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Trump, the Media and the Underclass. A Lesson for Australia

By James Moylan

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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24 comments

  1. Peter F

    James, you have produced a very clear warning of what is happening. Watching Q&A this week, I saw a perfect example of what you describe.

  2. Harquebus

    In my opinion, a fairly accurate piece politically speaking. It does not mention the root causes of the growing divide, only that there is one.

    Cheers.

  3. totaram

    The reason that there is a divide is that ALL political parties here, as in the USA, have been following the same neo-liberal economic policies. It was the Democrat, Bill Clinton, who famously produced “surplus” budgets. It looks like Trump will do the same, so nothing will really change. But at least his voters get to express their hatred. The right wingers here in Australia offer the same freedom to hate, so they pick up votes. Of course, you can see already that most of the time they vote with the coalition, so they are hard-core neo-liberals. With neo-liberal policies, there is no alternative to money trickling upwards from the poor to the rich. The trick is to keep the poor believing that,with these policies, wealth will trickle down. As long as just enough people are convinced about this nonsense, everything continues on the same lines, with minor changes in the recipients of govt. largess. And govt. largess is what drives this economy for the most part.

  4. Wun Farlung

    Harquebus
    I can give you 3 reasons
    1. Stagnate wages
    2. Rising cost of living
    3. Job insecurity

  5. Jack Straw

    No one cares about your opinion Harquebus: Most people who comment on this forum know what the root causes are.You need to get out of bed turn off the computer and face the day go for a walk; talk the to flowers and the birds and if you happen to meet new people? Do something different and listen to them and pay attention.

  6. Harquebus

    Wun Farlung
    You took the bait. It is the diminishing returns on energy production and resources coming up against population growth and the quest for economic and GDP growth that is causing our predicament. It’s just maths and physics. What you have listed are the results.

    Now factor climate disruption which, was caused by the absurd pursuit of infinite growth and you begin to see our predicament.

    Except for Jack Straw of course. That one has no understanding of physical realities.

    Cheers.

  7. Robert G. Shaw

    James, hi.
    An interesting article.

    Some additions:

    “Trump won the election because he engaged in class-warfare. Period….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”.

    Clinton/Democrats engaged in a near identical strategy of class warfare. They lost because they chose the wrong class. Ironically they lost because they forsook their historical class and bequeathed to Trump a whole swathe of their own electoral base.

    “During the final stages of his campaign, the press in America turned on Trump”.

    The press turned on Trump the moment he announced his candidacy.

    “Trump’s campaign was all about proving that he hated the same people his audience hated. Nothing about ideals or ideas.”

    Again, near identical to Clinton’s campaign. So it was also the Obama Mk 11 presidency (of Clinton) that the voters were also reacting against.

    “All this time, the American press simply refused to even acknowledge, let alone adequately cover, this reality.”

    I think you’ll find the anti-Trump stories coming out of US major media overwhelming in their frequency. It would be disingenuous to argue that Trump was without comprehensive scrutiny and mockery.

    “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.”

    No James, they could indeed have done much. But they didn’t. They were, like the Clinton campaign, smug in their certainty of victory, in the assurance of business as usual. The relationship they had with Clinton was rudely exposed in the Wiki dossier outlining the 65 or 75 press invitees to her campaign strategy.

    “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…”

    You mean the “people”, don’t you? You mean the “demos” in the word “democracy”, surely? It was exactly this kind of condescension that they rightfully revolted against.
    And it is this exact of condescension which betrayed Democrats and other assorted Leftie’s into thinking that it was only Trump playing the class card.
    Clearly, unambiguously, he was not. As is amply demonstrated by the class warfare writ large in your language:
    “mainly ignorant white voters”, “largely illiterate”, “alt-right and hard right bigots”, “low-information, lumpen-proletariat”.

    “Here in Australia, our bigoted, right-wing, populist demagogue is still waiting in the wings. But his/her time is fast approaching.”

    If the Left continues to gloss over the concerns of your “low information” voters, if it should do the unthinkable and openly insult them, then it will deserve the full and merciless disapprobation coming its way. And like Clinton/Democrats, will be fully responsible for the dire consequences to our political and social fabric.

    Again, a fine and interesting article.

  8. Keitha Granville

    the only reason for identifying the problems is so that a solution can be found, and having done so execute those policies to fix them.

    Difficulty comes when ideology gets in the way of the obvious fixes. Malcolm T is a classic and obvious example. He used to have the right ideas about how to fix things, but now the LNP ideology has brainwashed him and he has given in.
    The problem with the current system in parliament is that each side believes it has a monopoly on good ideas – they don’t. Until they start looking at the other side of possibilities we will be stuck permanently. Or until climate change destroys the planet on which we live.

