JOHN MENADUE. Donald Trump- the billionaire outsider!


But is there a possible silver lining?

I am surprised and horrified by the election of Donald Trump as the Leader of the ‘Free World’. He is sexist, racist, xenophobic and a Muslim-basher. He doesn’t dog-whistle like our prime ministers, but speaks out bluntly on issues in ways I find offensive. Yet clearly large numbers of Americans like his populist nonsense.

It seems that Clinton may have narrowly won the popular vote but Trump has clearly won the numbers in the Electoral College. Perhaps the system was rigged after all – but in Trumps favour!

I have been disappointed so many times in the past in elections. It is not a new experience for me.

The Trump victory is a repeat of what we saw in Brexit and what is developing in so many other countries around the world, particularly in Europe. Many people clearly feel that they are being left behind. Yet the populists who exploit this alienation have no credible policies in response.  In Europe in the 1930s, we saw the enormous damage that populists can play in the lives of people who feel alienated and vulnerable.

What can we learn from this debacle?

  • Globalisation has brought great benefits to many people, but the greedy and wealthy have failed to appreciate that the economy must work for all of society and not just for the ‘1%’ with their massive tax avoidance .That is the story that Ian McAuley and I have been putting forward in this blog in recent days. I have also published the concerns of Ross Garnaut on the issue. Political storms are gathering . We cannot continue to ignore them.
  • The US media and its Australian fellow travellers have been badly out of touch. Our dependent and servile television and radio organisations provided double the coverage of the US election as they did of our last federal election. That is extraordinary. The US pollsters were wrong as they were on Brexit. It seems that many voters were unwilling or too ashamed to admit to pollsters that they were voting for Trump. Elitist media was out of touch with public concerns of frustrated people. Through social media, Donald Trump and his followers were able to spread a vile and divisive message.
  • Significant numbers of the US electorate are sick and tired of Washington and its wealthy lobbyists who have produced an appalling log-jamb in the US congress. It was mainly Republicans who stymied President Obama at almost every turn in Congress.. In Australia there is a similar disquiet about the way our parliament and political parties behave. Just like Washington, “Canberra” is held in contempt by many people.
  • Bernie Sanders may have successfully tapped into the millions who felt that they were being ignored by the establishment. But Bernie Sanders could not break the power of the Clinton machine in the primaries, despite the clear enthusiasm that he aroused. But when it came to the presidential election, the Clinton machine was clearly perceived as baggage. Voters distrusted her political machine. Donald Trump may have lacked the money and resources of the Clinton machine but he could enthuse and energise people who felt that the political system was rigged against them. Trumps status as a ‘celebrity’ brought him billions of dollars worth of free publicity. How ironic that it was a billionaire like Donald Trump who could tap into the public frustration. In Australia our political parties do not reflect the community and its broad range of interests. They are in the grip of special interests and party apparatchiks.
  • Many Americans saw the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement as likely to work for the benefit of corporations at the expense of workers.
  • White working class voters in the Great Lakes Region responded to Trump’s anti immigration rhetoric. The same nasty rhetoric is at play in Australia.
  • Hilary Clinton was clearly seen as part of the Wall Street and business elite. Trillions of dollars were spent by the American government to rescue the banks after the Global Financial Crisis, but not one banker ever went to jail. Main street America paid the price for the Wall Street bail out. So main street decided it was time to get square.
  • The late intervention in the campaign by the FBI Director will be seen by many as highly partisan.

The US now faces a great divide. There will be push back in many areas including Obamacare and immigration.

Many Americans will feel very hurt and abandoned. US allies around the world will be dismayed. But it may not be a bad thing if the US has to scale back its world role and its penchant for almost always being at war.

Perhaps the silver-lining for Australia is that we might have to decide at last to negotiate our own future in the Asia Pacific region and shake ourselves free of the cringe that we have shown for decades in our relationship with the US.

Today in the Australian Financial Review Hugh White points to the challenges we face.

“[The Americans] have elected as President a man who does not believe in the vision of American leadership on which Australia has for so long relied. Trump does not think that America can or should accept costs and risks to lead the rules-based order in distant parts of the world. He is clearly happy for Russia under Vladimir Putin to pay a bigger role in Eastern Europe and he plainly does not think it is America’s business to perpetuate the old US-led order in Asia. … Trump may be a bully, but he shows no appetite for fights in which America’s most immediate interests are not engaged. … So don’t assume this is all a bad dream that will swiftly pass. Around the region, doubts about America’s future role in Asia will strengthen and relations with China will be adjusted accordingly. Here in Australia the comforting assumption that America will always be there to keep Asia safe for us will need to be at least laid aside. We will have to start thinking for ourselves about how we build a place in the Asian Century.”

If only we had Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser to help us chart a new future and lessen our dependence on our ‘dangerous ally’. Will we seize the moment?

I was going to launch my ‘White Man’s Media’ column today. That will now wait a week, but this American election is a disquieting illustration of the failure of our derivative media to help equip us for a changing world- a world in which the US is in long-term decline.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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6 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Donald Trump- the billionaire outsider!

