hi, howyagoin? We hear that you are having a real problem with who is going to be your next president. We’ve done our election and gone back to the beach! 

If we understand the issues correctly, there is the choice of a property tycoon who seems to be able to lend his name to a lot of developments, star in what are laughingly called reality television series, lampoon women and minorities without fear or favour and also wants to build a fence along your borders. The last one is a bit silly – is it to keep you inside, or to keep others out?

The other alternative is the wife of a former president who while secretary of state maintained a private email server, allegedly made a horrible botch-up of a couple of sensitive issues and let’s face it, for a Democrat she is really pretty conservative. The really progressive Democrat unfortunately doesn’t have a hope.

Over this side of the Pacific, there is the occasional news or opinion piece on how a number of your citizens are considering moving to Canada if Trump wins the presidency. It seems that life is not necessarily greener north of the border when you consider the need to find another job, some new friends, change schools and learn the local customs. You would probably have to leave your guns ‘back in the states’ as Canadians seem to have a similar ‘oppressive gun control regime’ to Australia.

It seems that your current president quite likes the Canadian prime minister and their national airline is promoting the need to ‘test drive’ Canada before you move there.

There is another option that you might not have realised. Australia has a recent history of changing our prime minister every year or so over most of the past decade. It’s a ‘downunda’ thing – we have the option of getting rid of them if they lose their nerve so we have a few low mileage, fuel efficient late model leaders sitting on the lot ready to go. We’ll even arrange the finance for you. There are special deals on our Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull models – check the internet for the latest pricing.

For logistical reasons, this piece is being written before the Australian election results are known. Before anyone really thinks that any of the slightly used Australian prime ministers on offer can become the President of the United States – unfortunately they can’t. To be the President of the USA, not only do you have to be an American citizen, you have to be born in the USA. While a segue to a Bruce Springsteen song would fit here, this is a political blog so let’s look at the politics of change and uncertainty instead.

It is fact that in Australia, we have had five prime ministers in six years. At the same time the UK has had a referendum on Scottish Independence as well as the ‘Brexit’ vote, while the US has suffered years of ‘truther’ allegations over Obama’s country of birth (with subsequent questions over his eligibility to be president) followed by the rise of the neo-cons, as well as Donald Trump’s candidacy for president in the latter part of 2016.

As usual, there is a connection. All three countries have a history of two major parties that (for want of a better term) rotate through the effective ‘Head of State’ positions. In the case of ‘Brexit’, it seems that the Conservatives’ Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, sealed his own fate when he initially agreed to the European Union referendum in 2013. This The New Yorker article by John Cassidy discusses the issues:
In retrospect, it can be argued that Cameron’s mistake occurred as far back as 2013, when, in an effort to satisfy the Eurosceptics inside his own Conservative Party, he pledged to hold a referendum at some point before 2017. At the time, this was an easy promise to make: Cameron believed he couldn’t deliver on it. He was then heading a coalition government alongside the pro-E.U. Liberal Democrats, who wanted no part of a referendum and had the power to veto one. But after the Conservatives pulled off a surprise in the May, 2015, general election and won a majority in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister felt he had no option but to follow through on his promise.

Yet even after he had set a date for the referendum, Cameron could surely have done a better job of selling an upbeat vision of the E.U., one that had Britain as an active and enthusiastic member. Rather than accentuating the positive, Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought to scare the electorate into voting their way, arguing that a vote for Leave would plunge the U.K. economy into a recession and cost the average household about sixty-two hundred dollars a year.
Cassidy goes on to suggest that there is a lesson for Hilary Clinton in her campaign against Donald Trump:
Looking ahead, the fate of the Remain campaign should serve as a reminder of the limits of negative campaigning—a reminder that Hillary Clinton would do well to take note of as she goes up against Donald Trump. In confronting populist demagoguery, it isn’t enough to attack its promulgators. To get people to turn out and vote in your favor, you also have to give them something positive to rally behind. The Leave campaign, for all its lies and disinformation, provided just such a lure. It claimed that liberating Britain from the shackles of the E.U. would enable it to reclaim its former glory. The Remain side argued, in effect, that while the E.U. isn’t great, Britain would be even worse off without it. That turned out to be a losing story.
Nigel Farage, the leader of United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) while not the leader of one of the two major parties in the UK is an ultra-conservative politician who is protectionist and anti-immigration. He also was a prominent campaigner for the “Leave” side. He was interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain program the day after the Brexit vote and backtracked on key planks of the “leave” campaign. You can watch it here and it’s refreshing to see a television host call out a politician on exaggerated claims. Boris Johnson (ex-Conservative Mayor of London) also campaigned hard for the “Leave” cause and all suspected it was to commence his bid to become the next Conservative Party Prime Minister. He announced a few days after the referendum result that he was no longer in contention after he lost support within his party. Adam Hills (known to most Australians as the host of ABCTV’s Spicks and Specks), who hosts The Last Leg on the UK’s Channel 4, launched into a stinging attack on Farage’s apparent backtrack (NOTE: explicit language warning).