    And then it will be too late.

  9. Jack Straw

    Gee! your so wise Harquebus. Your really are the greatest. I don’t why the world doesn’t just stop and pay attention to you.It’s all about you. Harquebus The great .You really should have your own TV show the world really needs to hear your insights. How have we not noticed you brilliance?

  10. Harquebus

    Jack Straw
    I have been doing this sort of thing, amongst others, for nearly two decades. If I had been paid attention to, we would not be where we are now. We would not have had the GFC, economic inequality would not be rampant, pollution would have been reduced, the environment protected, fisheries and forests preserved and we would not now be approaching the human cull that we are.
    Nope. It is the economist mouthpieces of those that are destroying what sustains us that took precedence and our politicians have blindly obeyed.

    “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein

    Cheers.

  11. Jack Straw

    Harquebus
    Everyone knows these issues especially commentators on this site.Maybe you should apply Albert’s quote to your own behavior in your life because whatever your doing is not working.

    Oh! yea Cheers Bye everyone going now. Toodaloo cheerio!@*** Have a great Day. Until next time ?

  12. Harquebus

    Jack Straw
    I and others have been severely outnumbered and out resourced from the beginning. Thank you for your support.

    I will not be adding to our conversation here as it is off topic and I have had my say.
    Thank you.

    Cheers.

  13. Wayne Turner

    “talk about the Trump phenomena in a realistic manner” – Such as the FACT he got almost 3 million LESS votes then Clinton. NOT much of a phenomena,when more people voted against him,and he’s been a disaster in record time with record low support.

    Also another factual mistake made by this article (by omittion): The Murdoch media didn’t turn on Trump.In fact they only rubbished him until he became the Republican candidate.Then they opening supported him.

    What must change,that they (the left) can control.To combat the ultra right – The left (who’s that? = another whole debate…) MUST point out ALL the LIES of the right,such as the “Weapon Of Mass Distractions” and the “scapegoating” of “minority bashing” of muslims and people of minority races that the right use.The left MUST point out the TRUTH of the BIG END OF TOWN are the cause of rising inequality.That the left will help to create more full-time stable decent standard of living paying jobs,a true progressive tax system will be returned,that perks and dodging tax from the BIG END of TOWN will end.That the rights “scapegoating” is a LIE and “buck passing”,that the right is the CAUSE of their problems.NOT the solution.Then the left MUST act on these and other similar ideas.

  14. James Cook

    Wayne…I basically agree but I think that the MSM has a part to play in this. For example, as I type this I am listening to a commercial radio station and the news just reported on the problems the LNP is having passing its omnibus bill. This included a long quote from MT outlining the virtues of the LNP and the evils of Labor, but no quote from any Labor pollie. Where they approached but declined to comment? Methinks not. The MSM is either colluding with the LNP or journos these days are incompetent, lazy or both. Views that are alternate to those of the government have difficulty getting an airing in the MSM, including, unfortunately, the ABC.

  15. jim

    Hypocrisy knows no bounds. Then there’s “our” ABC yep balanced reporting where is it ?.

    In the year to June 2013, according to the IPA’s annual report, it clocked up 878 mentions in print and online. Its staff had 164 articles published in national media. They managed 540 radio appearances and mentions, and 210 appearances and mentions on TV. No prizes for guessing in which publications most of the print media references were to be found. Did we mention Rupert Murdoch was a long-time IPA director?

    The surprise is that the national public broadcaster, the ABC, which the IPA is trying to break up and sell “our ABC” off Desperately and still trying to, One count, by the left-leaning Independent Australia, clocked 39 appearances by IPA staff in the year 2011-12 on just one ABC TV program, The Drum. That’s almost as many Drum appearances as the combined total of all other think tanks, left, right and centre.
    the Australia Institute none.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Australia_Institute

    Don’t fix inequality and we are doomed to fail as human beings.and the human race goes down.

    — Australia’s two richest people, Gina Rinehart and Harry Triguboff, own more than the poorest 20% of the country’s population, research has found.

  16. jimhaz

    [The MSM is either colluding with the LNP or journos these days are incompetent, lazy or both]

    Follow the money – are not those who own big stakes in media companies also part of the 1%. They select Chairpeople, CEOs and Boards whom are also wealthy. Those people then select wealth loving sycophants to key positions, who then appoint as many like minded people as they can.

    Even the reasonably respected Fairfax is often like the ALP – the devil one goes to so as to not have the LNP.
    If the ALP does not come out before the next election promising a cleanup of many gov agency appointments – then you’ll know they are part of the game.

