Well inside his first 100 days, President Trump is facing a revolt from his core constituency. Trump promised a number of ‘initiatives’, from ‘draining the swamp’ (a reference to the political class in Washington DC), to building a wall to keep Mexicans in Mexico and repealing Obamacare, more formally called the ‘Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’, a program implemented by the Obama Administration to ensure health care was affordable for Americans who were not on large incomes.
Trump’s problem is that it sounded like a good rallying point to suggest that Obamacare was unaffordable, a waste of resources and a complete disaster. As Paul McGeough observes in Fairfax’s websites:
Until now being President has been easy-peasy for Trump – keeping his base happy by snarling at the news media, offering a new “he tapped my phones” conspiracy to replace the Obama birther nonsense, firing off another executive order on migration when the first backfired, and shirt-fronting the world on trade and security.
Trump’s Presidency just got harder.
The self-proclaimed dealmaker is attempting a sleight of hand, by which millions of his own voters stand to be screwed. More than 80 per cent of them told election day exit pollsters that Obamacare had “gone too far”, but experts warn that under Trump’s proposed deal they will be slugged for thousands of dollars more a year.
And at the same time, Trump must convince dozens of small government purists in Congress that what is being foisted on them, dubbed Obamacare-lite by some, is not a halfway house that fails to deliver on their absolute commitment to be rid of Barack Obama’s legacy-defining health insurance scheme.
McGeough goes on to quote a number of the 90% of Trump voters (those who earn less than USD200,000 per annum) who will be worse off. Trump is now finding out it is all very well to claim that on the whole, a country would be better off if one course of action rather than another was taken, but the reality is in Trump’s case, he implied that every American citizen would have all their problems fixed if they voted him in. We’ve discussed this before on The Political Sword:
Trump has by implication promised to ‘fix’ the perceived personal problem of every person that has voted for him, as well as those who didn’t. It really doesn’t matter that there are a multitude of problems and, given all the good will in the world, some of the problems are so entrenched in the global economic system that they will never be ‘fixed’, Trump’s implicit promise is to ‘fix it’ and benefit all those US citizens who voted for him. When it comes time for other Republicans to challenge him for the 2020 nomination sometime in 2019, a lot of the disaffected that voted for Trump this time around will look at their individual circumstances and decide whether they are either worse or no better off. While Trump may not necessarily follow the usual political protocols, he can’t ‘fix’ everything he claimed to be able to manage in under 24 months. He is already ‘talking down’ his promise to cancel Obama’s Affordable Health initiative. Will these people (probably numbered in the hundreds of millions) accept Trump’s inevitable line that he is gradually turning things around? Or will they, to paraphrase a former Australian politician be waiting on the porch with a baseball bat?
And that’s the problem when you play with people’s perceptions. Your perception probably differs greatly from mine on certain issues – and ‘fixing’ an issue to your satisfaction means that I probably won’t be happy with the result. Depending on the importance of the ‘fix’ in our daily lives (maybe financial, social or educational disadvantage), one of us is likely to withdraw our support and to be figuratively, at least, standing on the verandah with the cricket bat waiting for the perceived wrong doer to come by. As The New Yorker recently stated:
The thing always to remember about Trump—and this week has merely confirmed it—is that he is a sham populist. A sham authoritarian populist, even.
Going back to late-nineteenth-century Germany, many of the most successful authoritarian populists have expanded the social safety net. Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor, introduced health insurance, accident insurance, and old-age pensions. “The actual complaint of the worker is the insecurity of his existence,” he said in 1884. “He is unsure if he will always have work, he is unsure if he will always be healthy, and he can predict that he will reach old age and be unable to work.”
During the twentieth century, Argentina’s Juan Perón, Malaysia’s Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew were among the authoritarian leaders who followed Bismarck’s example. Today, if you look at the election platform of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, you see something similar. Like Trump, Le Pen is a nativist, a protectionist, and an Islamophobe. But she is not proposing to dismantle any of the many social benefits that the French state provides. Rather, she says she will expand child-support payments and reduce the retirement age to sixty.
Trump, on the other hand, has little to offer ordinary Americans except protectionist rhetoric and anti-immigrant measures. Before moving to gut Obamacare, he at least could have tried to bolster his populist credentials by passing a job-creating infrastructure bill or a middle-class tax cut. Instead, he’s staked his Presidency on a proposal that would hurt many of his supporters, slash Medicaid, undermine the finances of Medicare, and benefit the donor class. That’s not populism: it’s the reverse of it. And it might be a political disaster in the making.
Politics is political and never has the ancient saying ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ been more current than today. As an example, in the recent Western Australian state election, Liberal Premier Colin Barnett was dismissing a preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation as recently as November 2016 and by February 2017, was claiming the subsequent deal to swap preferences with One Nation above long term allies the National Party as a ‘sensible and pragmatic result’. Barnett also admitted in a radio interview he was personally ‘uncomfortable’ with the preference deal with One Nation but said he accepted the party was now ‘a reality’.