  1. Avatar Colin Cook says:

    I am one of those who are slightly less anxious about this result than I might have been, just slightly!
    But Armitage, Ass Sec State under GW Bush, on 7.30, 3/11/16, explained
    to Leigh Sales, ‘A President has a lot of power but (is) not all powerful. We (USA) have three co-equal branches of government; (and) we have a very powerful DoD ( Department of Defence) and military who (have) strong positive views.’
    These POSITIVE VIEWS, are a bit of a worry; anyone with a gun holding , ‘Positive Views’ gets attention!
    My other comment relates go Henry George;s, ‘How Modern Civilization May Decline’.
    ‘Where there is anything like an equal distribution of wealth the more democratic the government the better it will be: but where there is gross inequality in the distribution of wealth, the more democratic the government the worse it will be.’ Henry George, 1897.
    Read this again! George was saying that inequality makes for nasty democracy – not simply that it is ‘bad’ for democratic societies.
    George goes on to explain that to give voting rights to ‘tramps, paupers, to men who must beg, or steal, or starve, is to invoke destruction’. That is, if you have a huge chunk of voters who are impoverished/exploited/disillusioned then a nasty outcome is assured.
    Is this what is being evidenced in USA and Brexit?
    In his wonderful 19th century prose George suggested that ‘To put political power in the hands of men embittered and degraded by poverty is to tie fire brands to the tails of foxes and loose them amid standing corn.’
    He argues that a rotten democracy can be worse over time than a rotten autocracy because of its corruption of the national character; with a majority of ‘angry’ voters, changes most likely will tend towards despotism because such voters will give power to ‘the worst’ leaders, leaders supporting their angry sectional interests, not the whole community interest’.
    These quotes are from George’s most famous work, Progress and Poverty’, the chapter, ‘How modern civilization may decline’.
    This would seem to be a most presentient analysis of socio-economic inequality which is now – since the start of the Occupy movement in September five years ago – a recognized feature of Western democracies.
    Is this the true cost of inequality, the degradation of democracy, the degradation of our political system? Is it on the cards for Australia if our inequality rises to the levels prevailing in USA? Do we need an Equality Commission to steer us from against such fundamental danger? We should be paying attention!

  2. Avatar Michael Lang says:

    Yes, derivative media is part of the problem. So too is the now well entrenched view that our schools and universities are there only for the purpose of enabling us to fit into the world of work. The idea that education should equip us to be capable of critical thought, while never universally popular, now seems to occupy a very small niche indeed. The success of populist, divisive politicians whose special skill is their capacity to harness fear and peddle false dreams is only possible when, as a society, we crave simplistic answers and lack the capacity or the need to see fallacy and over simplification.

  3. Avatar Brenton says:

    Julie Bishop may have to start earning her stripes and actually think about Australian Foreign Policy, instead of criss crossing the globe for photo opportunities. I have deep reservations as to her capabilities to do this though.

  4. Avatar Al Harris says:

    Thank you for this little gem of clear thinking in amongst the drivel
    currently being peddled as commentary in both the liberal and conservative media.

  5. Avatar Dennis Argall says:

    Micro view. My daughter in Seattle lost her job Wednesday morning as her multicultural non-profit red-eyed managers battened down. She is now spending time counselling and supporting women who fear the unleashing of various hostilities and those whose children have come home from school asking if they are going to be deported because that’s what other children say. At this level, there is much to unravel and Trump has not been concerned to smack down nastiness thus far.

    At next level, the Democratic Party is, or should be, bereft of leadership and there is urgent need to reconstruct with a new generation. Now the campaign is over those creatures whose scheming was unearthed by Wikileaks should be the first to go. The Clintons need to be out of it. Sanders may lead in a way but cannot be a candidate given his age four years from now. The future will be determined in this process. There is urgency as the speed of generation of disappointment, hostility and rejection has become very fast. Trump’s re-election four years from now depends on coherent and popular opposition.
    From another perspective, Trump is no simple Tea Party person and he is unlikely to make life simple for the Republican congressional leadership over time. He may not know what he will actually do on some big things including health. But he will be presented with a slate of totally Tea Party legislation as soon as the Congress sits. It will be interesting to see who is on the transition team, who contributes to the Inauguration vision statements. Even my pharmacist who knows nothing of Australian or American politics, by his own account, said as much this morning.

    The Supreme Court will be gone to the conservatives, one, possibly four, appointments available to Trump. Wade v Roe likely to be overturned.

    The prospect of uncalculated/miscalculated nuclear war has moved up a notch at least, to a level not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis, but with decision processes much faster than then, information and intelligence systems choked with data. Whether Trump wishes to and assembles a national security team capable of questioning military advice remains to be seen. We can’t do it in Australia. Nobody reads Barbara Tuchman any more.

  6. Avatar Jaquix says:

    Great article John, cheered me up a bit. Great lessons for Australia. Your line “Yet clearly large numbers of Americans like his populist nonsense.” rings very true here. Pauline Hanson crowing about how “people feel they arent being listened to” and yet she has voted with the Liberals 77% of the time, and rising! So what is the difference, the result of “listening” to her fan base, that she is delivering? Just more of the old fashioned trickle-down economics that have actually CAUSED the disquiet and entrenched poverty in America, and here. How is it going to benefit “the people” if he gives massive tax cuts to the already-rich, and the price of everything (made in China) goes up in Walmart ?

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