As Trump exits the White House, he leaves Trumpism behind in Australia



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Through recent natural disasters, global upheavals and a pandemic, Australia’s political centre has largely held.

Australians may have disagreed at times, but they have also kept faith with governmental norms, eschewing the false allure of populism beguiling voters elsewhere.




Read more:
Is it curtains for Clive? What COVID means for populism in Australia 


Our federal and state governments enjoy broad public confidence and draw their core legitimacy from the middle ground, whether it be centre-left or centre-right.

But if Australians followed the 2020 presidential race in the United States with greater-than-usual interest, it was because when boiled down, it presaged a plausible descent for Australia’s politics, too.

Two very different futures

Last November’s poll offered a choice between two fundamentally different futures for the US.

Pro-Trump protesters at the US Capitol in January 2021.
The recent US election showed a deeply divided United States.
Michael Reynolds/AAP

On the one hand, there was an assumption that free and fair elections, the rule of law and concepts such as pluralism and civility are central to government and society.

On the other, there was an angry, polarising disintegration, in which rules can be broken, facts undermined, critics abused and the usual accountability mechanisms silenced.

As a partner democracy with deep cultural, economic, and strategic ties with the US, Australians lapped up the theatre of the Trump versus Biden contest. But many also worried the verdict of America’s 150 million-plus voters would have material implications down under.




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Strategically, these implications included a continuation of the US global retreat, which had already seen China moving to fill the leadership void.

Domestically, it might involve the insidious adoption of Trumpist methodology within Australia’s political right.

Trumpist approach already here

Manifestations of the latter are already advanced in sections of our news media, and the willingness of political leaders to bluster through mistakes and exposed wrongdoings, refusing to apologise, explain or resign.

This is a key take-out of the Trump approach: notions of honour and tradition, long relied upon to protect probity and avoid conflicts of interest, can be ignored. Those seeking transparency or who uncover maladministration can be depicted as political opponents or extremists, motivated by hatred and prejudice.

For the Westminster tradition, where confidence rests on protections only ever partly codified, the dangers are existential.

What mistakes?

Evidence of this deterioration can be seen in the marked tendency of governments to stare down calls for resignation, ignore significant public disquiet, and press on.

In 2020, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted an intimate association dating back years with a disgraced former MP who, it turned out, had been arranging property deals for commission, even as a backbencher.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian refused to quit during the scandal over her relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Berejiklian’s defence amounted to a blunt “I’ve done nothing wrong”.

The origin of forged documents, released by federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor to defame the Sydney City Council, has never been properly explained.




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Explosive revelations of political interference in a A$100 million federal sports grants program have never been conceded (although, Berejiklian recently admitted “political” allocation is standard practice when forced to explain similar outrages in a state program).

There is also the A$30 million Leppington Triangle land purchase which benefited a political donor, but brought no resignation. And the Robodebt debacle, which caused massive community suffering and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, but cost nobody their job.

Contrast this with the response in The Netherlands where the entire cabinet, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte, resigned on Friday. This was over a scandal involving child welfare payments, which had led to parents erroneously being labelled fraudsters.

As Rutte explained,

We are of one mind that if the whole system has failed, we all must take responsibility, and that has led to the conclusion that I have just offered the king, the resignation of the entire cabinet.

The two scandals are remarkably similar in nature, and in the scale of the taxpayer-funded recompense, but could scarcely be more different in the level of political responsibility taken.

It used to be very different

Previously, ministers have resigned over comparatively technical breaches. This includes the unwitting importation of a Paddington teddy bear in the 1984 case of Labor’s Mick Young – the bear, which would have attracted an import duty measured in cents, was actually in his wife’s luggage.

A Berejiklian predecessor, Barry O’Farrell, quit in 2014 after advising the Independent Commission Against Corruption he had no recollection of receiving a single – albeit valuable – bottle of wine. Announcing his resignation, he said,

I do accept there is a thank you note signed by me, and as someone who believes in accountability, in responsibility, I accept the consequences of my action.

Former NSW premier Barry O'Farrell in the back seat of a car.
Former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell resigned after a ‘massive memory fail’ about a bottle of Grange.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The army minister Andrew Peacock offered to resign in 1970 after his wife appeared in an advertisement for Sheridan sheets. A few years later, two Fraser government ministers fell on their swords over a colour TV carried into the country but declared as black-and-white on a customs form.

The threshold has changed

The mere appearance of wrongdoing used to be enough to raise public confidence problems and thus end a ministerial career. Now, even the substance of dishonesty, non-disclosure or incompetence avoids meaningful sanction.