Hanson’s comments after the WA election were interesting as well. She admitted the preference swap was a bad idea:
“Doing the deal with the Libs has done damage to us, in all honesty. It was a mistake,” Hanson said. “We are really going to have to have a good look at this because all I heard all day leading up to this election was ‘why are you sending your preferences to the Liberal party?’”
Hanson suggested the problem stemmed from doing a deal with a major party leader past his use by date. “It wasn’t One Nation. I think it was Colin Barnett – people did not want Colin Barnett.
People ask me about preferences and they don’t understand the voting system, the preference system, and the preferences. I think that’s where most of the damage has come from.
Writing for Fairfax’s websites on the Monday after the election, Peter Hartcher suggested that Hanson has ‘lost the plot’. His argument is:
Unshakeable faith in the common sense of the ordinary people is the very definition of populism. Hanson, under pressure of failure, has lost the plot.
First and foremost, One Nation forgot its essential character as a protest party.
Its entire raison d’etre is to register a protest vote against the main parties, to express the people’s disgust at the political establishment.
Instead, One Nation did a deal with one of the main parties. Worse, it was with the ruling party. It made Pauline Hanson look like a close partner of the establishment.
Why on earth did One Nation agree to swap preferences with the Liberals, the party of Premier Colin Barnett?
Simple. It was a lunge for power. One Nation wanted more spillover preference votes, even if they came from the devil himself.
The party sold its soul for power. But it was far worse than a standard Faustian bargain. One Nation sold its soul, yet didn’t win any temporary advantage. It ended up powerless as well as soulless.
While short term political expediency has a place (maybe), it certainly didn’t help Barnett retain government or Hanson gain influence. Any deal is a contract between two parties whereby both parties get something they want. As the WA Liberals lost power, any deal they made for power sharing is probably over; a good thing for whoever replaces Barnett. It’s not only Trump, Hanson or the WA Liberals that play Russian roulette with political expediency and populism. Last October, Crikey discussed the potential connection between political donations and renewable energy policy. In the discussion, Bernard Keane suggested:
Malcolm Turnbull says he has lots of solar panels. But the Coalition’s hatred of renewable energy isn’t so much about personal views as about the cash.
It was probably not a surprise when you clicked on the link to the Crikey article above to see that the conservative parties in Australia received far more donations over the past decade or so from energy and coal companies than the ALP. While it is attractive to suggest that no big business should be donating to political parties, there is nothing illegal with the process at the moment. The energy and coal companies would also want their pound of flesh from the politicians, and it’s probably not hard to guess what the preferred outcome would be.
The average solar system in Australia can generate 5kW according to Infinite Energy, a commercial solar installer with offices in Perth and Brisbane. Turnbull’s Point Piper home can generate 14.5kW of electricity with some battery storage ability. However, Turnbull sprukes the ‘advantages’ of ‘clean coal’ over renewable energy claiming the issue with variable renewables – by which I mean principally solar and wind – is that they don’t generate electricity all the time.
Clean coal is a myth both economically and practically. Fairfax media reported in early February:
An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released on Friday found this type of plant was the most expensive and dirtiest source of mainstream electricity supply available.
Across their lifetime, the most efficient modern coal plants would cost a minimum $134 per megawatt hour of electricity generated, and possibly as much as $203.
Wind ($61-118 per megawatt hour), baseload gas ($74-90) and large-scale solar ($78-140) were much cheaper.
The analysis found the cost of building new coal could fall to $94 per megawatt hour if the government were to take on all risk across its decades-long lifespan.
It could be suggested that the donors to the conservative parties are getting their pound of flesh.
When recent headlines suggest that ‘Climate change in Australia impact on Australia may be irreversible, five yearly report says’ and ‘Economic growth more likely when wealth distributed to poor instead of rich’, you’d have to ask if Turnbull, like Abbott before him, should join with Hanson and Trump as (in the words of The New Yorker) ‘sham populists’. While they seek the popularity, they all support tax cuts to big business and those on larger incomes, xenophobic immigration policies, cutting of wages (through mechanisms such as reduction in weekend penalty rates), support to political donors that arguably jeopardises the future of our country and so on. Turnbull’s polling figures reflect general dissatisfaction and Hanson potentially revealed her true colours when she did a ‘preference deal’ with the moribund Barnett Liberal Government in Western Australia and paid the price for that decision.
Putting it bluntly, it’s Turnbull, Hanson and Trump’s fault that they are in the position they are. Hopefully these examples will in time convince future politicians that a conversation on the pros and cons of matters affecting our society is required – rather than sham populism.
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