    Some journos may lack morale, due to the above and what is happening to the industry, and thus have become lazy.

  17. Wayne Turner

    To James Cook and the few after his comment: I was just referring to Donald Trump and the MSM in America. But,yes for sure the MSM in this country is just the promotional wing of the LNP,including their ABC.Our MSM is BIASED,UNDEMOCRATIC and owned by too few.For a while now we have been a mediaocracy,and NOT a democracy.

  18. Stuart Errol Anderson

    I have a problem with the argument. Its only partly correct. Sure Trump appealed to disaffected working class voters but that is not the whole story, and those voters were NOT decisive in his victory.

    Those are the two main errors in this article.

    Firstly the bulk of Trump supporters were not working class, The argument I am making here is along these lines; Trump’s typical supporter is an older white male with a below-average education he’s also relatively sheltered, with an above average income. I have several references linking to hard data to support my argument;
    1./ https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/09/white-voters-victory-donald-trump-exit-polls
    2./ https://newrepublic.com/article/138754/blame-trumps-victory-college-educated-whites-not-working-class
    3./ http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/us-politics/the-average-trump-supporter-is-not-an-economic-loser/article32746323/
    4./ http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-13/typical-trump-voter-earns-above-average-income,/7731540
    5./ https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-mythology-of-trumps-working-class-support/

    The second error in the article, closely linked to first error, is state that his ‘class warfare’ approach appealed to working class voters, not middle class voters. The fact is the greatest influence on Trump voters was not income or class but an appeal to authoritarianism and fear of terrorism. References are;
    1./ http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/donald-trump-2016-authoritarian-213533
    2./ https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/i-study-authoritarian-despots-and-trump-is-borrowing-a-lot-of-their-tactics
    3./ http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/3/2/1494504/-A-word-from-Dr-Bob-Altemeyer-on-Donald-Trump-and-Authoritarian-Followers

    From Altemeyer;

    We know a lot about authoritarian followers, but unfortunately most of what we know indicates it will be almost impossible to change their minds, especially in a few months. Here are a dozen things established by research.

    1. They are highly ethnocentric, highly inclined to see the world as their in-group versus everyone else. Because they are so committed to their in-group, they are very zealous in its cause.
    2. They are highly fearful of a dangerous world. Their parents taught them, more than parents usually do, that the world is dangerous. They may also be genetically predisposed to experiencing stronger fear than most people do.
    3. They are highly self-righteous. They believe they are the “good people” and this unlocks a lot of hostile impulses against those they consider bad.
    4. They are aggressive. Given the chance to attack someone with the approval of an authority, they will lower the boom.
    5. They are highly prejudiced against racial and ethnic majorities, non-heterosexuals, and women in general.
    6. Their beliefs are a mass of contradictions. They have highly compartmentalized minds, in which opposite beliefs exist side-by-side in adjacent boxes. As a result, their thinking is full of double-standards.
    7. They reason poorly. If they like the conclusion of an argument, they don’t pay much attention to whether the evidence is valid or the argument is consistent.
    8. They are highly dogmatic. Because they have gotten their beliefs mainly from the authorities in their lives, rather than think things out for themselves, they have no real defense when facts or events indicate they are wrong. So they just dig in their heels and refuse to change.
    9. They are very dependent on social reinforcement of their beliefs. They think they are right because almost everyone they know, almost every news broadcast they see, almost every radio commentator they listen to, tells them they are. That is, they screen out the sources that will suggest that they are wrong.
    10. Because they severely limit their exposure to different people and ideas, they vastly overestimate the extent to which other people agree with them. And thinking they are “the moral majority” supports their attacks on the “evil minorities” they see in the country.
    11. They are easily duped by manipulators who pretend to espouse their causes when all the con-artists really want is personal gain.
    12. They are largely blind to themselves. They have little self-understanding and insight into why they think and do what they do.

    I hasten to add that almost anyone would become more ethnocentric, frightened, self-righteous, and so on if their situations, or our country’s situation, changed enough. And studies find examples of these twelve things in lots of others, not just authoritarian followers. But not as consistently, and not nearly as much.”

    I would be interested in hearing opposing arguments to the above points.

    Thanks comrades!

  19. guest

    Stuart Errol Anderson,

    I would need to spend some time looking at these 12 points and even then I am sure I am not qualified to espouse ideas about what the populace believes.

    But a general statement about the results of the US election. It looks to me as if the US generally voted pretty much as it always has: Democrats east and west, Republicans in the middle west. but with a few exceptions, enough for Trump to win. A couple of Democrat losses in the deep South and several in the Rust Belt in the North East (where Romney lost 61 points in the last election). Trump worked on the Rust Belt, promising them jobs which do not exist, and won the 61 points required.

