Australian lessons from the US election


SUBJECTS: US Election.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Good morning, you’re with Nick Rheinberger here on 97.3 ABC Illawarra. Now, without over analysing the Trump victory of last week, it seems to me that it’s already started to affect politics right around the world. It started to affect political language in Australia. Here’s one thing that I noticed, Malcolm Turnbull’s language in an interview with Leigh Sales the other day, seemed to concentrate on branding the ABC and other outlets as elites. This is very similar to the way that Donald Trump branded himself and branded the media that were quote-unquote against him, that you and I are in this together he seemed to be saying to the people in front of him and everyone else, you know, the New York Times, the New Yorker and CNN. They’re all part of the elite. Did you see the Malcolm Turnbull interview the other day, I found it fascinating just for that reason. So, here’s the interesting thing about the election for me is that we’ve got someone in Hillary Clinton who brought herself up form pretty poor beginnings, being branded as the elite, and Donald Trump being branded as the man of the people. Here’s one of my favourite commentators, Malcolm Gladwell, he’s originally Canadian, he has a lovely podcast at the moment called Revisionist History. He writes for the New Yorker and he was interviewed on Canadian television, on CBC, on a program called The National. Here he is:

HOST: There is this whole theme of distrust and the elites letting people down, do you think that helps explain his popularity?


GLADWELL: First of all, the idea that he is not an elitist is so comic, but no, one guy is the child of privilege who grew up in a multi-million dollar household and has had every advantage handed to him on a silver platter. The other candidate is a woman who came from the most ordinary of circumstances. Who is the elite in this battle? One woman happens to be married to a man who was previously was President of the United States, yes. But, I don’t know what catapults you out of the category of someone who made your way up from the bottom, to someone who is part of what is kind of a permanent elite.

RHEINBERGER: Now that is very similar in tone to the opening of an article which I’ve been given a sneak preview of ‘the irony of the Trump election is inescapable, one of America’s richest guys who made a name for himself by sacking people as a central character in a reality TV show who became the political darling of working class Americans as they flipped the bird at the establishment’ that happens to come from the pen of Stephen Jones in an article to come to one of our online media outlets and he’s in our studio. Good morning.






STEPHEN JONES, MEMBER FOR WHITLAM: Nick, good to be with you.


RHEINBERGER: What’s your take as someone who’s in the middle of our political establishment on the Trump victory? Is it going to affect the language in Australia or even electoral realities?


JONES: Look, I think it is. The first thing I want to say is whenever  you see an election, somebody wins, somebody loses, we jump to conclusions. That this means the overwhelming majority of Americans suddenly think like Donald Trump. Let’s not forget that if you look at the popular vote it’s pretty evenly poised, about 60 million people voted one way and about 61 million people voted the other.


RHEINBERGER:.5 of a percentage of the vote, I believe, is what separated the candidates.


JONES: Let’s not lose contact with that basic fact, but I think here in Australia there’s three big takeouts that I want to focus on. Firstly, it puts the spotlight on stuff that was already happening here. Many of us have been talking about growing inequality, but also a breakdown in the mainstream consensus around things like trade, immigration and a disaffection from people who do not feel like they are getting any of the benefits, any of the excitement, any of the agility out of the modern economy that has been pushed down their neck day and night by the people who are in government.


RHEINBERGER: You write that you’re looking at inequality not just between the very richest and the very poorest, but between urban Australians and regional Australians. How do you think that’s going to play out over the next few years?


JONES: I spent a lot of time in the last election campaign tracing through regional Australia, and I could see there was a very different conversation going on there. You had a Prime Minister talking about “There’s never been a more exciting time” and when I was out in places like Nowra, when I was out in Dubbo, when I was up in North Queensland, or Northwest Tasmania, they were excited about a very different bunch of things and it’s easy to see why. If you’re in a place where nobody in your household, nobody in your street, nobody in your suburb has got a job, or only one in five of you have had any work over the last month, you’re thinking that the modern economy, this world that seems to be delivering benefits to some people, isn’t delivering benefits for you. And you’re not hearing any of the noise, it’s just blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and I think this is what’s going on and we ignore it at our peril. I think the second thing that is going on that is very interesting, is we have seen a breakdown in what I call big tent politics. Since the Second World War, in Australia we have seen two big tents. We have seen the Liberal National Party creating a big tent, combining economic liberals with social liberals and social conservatives. And on the Labor side we’ve had the big tent of labourism, democratic socialism, social conservatives with economic radicals and we are seeing the breakdown in both of those camps. On the left you’re seeing the emergence of Greens as a serious political force in the inner-city and only in Orange on the weekend you saw a major challenge to the conservative mainstream in regional New South Wales. So, I think that force is underway and I think we are going to see, as we already have, that intro that you played before we got on air, Nick, is an example of where there will be a tendency within mainstream politics to say “I’ve got to respond to this, where’s my shark to jump?” and I think we’ve seen a bit of that over the last week. I’d caution against that, I think the better response is to in a meaning full way, reach out to those people who are disaffected, who do have some real legitimate concerns about what’s going on in the economy and society and there lack of inclusion and putting in place real solutions to deal with those issues.







