Latham & Trump: Howling Into The Void

Of course Mark Latham endorsed Donald Trump for President. It couldn’t have been any other way. Latham’s endorsement of Trump was etched on a vase in a Sumerian tomb. It was likely divined word for word in sheep entrails by a Roman haruspex. He probably already said it at the pub. Mark Latham wants to Make America Great Again.

Latham has made a name for himself over the past few years in a way that, while not exactly like Trump, can charitably be described as Trumpian. He situates himself in some idealised vision of working class Australia, the heart of which is Western Sydney, in which political correctness and identity politics are irrelevant, elites of all flavours are disdained, and straight-talking is the only language. What exactly fits under the banner of identity politics for Latham isn’t totally clear. Anti-racism does. Domestic violence activism does too. Being a regular Aussie punter in Western Sydney — with whatever defensive grievances and concerns come with that — absolutely does not.

So someone like Trump, who thrives on cutting through the white noise of civility and giving liberal media pundits a collective case of the vapours, would be instantly appealing to Latham. This is politics as it should be done: boisterous, uncensored, masculine, probably white. He says it himself:

Why shouldn’t they support a successful, down-to-earth candidate who talks their language and shares their values? The more the media attack Trump as “mad” and “erratic”, the more his supporters dig in, rejecting the politics of demonisation.
The US electorate has seen enough of political correctness to know it’s a con-job: an attempt to narrow the scope of public debate and lock out millions of voices of suburban commonsense.

“Suburban commonsense.” It bears repeating that Latham’s vision of Western Sydney is disastrously narrow. According to the 2011 Census, 41.7% of residents weren’t born in Australia. Fair to say that, based on his previous comments about ‘unskilled immigrants’ causing ‘a Muslim problem in Western Sydney’, that when he talks about the average commonsense suburbanite he has a specific vision of what suburban denizens he has in mind.

When Latham hit the big leagues with his book Civilising Global Capital in ’98, it looked a whole lot like the future of the Labor Party and social democracy in Australia. In a sense, it stitched an ideological quilt around the Hawke-Keating reforms of the 80’s, proposing a model of ‘social responsibility’ that made the new, liberalised and globalised way of doing things seem coherent with the old lefty goals, at least in broad intention. It was Third Wayism with a bit of Rawlsian heft.

(Incidentally, I reckon Trump would love the Hawke-Keating reforms. The Accord was just a big deal. Solving the problems of labour and capital with a deal? Yuge. Nobody’s 100% happy with how it turned out? That’s a deal, baby, straight outta Art of the Deal. I make great deals. I’m a great negotiatior. My people, they’re the best people. China.)

But, for someone who burst through the viscera of Australian parliamentary politics bearing a (flawed) new social and economic model, Latham seems remarkably unconcerned with those things anymore. Even his defence of Trump lacked any discussion of Trump’s economic bona fides — scarce as they are — instead basing the entire endorsement on Trump’s willingness to wield free speech as a cudgel and stick it to the know-it-alls. He hates identity politics, but he certainly acceded to its terms of debate remarkably quickly.

Maybe he just likes the theatre. Why wouldn’t he? He gets to see it all happen in a way that simply wouldn’t fly here. I wrote in Eureka Street about how a Bernie Sanders or a Jeremy Corbyn probably couldn’t happen here, but neither could a Trump. Australian parliamentary politics just doesn’t allow for it right now. Abbott was as radical a person as the electorate could imagine in the top job, and they assisted in booting him to the kerb too — in some part because of his single-minded obsession with culture wars.

Besides, could you imagine a Latham Teen in the model of the inimitable Trump Teen? A right-wing teenager who is wildly passionate about someone like Mark Latham? This isn’t a coherent or reasonable thought, but somehow it’s very compelling to me.

Maybe we should be happy that for now, the kind of conditions that drive Trump manifest here mostly as a tired old bloke writing mad nonsense in whatever newspaper will have him. Let’s hold onto that for a bit.