Could Trump happen here?

Be on your guard

Can Trump happen in Australia?

As Tuesday 8 November approaches, Americans and the World anxiously await the outcome of this year’s US Presidential election. Trump looms large.

The purpose of this blog is not to analyse how Trump has succeeded but to ask “Could a character like him rise to a position of leadership in Australia?”

I believe that if we are not vigilant there is a real risk that someone like Trump may win or fall into the top job. Our long standing institutions will not protect us from a strong man or woman demanding power in difficult times.

Disturbing signs are everywhere.

Trump and his like, rely on fear. People suspend rationality and clear thinking when they are under threat. Think about how the world has changed since 9/11.

We are no longer greeted by Customs Officers and their cute sniffer dogs at our airports. We have Border Protection personnel instead. Screening of travellers is intense. Body scans are humiliating. The world has become dark and nasty. Why do we submit? Fear.

Everyone is on the alert. Looking out for suspicious behaviour, abandoned bags and strange packages. This fear consumes our attention and our energy. We become susceptible to manipulation by government if we are constantly looking over our shoulder.

Leaders like Trump vilify minorities and groups that cannot defend themselves. It is important to them that there are groups and people that can be blamed, that can be isolated and made scapegoats. They believe that this disgraceful behaviour raises their stature. In the eyes of some it does. Look at what Trump says about Mexicans and other minority groups.

Look at the way Australia treats refugees and indigenous people.

We need to be careful when civil liberties and freedoms are removed or eroded. Australia condones arbitrary and indefinite detention of refugees. We flout the UN Convention protecting refugees. Why is it okay for our government to break the law?

In Australia, those accused of terrorist acts have no protection under the law. Suspected terrorists are subject to lengthy detention, they have no automatic right to legal advice and representation, no right to contact loved ones to let them know where they are. How can Australia slip into this state?

How is dissent managed? Leaders like Trump stare down dissenters. They draw distinctions between American and unAmerican behaviour. Dissent is painted as unpatriotic if not treasonous. When we hear politicians say something or someone is unAustralian we need to pause and listen carefully. Who is being put down? For what reason?

People like Trump are anti-intellectual. There is no substance to their position. When they are tested by rational and intellectual analysis they are found wanting. Their platform is based on slogans, symbols, and the drum beat of emotions. They have strong policies on one or two issues and only throwaway lines on every other issue. Gesticulation is preferred to sound policy.

Trump would like to dumb down the US. Education is overrated. Teachers are overpaid. Academics are too lazy to get a real job…..and society slides into ignorance.

Jefferson noted that “An ignorant people can never remain a free people.” Through ignorance society falls into a trance. When a crisis develops any strong man or woman who (pretends) to have the answers, rises to power.

Look at Britain’s Brexit decision. Was this an informed decision? Did those who voted against the EU understand its importance to Britain? Did Britons understand the consequences of their actions? Or were they swayed by drum-beating nationalists? Were they acting out of knowledge or ignorance?

Turn your mind back to Germany before the rise of Nazism. At that time it was a global intellectual powerhouse. It was the centre of European arts. It was also a commercial hub. But it was a society under significant stress and crisis. Pressure from the Treaty of Versailles tested the strength of long standing German institutions. Despite the sophistication of German society, a vocal fascist like Hitler slipped into power. He pretended to have all the answers.

At first, principles and values disappear and expedience rules supreme. The end justifies the means. (“I will deport all Mexicans. I will build a wall.” “I will kill all terrorists and their families.”). Then there is a break down in the rule of law. (“I will not abide by the result of the election, if I lose.”). There is then an erosion of civil liberties and rights. Society slips into quiet obedience. Resistance is stifled or evaporates. The strong man or woman rises out of the confusion and a society, its values, its traditions and its culture are subjugated. The tide comes in and covers any injustice, illegality and inequality as if it was never there.

There is a perfect storm brewing in the Western world, particularly in Australia. We need to watch for the signs. We live in fear and under this haze have permitted a significant erosion of our rights and liberties.

Our present leadership is weak and without focus. There is a historically low opinion of our leaders. What does Malcolm Turnbull stand for? Australians have responded by empowering a number of minor parties. The rise of Pauline Hanson is as much a reflection of the vacuousness of the major parties as it is of the shift to the right by some sectors of our population.

A small bigot who jokingly puts down women, who challenges values and decency, who is prepared to taunt society’s institutions and principles can quickly become a big and powerful bigot, if we let down our guard.

Rather than fearing terrorism we should fear the poor state of politics in this country. It is so poor that it is vulnerable to a strong man or woman rising to a position of influence. The landscape is ready for a Trump-like leader with little substance but plenty of slogans, symbols and solutions. A leader who sows hatred and encourages division. A leader with no respect for minorities, education or for the rule of law or decency.

Watch out Australia!