I have previously only made one political comment in all of my blog postings and that was to express my relief in seeing Barack Obama (a man of integrity) replace George W Bush as President of the United States. Now that Donald Trump has been elected as the new President of the United States, I feel compelled to write one more.
This time, I am concerned. Very concerned. Not just about Trump’s manner and personality but about the instability that I fear will occur if he implements the policies that he has announced in his campaign speeches. It might be a wonderful domestic ideal for him to want to make ‘America Great Again’ – we don’t quite know just yet how he will do this or whether he can even be successful. Time will tell. However, his lack of insight into foreign policy and world affairs is alarming. America impacts Australia (historically a close ally) so strongly with its trade and foreign policies.
Australia is just one of the countries that relies on peaceful trade and political stability. Donald Trump’s policies risk creating a vacuum in Europe that Russia can exploit and one in the Pacific region that China may exploit. We risk a dramatic change in the balance of power and we are potentially in for a period of turbulence, uncertainty and conflict. That’s why world stock markets have plummeted today on news of Donald Trump’s electoral success. His plan to break trade and treaty agreements will impact alliances and affect America’s ability to cooperate and be respected by the rest of the world.
However, the interesting point, to me, is just how did he get elected against all the odds? Politics is an absorbing field.
We have traditionally thought that political parties were elected to govern because of their appeal to voters based on their political views being to the left or right of centre. My increasing view is that in western countries, a new force is becoming more significant. That’s the difference between those who are forward thinking (progressive) and those whose thinking is more traditional – those that want things to be like they used to be. These people are scared of change and global influences that they can’t control. Generally, they are less worldly, less educated, less travelled, less experienced and more conservative.They are on both sides of the traditional political spectrum.
In a political perspective, conservatism is always relative. I have heard Americans call President Obama a ‘socialist. Even though he is a Democrat, by world standards he’s pretty far out there on the right. I don’t think many Americans know what socialism really is! On the other hand, my friend, Suzanne, told me today over lunch, that some French people see the Australian Labor Party as very ‘right wing’. We see them clearly as being left of centre because they are the political party that represents the trade unions.
I know many people who have voted Labor (left) all their lives, yet have very conservative views on things like immigration, law and order, family values, social welfare, gay relationships, military service, education etc. Their views are not at all aligned with any traditional party orientation, ‘but are what I would call very ‘traditional’. These people will increasingly vote for which ever party satisfies their perspective on these views.
It is these traditional values in the middle classes of society that politicians in western countries seem to have ignored. As I understand American society, the people who were attracted to Trump were the less-well-off members of the middle class who felt neglected. Their wealth has declined over the last generation, employment prospects have decreased and they see immigrants, or foreigners, taking away any opportunities that might remain for them. They get little government support and see very few policies directed at improving their lot.
It’s a very similar scene in Australia with the same type of people being attracted to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party (which is generally perceived as being extremely right wing). Politically, they are not right wingers; they are traditionalists. In Britain it’s the same. The people who voted to leave the European Union were not the intelligent, well educated people with a bright future ahead of them in the wider world, it was the less worldly people who felt threatened by immigration, the EU’s control over economic activity and the apparently petty rules that were imposed on their traditional life style.
So, it’s not whether a political party, or leader, is oriented towards socialism or capitalism that is totally important. That may be have some appeal to those people with an idealogical stance at the extremes. Instead, what really seems to matter is a politician’s ability to be relevant to the majority of the population who fit into the electoral mass of the middle class – both the ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’. No one has done that effectively in Australia since John Howard was Prime Minister twenty years ago. Both of our political parties are more concerned with their party values than those who voted for them.
I saw a great article in the New York Times today. It described some research showing that seven out of ten people who voted for Donald Trump just wanted America to be like it was in the 1960’s again. Those comfortable days when life was straight forward and ‘Leave it Beaver’ was on prime time television. I doubt that this desire is much less different from the view of many traditional thinking people here in Australia, Great Britain and other developed countries. The days of ‘Leave it to Beaver’, however, are now in the very distant past and unfortunately for those who hunger for them, it is really impossible to return. The world is very different.
I don’t necessarily think that Americans are ‘stupid’ to have elected Trump as their new President. (I may criticise them for generally knowing very little about the rest of the world and not understanding their impact on other countries around the globe). I suspect that they elected him because leaders who ignore traditional middle class voters do so at their peril. Previous administrations in America appear to have done exactly that and the result is that anyone who comes along and appears as a ‘messiah’ looks to be very popular.
Politicians in all countries must understand the views of their entire electoral base. Rather than ignoring (or even criticising) voters with traditional views on life, they must respect them and lead them to a more developed view of the world. It looks like Hillary Clinton was less successful at this.
If we don’t help people understand that ‘Leave it to Beaver’ is now out of date and there is little to fear from change, then we risk electing snake oil salesmen like Donald Trump (and Pauline Hanson) who appear to be very popular but are actually very dangerous. Their problem is that they rely on very simple answers to address very complex problems.
I think we have just been well and truly ’Trumped’. I hope that he actually has some level of real competence and diplomacy deep down under all of his rudeness and arrogance.