To understand this lesson, first we must put aside all of the bullshit journalistic clichés and begin to talk about the Trump phenomena in a realistic manner. This is essential if we do not want to see the same thing occurring in Australia, because our press is failing us in exactly the same way as the American press have failed the American public.
Trump won the election because he engaged in class-warfare. Period. This is not to say that Trump had, or has, any affinity whatsoever for the working class, but rather that he tapped into the zeitgeist of the American public. He identified the fractures in American society and exploited them in a manner that simply could not be combated by either the press or the political establishment.
There are two mythologies that are prevalent in both America and Australia. Firstly, there is no such a thing as ‘class’ – and secondly, the press should never appear to be talking about ‘class distinction’.
During the final stages of his campaign, the press in America turned on Trump. However it did not work. His alt-right handlers managed the onslaught with aplomb. They typified these attacks as proof that Trump was actually hated and despised by the ‘political élite’ – which just reinforced his support amongst the dispossessed, the angry, and the disaffected working class.
At the same time, to ensure that these same voters would not turn on him, he also began talking about the ‘plight of the American black’ and other similar topics. Whilst it was an ignorant white man, talking about matters he had no knowledge of, to mainly ignorant white voters, it did not matter.
While it was obvious to those on the other side of the class divide that Trump’s empathy was a smokescreen, this was not how his audience received it. Working class voters saw this phony empathy as a sign that if Trump was elected, he would be on the side of the poor and disaffected – not on the side of the rich bankers and the urbane ‘elites’.
When the banks refused, publicly, to allow their directors to support his campaign, Trump’s handlers immediately had him disavow ‘Wall Street’ and promise to ‘drain the swamp’. More class based dog-whistles. It reinforced, in the minds of his largely illiterate, ‘low-information’ voters, that he really was in a battle against the elite.
The alt-right and hard right bigots who heard these dog whistles also heard what he wanted them to hear and saw in Trump, a man who would protect their right to be politically incorrect and bigoted.
Trump’s campaign was all about proving that he hated the same people his audience hated. Nothing about ideals or ideas. Trump directed and targeted hatred. Trump was against all the elements of society his voters detested – whether they existed or not. Whether the descriptions he was advancing were fantasy or reality, simply did not matter.
Trump’s deliberate lack of political correctness, and his triumphant failure to be informed and correct, were received by his audience as proof that he was on the side of the disaffected worker. While, to the educated consumer of the mainstream media, it sometimes looked positively insane, to the audience he was cultivating, it made him ‘one of us’.
All this time, the American press simply refused to even acknowledge, let alone adequately cover, this reality. When Trump got up on the stump and talked about ‘us’ and ‘them’ he wasn’t talking about democrats and republicans. He was never referring to the traditional schisms that the American press commonly discuss. He was invoking a battle between the educated middle-class and everyone else.
Trump was evoking and utilising class war rhetoric, in a country where discussion about class, within the media, is considered taboo. This is why he managed to get away with it.
Consider those whom Trump eternally vilified. The banks (who were ripping ‘us’ off). The immigrants (who were taking ‘our’ jobs). The effete liberal press (who look down on ‘us’). The educated urban dweller (who all think they know everything). The University student (who has never worked a day in his/her life). The rich donors (who buy all the politicians). The politicians (who don’t give a damn about ‘us’). The political system (which is rigged on behalf of the rich elites). Washington and New York (where the snobbish know-it-all’s, live).
In other words; Trump targeted all the groups that the proletarian side of the class divide hate with a passion. Yes it was all stage managed lies; but they were brilliant lies. It was all about class warfare.
And there was nothing the press could do to fight back. For years the mainstream media talked about a country where everyone had an equal chance. Where everyone could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Where it didn’t matter where you were born, what colour you were, or whether your parents were rich or poor.
In this way the press laid the groundwork for Trump’s election by continually propagating the lie that the US was a classless society – so when Trump did declare a class war; there was nothing they could do.
Trump was another ‘low-information’ conspiracy theory believer, who was a watcher of FOX, a reader of Breitbart, and the World Today. He was accepted by the working class simply because he spoke the right language and shared the same bigotries. The disaffected lumpen-proletariat, and the proletariat, immediately saw in Trump, a person who spoke their language and who (apparently) hated all the same people they hated.
Many did not like Trump all that much, but he hated the right people. The same people who had been ignoring them and their concerns for all their lives. The same people who had ‘everything’, left them to rot, then pretended that they didn’t even exist. The working class voted for Trump simply because he seemed to hate the same people they hated.
So now the press in America, as well as the middle-class, are still in shock. Most of the middle class simply cannot understand how Trump managed to gain power. The press they had been consuming all their lives, had been propagating the lie, and continue to propagate the lie, that there was no underclass in America. That everyone in the US lived on the same level-playing field.
And they had been consuming this lie for so long that it seemed to them inconceivable that anyone like Trump could ever be liked by so many of their fellow Americans. The middle-class still fail to see that a vast number of their compatriots live in dire poverty and see no hope for the future.
They have become inured to the pain of the working class to the point where the poor have become invisible. Now they reap the whirlwind they have sown.
The very same phenomena is stoking the fires of bigotry here in Australia. One Nation is engaged in exactly the same sort of class warfare and the Australian press is similarly inclined to continue to ignore the concerns of the poor and disadvantaged, or even acknowledge the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.
This is at the heart of the rise of the populist right-wing parties in our country. In much the same way as Trump does not believe half of the things that he said on the campaign trail, the politicians running the small right-wing parties in Australia also lie to the voter to feather their own nests.
They are trading on the disaffection of the working and underclass and the refusal of our politicians and the media to acknowledge their pain. Or even their existence. So why not vote for someone who hates all the same people that they hate, shares the same bigotries, and at least acknowledges that life is not so easy at the bottom of the heap?
The only real difference between America and Australia is that their Trump has already been elected. Here in Australia, our bigoted, right-wing, populist demagogue is still waiting in the wings. But his/her time is fast approaching.
James Moylan BA (Culture) LLB (Hon.), is a doctoral research fellow studying ‘Economic Analysis in Law’ at the Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice.
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