    Otherwise, Clinton won the popular vote in numbers, but lost by a quirk of the electoral distribution of points.

    Furthermore, you might be interested in a review of a book about the Holocaust (“The Holocaust”, by Lawrence Rees reviewed by Philippe Sands, law professor at University College, London. (see WE Aust, Review, Feb 11-12)

    Sands says of the book: ” With Brexit, Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen now centre stage, it […] offers a timely reminder of the dangers that are unleashed when the path of demonisation and discrimination is embraced in the name of national well-being […] and the warning he implicitly offers to our current crop of politicians, who seem to have had a collective loss of historical memory, is plain: your actions and your words truly matter.”

    He goes on to remind us of Goering and Trump’s attitude to flag burners and to notions of wrong facts being acceptable.

    He goes on to discuss the unravelling of post-war settlements: the EU, the European Convention on Human Rights, NATO, which were “intended to bind like-minded countries together, establishing a club whose membership was based on liberal free trade and investment, an end of war as foreign policy, and minimum rights for all human beings.”

    And he says this book “reminds us where unconstrained sovereignty can lead; what can happen when a state is unbound, when it has taken back control, when it follows a path it believes will make us GREAT AGAIN (emphasis mine); when civil courage is lost, when we forget from whence we came.”

    It seems me that much of this applies not only to the UK, USA and Europe, but to Oz as well – echoes of Coalition-speak detectable here.

  20. Norm

    Trump also managed to get a lot of the Christian groups on his side too.

  21. Kronomex

    Trump has gone from being a buffoon to a frightening madman.

  22. Red Leaf

    A good article but it still vilifies people by calling them bigots. “The very same phenomena is stoking the fires of bigotry here in Australia.”

    Insults are not going to help the left, they didn’t help Hilary “basket of deplorables” and it isn’t going to help the left here. Leave off the insults because that alone is alienating and that’s not what is needed here and especially not now.

    Acknowledging that there is a problem is a good start but the problem has been ignored for a long time, perhaps too long. The name-calling has shown that the left hasn’t been listening and the name-calling has to stop if the left wants to be seen as being in touch, listening to all points of view and being inclusive.

    Silencing critics doesn’t make their concerns go away, they just go quiet and suddenly the left is blind-sided with a far right leader being elected. Trump’s election took the left totally by surprise and the emotions that are raging (beyond all reason if you ask me) show just how hard it has been there for any person not toeing the left’s line to even voice an opinion at all.

    I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it. The left needs to shut up and listen, stop censoring opinions that you don’t like, start being reasonable and factual and leave the emotions behind. Yours isn’t the only point of view so stop acting like it is and that everyone who doesn’t hold the same opinions is a villain.

    Emotions don’t win arguments only facts can do that. Emotions divide and alienate people if they don’t have the same emotive response that you feel they need to have. Emotive arguments also show that you have no substance.

    The left REALLY, REALLY needs to listen calmly and objectively even if you don’t agree because the other person clearly doesn’t agree with you and time after time the left have shown themselves to be the unreasonable and violent ones.

    Of course you may ignore what I am saying (and I am most certainly not the only one saying it), but if you do then you can’t complain when someone like Pauline Hanson is elected. The left needs to change or it will die.

  23. Sean Stinson

    The author perfectly describe the rise of Hitler. I find this kind of hilarious, for various reasons. It’s interesting that the Russian press are lately comparing Trump to Victor Yanukovych, who wasn’t strong enough to stop the US deep state installing a nazi government in Ukraine (literally nazi – Stepan Bandera is their hero.)

    I would have thought if any comparison was begging to be made tho, it would be with Gorbachev.

  24. Alan Baird

    Yes but no but yes but… going on a straw poll (me watching teev eyeballing the good folk talking about Trump being their guy) I have to say there ARE plenty of knuckle draggers. Criticism yes, but… ah jes’ cain’t he’p it!
    The left is still capable of achieving power and then STILL going soft on carrying out useful reforms that will redistribute the grossly inequitable goodies. The longer the current “system” persists, the harder it will be reverse the mess. And it must be said, the VAST majority of this MESS has come from the RIGHT side of politics and if Labor isn’t careful, they’ll be included, just as Hillary was in that revolting lot. In addition, if Labor comes into power and DOESN’T complain about the awful, unfair MESS they’ve been left (and they have NOT done so in the last decades) then they are not fair dinkum, with the accent on fair! If they DON’T whine on about this UNFAIR MESS for MONTHS and harp endlessly about those opposite, they’re fixin’ to do bugger all. You know, just like the Liberals do, routinely, right now.

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