The right-wing extremism that informs Trump’s base has become all pervasive. It has certainly captured the Republican party – only ten of whose House members voted to impeach the outgoing President – despite the president’s sworn commitment to:

support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The facts show President Trump entreated supporters to storm the Congress, in an attempt to stop the lawful certification of his replacement.

It was a mark of Trumpian reach into Australian political culture that neither that outrage, nor his wilful mishandling of the coronavirus, has brought clear condemnation from the Morrison government.

Extreme becomes mainstream

Another trait of Trumpism is the tacit legitimisation of an extreme right-wing discourse of grievance, white supremacy, and anti-establishment conspiracy theory.




Read more:
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Despite clear mainstream costs, senior Morrison ministers have pointedly refused to contradict or discipline their own MPs (Craig Kelly and George Chrsistensen) spreading incorrect and potentially dangerous Trumpist dogma surrounding US electoral fraud, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 treatments, and claims of left-wing agent provocateurs in the Capitol insurrection.

Drawing a typically Trumpist equivalence, acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack referenced last year’s Black Lives Matter rallies – which he derisively termed “race riots” — to play down the Capitol siege while also trotting out offensive lines such as “all lives matter”.




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Faced with a backlash, McCormack decried those “confecting outrage” as “bleeding hearts”.

It suggests the calculation already being made by ministers is that nourishing an extremist culture of resentment and anger is more useful to a centre-right government than courting the political middle ground.

America has already been down this path, and we know where it leads.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison needs to avoid ‘the conveyor belt of Trumpism’



Prime Minister Scott Morrison needs to inject a little more subtlety into his pronouncements – and keep a lid on the frustrations.
AAP/Sarah Rhodes

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison’s Lowy lecture on foreign policy, titled “In our interest” and delivered on Thursday, was peevish in its tone and lacked nuance in its content.

While Morrison canvassed the positive side of globalism, the take-out was his forthright criticisms of what he sees as its negatives.

He warned against globalism “that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill-defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”.

He went on, “We can never answer to a higher authority than the people of Australia”.

Morrison’s visit to New York last week seems to have left him particularly liverish about international institutions.

Not that he even attended the United Nations leaders summit on climate. His office explained his absence by the fact Australia wouldn’t get a speaking spot, which only went to countries with new initiatives to announce. So Morrison devoted his address to the UN General Assembly to defending his government’s climate policy.

The prime minister is clearly frustrated at the pot shots that are fired at Australia over climate change, although they come from well beyond the UN (remember the Pacific Islands Forum). Successive conservative governments have also been riled by the long running criticism from UN bodies over Australia’s treatment of refugees.

When on Friday he was pressed for an example of where an unaccountable international bureaucracy had sought to coerce Australia, Morrison started talking about commentary on border protection, while stressing Australia determines its own policy.

In general, Morrison believes that activists on various issues are too entrenched and powerful in UN institutions.

His angst about internationalism also stretches to the European Union and its failure to facilitate Brexit.

He deploys stark lines of defiance.

On climate, he told the general assembly Australia was “doing our bit” and “we reject any suggestion to the contrary”.

On Australia’s international engagement, he adapted a Howardism to say in the Lowy lecture: “We will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them”.

With only a year’s experience as a prime minister on the international stage, Morrison is becoming assertive. He has told the foreign affairs department “to come back to me with a comprehensive audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where we have the greatest stake”.

He wants Australia to have a bigger role in setting “the standards that will shape our global economy”. The speech didn’t spell this out fully, but it includes industry standards.

Morrison appears to be tracking to the right. He always has an eye to the immediate politics and his attack on “negative globalism” will play well with the conservatives in the ranks of the Liberal party and the more strident commentariat.

But there is a rather startling lack of thought in the stance he adopted in the Lowy address.

Yes, the government is sensitive to UN pressures over climate and asylum policy.

But we are signed up – of our own choosing – to a range of international institutions, from the UN to the World Trade Organisation, because they are part of a rules based international order that serves our long term interests.

The government might be narky about the UN on some issues, but it was only a few years ago that it was highlighting Australia’s role on the Security Council after the MH17 downing.

And it’s one thing saying institutions like the WTO need to reform – which is correct – and another having a general spray about international bureaucracy.

Australia is urging both the US and China to a greater commitment to the rules based system. If it wants its arguments to be taken seriously, it’s best to talk up global co-operation, not talk it down.

It was unfortunate that Morrison’s words had an echo of Donald Trump’s speech last week, in which he elevated patriots over globalists.

Given Trump’s rants over the past few days, one can’t help feeling Morrison was lucky he came out of the US trip as well (and as unscathed) as he did.

Now is no time to appear to be, in the words of one observer, “sitting on the conveyor belt of Trumpism”.

All in all, the text of the Lowy speech needed a good deal more subtlety, as well as having the white-out applied to the frustrations.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.