RHEINBERGER: I’m glad you suggest we need to reach out to people in a meaningful way, but the sad thing that comes out of the American political experience in the last few weeks for me is how, during the campaign, facts did not matter. You know, the actual facts of being able to get things done and how economically we’d be able to lessen inequality didn’t matter. It was all about brand and it was always about passion and authenticity and those kind of things, not really the facts. Can you see that happening here?


JONES: It absolutely is happening here, it’s not new, it sometimes surprises people who are new to politics or political analysis. We can rail against that, or we can understand it for what it is and try and do good within that framework. My approach to people who point this out to me is to say “yeah, it’s true”. People who at first are moved by an emotive response to people, to an issue, that’s where you have to meet them and then start introducing the facts. But, if the first thing your response to their concerns, their issues, is to sneer at them, to know intellectually that they are wrong, to have an arrogant response, you’re going to lose them.


RHEINBERGER: Is this where Hillary Clinton lost a lot of people, by putting all the Trump supporters in one basket, quite literally the basket of deplorables and saying you’re all racists and you’re all misogynists, you know, his brand reflects on your brand. That she didn’t meet people emotionally who were losing their jobs in steel mills and in car manufacturing and in agriculture and in so many other ways. You meet them emotionally first then back it up with facts.


JONES: In any campaign there’s a three second grab that happens that is almost like a tipping point and that was one of them. I think it was one of the most unfortunate comments made by the Clinton camp during their campaign. I could see at a moment like that there would’ve been people who I’ve grown up around who would’ve just peeled off a candidate who said that sort of stuff in the middle of a campaign. It’s very easy to condemn a whole bunch of people as a basket of deplorables, but if you understand what life is like for them, if you’re sitting in a traffic jam and you’ve moved nowhere for half an hour, it’s part of your two hour each-way commute to work each day for a shitty job that you don’t like very much that you may not have next month and you’ve just been converted from full-time to labour hire and somebody is telling you that we’re about to increase our immigration or that there’s not enough money for a public transport solution but we’ve got money for something else. You’re going to say “what the, people aren’t getting me, they aren’t understanding what’s going on in my life”. And if somebody then says you’re a part of the basket of deplorables, they go well I’m switching off on them.


RHEINBERGER: It reminds me of being in the middle of it between a scientist and someone who’s anti-vaccination and it’s very hard to just throw facts at each other.


JONES: We call it an impossible dialogue.


RHEINBERGER: It is, it is. It’s like creationism and evolution sometimes. But, the interesting thing was someone later wrote me a very thoughtful letter saying “look, can we just come from the same place. We’re both trying to protect our children, we’ve both got good intentions and from wherever you’ve come from we’ve both got good intentions to look after our kids and can we start from that?” and I thought if only I’d done that as a sort of moderator between two people. Is that what you’re getting at, that we find a little common ground before you just shove everybody in basket or else they’ll say stuff you and you’ve put that in even stronger language in your draft?











JONES: They are flipping the bird at people who are ignoring what they are feeling and if your response to someone who’s feeling left out, ignored, frankly pissed off with the world that is going on around them. If your first response is to tell them that you’re wrong, they’re just going to flip the political bird at you at the first opportunity they can. The third big takeout, Nick, that I want to focus on and this is what I’ve seen overnight in the US, people are talking about the greatest bait-and-switch in American political history. This is the disconnect between the person you campaign as and the person you intend to govern as. Now in Australia over the last week we’ve seen a lot of people hoping like hell that there’s a massive disconnect  between what Donald Trump campaigned as and what he’s going to govern as, because frankly the guy he campaigned as is not in Australia’s national interest. On the one hand that might be good for the world, but it’s disastrous for politics. Tony Abbott most recently discovered that his peril when, in the lead up to the 2013 election he said I can fix all of these things, I can do all this stuff and it ain’t going to hurt you.


RHEINBERGER: No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC and SBS.


JONES: Everybody knew that that could not be done. So the big turning point for Tony Abbott was the May 2014 Budget when reality met slogan and the guy he campaigned as was destroyed by the guy he governed as. The problem with that, it might help me as leftie on the lefter-centre side of politics we say great that’s an opportunity to bring them down, but it destroys politics.


RHEINBERGER: It destroys the credibility. Which is where Trumps branded himself as outside the system.


JONES:  And he has brought forward a coalition of people, some people are describing it as a powder keg, you can’t just turn that on and off like a tap. There is a massive disconnect between the guy he campaigned as and the guy he governed as, there is a problem in US politics. We think it’s great, we might be hoping for that but that’s not a good lesson for democratic politics around the world particularly here in Australia.


RHEINBERGER: Stephen Jones, thank you very much for coming in. Looking forward to seeing  this when it is published especially the strong language and whether the editors water it down, I hope they don’t.


JONES: Good to be with you.


RHEINBERGER: Stephen Jones, Member for Whitlam here on 97.3 ABC Illawarra. I’ll let you know when that’s published.