There seems to be a deal of ‘buyers’ remorse’ since the ‘Brexit’ vote, with a number of articles around the world suggesting that the UK parliament may not invoke ‘Article 50’ – the section of the European Union rules that allows for someone to leave. The Guardian’s view is here and The New Yorker’s version is here. In a similar way, it seems that Donald Trump’s popularity is falling rapidly – here from Politico and here in The New Daily.

So where does this lead us?

We’re changing Prime Ministers faster that most of us move house or change our car. The British have voted to dismantle the United Kingdom and the European Union and those who live in the USA have a choice between two presidential candidates that nobody really seems to want.

There is a connection. Australia, the UK and the USA all have political systems with two major parties that to a greater extent have become corporatised over the past 10 or 15 years. The parties rotate in turn through the respective halls of power and have an intense hatred for ‘the other side’ as displayed particularly by Abbott in Australia, Farage (leader of UKIP) in the UK and Trump in the USA. Like most corporations, the culture is for the staff to literally hate the competition, so in this case the ‘party HQs’ continually generate a culture of hatred rather than consensus.

So you get claims such as ‘The Greens want to legalise the drug Ice’ (according to a leaflet dropped into my letterbox during the recent election campaign; they don’t by the way), which makes consensus after the election difficult as the respective sides start from a position of distrust. Those who really don’t follow politics hear these people on the news, get inflammatory leaflets in their letterbox or read paid advertising that has a small whiff of the truth in their social media feed every day either suggesting ‘the other side’ is morally and/or fiscally corrupt or promising ‘their side’ will ensure immediate action on whatever the issue of the day is. So our uninformed voter decides that the problem is ‘sorted’, or agrees with the proposition the other side is horrible (based on fabricated evidence) and gets on with their lives.

As the interview with Farage demonstrates, he and the other popularist politicians such as Abbott and Trump tend to leave certain opinions in people’s minds, even if (as Farage claimed in the clip above) they actually didn’t make the precise claim they are being accused of. Is it any wonder that people feel disenchanted with the process when, inevitably after the event, the popularist politician is seen to renege on the reason that people supported them? Remember Abbott was going to remove the ‘carbon tax’ on Day 1 of his prime ministership? In reality it is highly unlikely that Trump will ever convince the Mexican government to pay for a wall along the shared border – no matter how many times he claims it will happen.

They promise what they can’t deliver, they will make whatever promise they see as necessary to achieve their aim and then renege. They will disparage people, lifestyle choices, religions and whatever else it takes to get their way, and then wonder why people hold them and their peers in contempt. Sooner or later their exaggerated or false claims will catch up with them, Abbott was originally seen by the conservatives of Australia as the man who could fix everything. Inside two years, there was a spill motion to remove him. Johnson, after the success of the “Leave” campaign was a shoo-in to become the next Conservative UK Prime Minister – and in Farage’s case the beginning of his downfall may have happened on UK national television last week. The good citizens of the USA still have time to find a president who will actually look after the safety and security of their society – so they probably don’t really need a recycled Australian prime minister who potentially had trouble implementing their respective promised ‘vision’ for our Country.

Parliaments are places where representatives of communities are supposed to gather to discuss ideas and implement plans to make life better and more equitable for all members of the community. The two party system is an effective block to this happening, as if either side gets control of the Parliament, they can effectively do what they want. Isn’t it time that we put our politicians on notice that behaviour as displayed by the likes of Abbott, Johnson, Farage and Trump is not acceptable, degrading people or making unrealistic promises is no longer permitted and while in the past the two party system worked well, we now require diversity of opinion and that opinion needs to be understood and acted on? Turnbull and Shorten have both discussed in the past eight weeks that there needs to be more consensus and less war – we need to ensure they and their successors deliver.

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