– and why Trump and Hanson are not populists
At the Byron Writers Festival last week, American satirist P J O’Rourke was a star drawcard, but the more he spoke the less drawn the crowd got. When Kerry O’Brien got pointy with the author-talker, the crowd quickly grew more testy than Kez, and I delayed walking out on their one-on-one interview to see if we’d collectively toss the tosser in the pond.
O’Rourke calls himself a conservative libertarian, and like most American libertarians he wants personal freedoms like paying no taxes – with no responsibility for common welfare. But his stock-in-trade is to mock lefties and anyone who advocates social or economic reforms he doesn’t like.
He told our Byron crowd that the mostly white men rallying behind Donald Trump were angry at ‘the elites’, which, he emphasised repeatedly, included us. They are angry, he said, because government regulation gets in the way of their small businesses while we elites take up the TV news time carrying on about gender-neutral bathrooms.
Generally, he blames us chardonnay-sippers and latte-slurpers for ignoring the genuine deprivations of the white working-class/unemployed. Actually, lefties remain the most focused critics of the takeover of America’s economy and government (and increasingly Australia’s) by the one per cent of the one per cent, and the global corporations they own.
A politician doesn’t ‘suddenly become a populist by denigrating people of other races, cultures, religions, and nations.
O’Rourke did make one good point mostly ignored by the media, including the left’s, which is that Trump has, for 12 years now, starred as the Fixer–in-Chief on his TV show The Apprentice. In this series, which O’Rourke said has been seen by 200 million Americans (though Google suggests maybe half that number), Trump bosses people around, disparages women, and makes Big Decisions.
That might explain some of Trump’s voters, but more crucial is that he’s the ultimate fake ‘populist’ who appeals to the white male offcuts by telling them that people not-like-them are getting all the government handouts and all that TV attention being spent on discussing gender-neutral bathrooms.
Texas political commentator Jim Hightower, with whom I published The Hightower Lowdown newsletter for 14 years, is incensed that the mainstream media keep calling Trump and anyone else who appeals to base instincts like xenophobia and racism a ‘populist’ – here that includes Pauline Hanson. In the latest Lowdown, Hightower quotes ‘a major player in this year’s presidential race’ who recently helped him defend the democratic ideal of genuine populism. ‘I’m not prepared to concede the notion that some of the rhetoric that’s been popping up is populist,’ said this major player, adding that a politician doesn’t ‘suddenly become a populist’ by denigrating people of other races, cultures, religions, and nations.
‘That’s not the measure of populism. That’s nativism or xenophobia or worse. Or it’s just cynicism. So I would just advise everybody to be careful about suddenly attributing to whoever pops up at a time of economic anxiety the label that they’re a “populist”. Where have they been? Have they been on the frontlines for working people? Have they been labouring to open up opportunity for more people?’
Nope, that wasn’t Sanders. It was Barack Obama, delivering an impromptu cheer for true populism at a June 29 press conference. (Hightower did hasten to add that Obama himself ‘has hardly been a practising populist’.)
For all of that, one other thing that keeps voters rallying behind the Trumps and Hansons is the rapidly growing percentage of America’s and our populations who can’t earn a decent income, and who also see and hear loud and clear that the richest one per cent, and even more outrageously the .01 per cent, are accruing more wealth and more income every day while regular folks, even some who waste $4.50 on a coffee, are scraping the barrel to get by – or they’re not getting by.
Two basic facts of life in the USA today that go unreported by mainstream media and ignored by P J O’Rourke are (1) the richest one per cent of Americans own and earn about what the lowest 90 per cent do, and (2) about 54 per cent of US government discretionary spending goes to ‘defence’. Cut those two stats in half and you could truly make America great.
It’s worth noting that while Hanson and her three other One Nation senators have very little to say about the economy being hijacked by global corporations, Trump does.
Thomas Frank, a liberal Democrat hotshot, issued a warning to his fellow Democrats last week. He pointed out that the remnant of the Republican Party led by Donald Trump is radically different from all the pro-multinational corporations and military industrial complex types like Bush, Romney – and Clinton – and from the Tea Party-ists who fantasise that their tax money all goes on aid to foreigners and poor people.
The Trumpets reckon big businesses, other than Trump’s, suck, ‘free trade’ is a rip-off by global corps, sick people should have doctors and nurses, big banks should be broken up, workers should have paid daycare, and who cares which toilets you go to. Frank also described Trump himself as ‘an altogether different monster’ who’s a bigot, racist, global-warming denying, hypocritical, untrustworthy, authoritarian, predatory businessman and a thrice-married vulgarian – all of which and more is true.
Frank sounds the alarm that the Clinton Democrats haven’t registered that the Dem-Repub consensus for America-rules-the-world-for-corporate-profit has at last been scuttled, not by the sensible Bernie Sanders but by the loonytunes Trump.
Meanwhile, prestigious New Yorker editor Ryan Lizza just published a story echoing my piece in The Echo last month, about how Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party could win enough votes to throw the whole election into a different kind of chaos. Stay tuned.
Phillip Frazer writes from coorabellridge.com.