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A pound of flesh

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.

As well as blaming the ALP for her party’s poor showing, Hanson blames ‘the people’ for not understanding the system:

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.

What happened?

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.

This article by 2353NM was originally published on TPS Extra.



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  1. 1petermcc

    It’s going to be interesting to see if Donald cops a huge backlash or if folk are going to dig in and cop it sweet.You would have to be seriously rusted on to let your family suffer his broken promises.

    But as we all know, even scam artists who get exposed can still pull a few bucks out of the gullibility of others. In the US when Peter Popoff was caught on audio tape faking faith healing, he was back in business within 10 years using the same technique. I desperately hope that was a new audience and not the return of the original victims.

  2. Tina Clausen

    “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.”

    So very true. They all want to have their cake and eat it too.

  3. Keitha Granville

    He is still having rallies, as if he is still in pre-election mode. Methinks he hasn’t a clue about to BE POTUS now that he has it, so rousting people at rallies with all the guff he threw at them before will stop them from noticing that he hasn’t really done anything yet. Except issue executive orders that are being quashed by the courts.
    The same people who voted him in will begin to realise that he just cant follow through with any of the big promises – manufacturing will revive suddenly because he says so, healthcare for all will be cheaper, and he proudly announced today our borders are stronger, we are all safer now ” The crowd roars its approval – but where are the facts?

    He’s just a windbag with nothing to back it up.

  4. margcal

    Pauline is certainly right that a significant number of people don’t understand the voting system with regard to preferences … but she should perhaps include herself in that number.

  5. guest

    I am amazed at the narrow, myopic view of the ‘populists’ who offer to solve the problems of the world while at the same time retreating into a cocoon of sovereignty.

    They espouse small government, yet act like tyrants in certain ideological areas (think conservative, right wing religion vs other religions, SSM, how people dress…),

    climate change not linked to energy policy (cooking the planet and at the same time lamenting the cost of energy),

    having no integrated energy policy (except for ‘clean coal’ – perhaps waking up at last, the PM loading his house with renewables),

    reducing taxes on the rich, increasing taxes for the poor (in a tax system nowhere near fair and in need of overall revision),

    privatisation of almost everything and then wondering why costs rise and where the money goes – relying on market forces to do the lifting, while the government withdraws from involvement (small government),

    relying on market forces to create ‘jobs and growth’ (just escaping a credit rating down-grade when coal and iron ore prices rise just in time, with no promise of more increases),

    relying on military spending to flow into the economy, but using machinery built here at a cost above what might have been bought off the shelf – and the money going where? some of it perhaps already redundant,

    using security scares as a means of control (building walls, demonising ‘others’, trading with others with FTAs but treating them as potential enemies, use of off-shore detention centres, reducing foreign aid, etc) while at the same time being instrumental in creating the circumstances which force people to migrate en masse (wars, climate change, neglect, colonisation, exploitation…),

    international companies and cartels having more power and influence than governments, and having their own currency, profit flow and tax system,

    the ideas that ‘greed is good’ and ‘profit before environment’ so that wealth is the goal of everyone, while poverty is seen as an indication of inferiority and a nuisance because the poor exhibit ‘the politics of envy’ (think “American Dream” and “Making America Great Again” and the notion of endless growth and prosperity if only we tried hard enough),

    the failures of government, whereby Ministers are shifted from one portfolio to another, achieving nothing in any of them; PMs being dumped at any time, the “establishment elites’ being dumped for ‘outsiders’ and ‘non-establishment celebrities” governments boring on even when beyond use-by date well before the next election (you can think of examples).

    This rant is by no means complete and is justifiably negative despite the optimism others exhibit on this site and others. But when I look at the poison exhibited in so much of the MSM and almost all the social media, I believe the direction of so many governments in the world is being fogged and blurred. It was re-enforced today reading a discussion about energy in which the participants could not even agree on the basic facts and attacked each other with no chance of any compromise. It reflects what we see in the USA, the UK, Europe, and in Oz, where it all public discourse disintegrates into venom and vitriol with everyone shouting in their own echo chambers -and here am I in mine!

  6. Annie B

    @margcal – … you are right – preferences are not understood – and they should be. And I doubt strongly, that Hanson would have a clue about how they work. … I do believe they were the main reason ( especially from the small ‘overnight’ parties that popped up rather suddenly ? ) … that the Rabbutt was able to crawl onto the throne in 2012.


    The article here is very good – well written and with a lot of research. Sums up Trump very well. … He is a con man – and if he somehow manages to mess with the little medical care that U.S. citizens do NOT enjoy – then it’s hell and indeed, death for many. … I doubt Trump could give a tuppenny damn, about all that, though.

    Have a friend who is a devout Republican, and thus – following now – a Trump supporter. She is in dire need of constant medical attention, and I doubt she will get anything much at all ( not that she’s getting much in the way of answers at this time anyway ) … to help relieve her myriad of symptoms – all apparently connected to one another. ………. I despair for her.

  7. wam

    surely if trump ever had a conscience business destroyed his access to it and he is determined to take a business approach where he is the top dog with not a penny of his own money involved and access to trillions.
    Facts are no longer needed in journalism, rarely found on searches and missing from social media.
    Preferences can be broken done to where you mark the ballot paper is your preference but if you chose the above the line option you are giving your right to allocate preferences to the party.
    Both barnett(comfortable that the national excess would still flow to the libs) and hanson wanted the excess votes.

  8. Dive

    I Know people, US citizens, who have health problems, no insurance cover, and yet who voted for Trump. Even with their backs to the wall these mindless Trumpistas will vote for him again. Brain dead.

  9. 2353

    @ wam – you’re correct, you control how the preferences flow, not the parties. You don’t have to follow the recommendations.

    @ Dive and Annie B – some people can’t see the wood for the trees. Self interest is a wonderful thing and hopefully one day the light bulb will turn on.

  10. Annie B

    @ wam – Re your comment –

    ………”you’re correct, you control how the preferences flow, not the parties. You don’t have to follow the recommendations.”

    Problem is not a lot of voters know this, or they don’t want to vote for either of the 2 big ‘uns, so decide on a little party that sounds ok for a change, thinking if they vote for THEM, it is one less vote for either of the big 2. It’s those little sudden parties who preference(d) in the 2012 election – the LNP. And frankly I am very very dubious about their sudden appearance, at the polling booths with their hand-outs.

    Of course, the LNP would have had nothing to do with that – would they ? ( coff, coff ). 🙁

    Admitting here to a small amount of paranoia when it comes to the LNP and their stunts. !!

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