A few weeks ago, Peter Dutton expressed the view that Turnbull didn’t have a “political bone in his body”. While political commentary tends to be about politics, I’m often more interested in the subtext behind any comment that a politician makes.
I mean, are we meant to conclude that this is a bad thing and that members of Parliament are meant to be composed of poltical bones? Are we also meant to presume that Peter Dutton considers himself to have lots and lots of political bones? If so, where were they buried when he stuffed up his leadership challenge? Or when he was Health Minister? Or well, just about every time he opens his mouth?
As I’ve written before, there are basically two ways to approach politics. One is to do whatever is necessary to win power because, with power, one can do what one really wants to do. The danger with this approach is that one keeps adapting and changing to win power and one forgets to actually do what one really wanted to do in the first place. The second approach is to change the narrative so that your opponents end up doing some of the things you wanted in order to be elected. This is usually the prefered tactic of a minor party with very little chance of winning, but sometimes a major party can shift the framing so that their opponent feels that they can’t actually oppose them. Take Kim Beasley’s speech about “The Tampa”, for example. Or Budget surpluses. You’d be a brave Labor leader to say that we actually need a deficit at the moment.
All of which brings me to Donald Trump.
When Donald Trump was elected, there were a lot of surprised people. I was one. I remember writing a few things that were critical of him. A couple of people jumped on me and asked how I could be so supportive of that war-monger Hillary. I checked what I had written and I can find absolutely nothing where I supported Clinton. Apparently, this was a binary thing where if you were critical of Trump, you must be a flag waving supporter of the United States. My surprise wasn’t because I thought that Hillary was great or that Obama had been perfect and a great force for positive change. My surprise was that a person who was so clearly ill-equipped for the job, both intellectually and personally, actually won.
If I’d thought about it, I probably shouldn’t be surprised. People like easy answers to wicked problems and Trump was promising easy answers. “Don’t like drugs or immigrants? Simple, we’ll build a wall!” Now, those middle-class elites like me might want to argue that there’s very little point in building a wall on side of your country only, but if you’ve managed to convince people that all the bad things are coming from the south, then the wall only needs to be built on that side. Ok, it doesn’t solve the problem of people tunnelling underneath or sailing round it, but nobody was arguing that the wall needed to be longer and deeper, so Trump’s solution sounds ok if you say it quickly.
Of course, this makes me sound like Hillary Clinton calling Trump voters “the deplorables”. Many people voted for Trump for the same reason that people vote for anybody – or indeed, why snake oil salesmen have been so effective over the years: He offered HOPE.
It’s fine to say, as some did, “Make America Great? America is great and it’s just offensive to say it isn’t.” If you’ve lost your job, or you’re struggling to make ends meet even though you have a fulltime job with both Amazon and the local fast food store, you know that something is wrong. When the narrative is just be grateful you have a roof over your head, and if you haven’t, well, that’s your fault because in this country anyone who tries hard enough will be successful, then a reality TV star who tells you that politics is broken and we need to drain the swamp sounds more appealing than all those other messages.
Of course, for the past fifty years we’ve been fed the narrative by business and economists that the good times are over, we need to tighten our belts and work harder, because it’s a competitive world and your payrise may cost you your job, so don’t complain, because things are tough. Ok, ok, business profits are soaring and the top executives now earn a much higher multiple of the average wage than they did in 1980, but you want the best person in the job or your company might be unprofitable and then you’d lose your job so just be grateful that we have Roger Superstar as CEO. Well, yes, he did nearly send the company broke with a couple of recent decisions, but that’s no reason not to give him the bonus even if it is more money than you’ll earn in the next twenty years.
So, as “The Financial Review” warns Bill Shorten about class warfare and the politics of envy, I have to laugh. Yes, its readers will all tut-tut and tell themselves that it’s big business that creates wealth and taxation is theft so shouldn’t we get a refund on the tax we don’t pay, the people struggling with their bills have already decided that something needs to change. Labor aren’t starting a class war; they’re simply describing it and suggesting that maybe we need to start looking after some of the wounded who’ve been ignored till now.
“Labor is all about higher taxes!” cry Scott and Josh, while crowing that next Budget they’ll take more in tax than they give back in services. “Lower energy prices are just around the corner,” announces the Coalition. “Good times are coming,” they tell us. “We’ve cleaned up the mess and stopped the boats. Not only that Australia Day will be celebrated by all and there’ll be dress codes and standards and everything will be just like it was when Menzies was a young bloke.”
But the electorate has been rubbing the snake oil on to the bits that really hurt ever since axing the carbon “tax” failed to make us all as rich as Tony promised.
The pain, it seems, hasn’t gone away.
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