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A Response to Further Thoughts on Democracy and “The Donald”

I would like to question the conclusion that the election of Donald Trump is somehow a triumph of democracy. A democratic process that took 2 years to, arguably, find the leader of the free world, produced 2 basically unsuitable candidates and elected the least suitable of the 2. Despite Hilary’s highly appropriate experience, I consider she (and Donald) are too old for the job (yes I know Reagan was older) and her campaign seemed to be “I have political experience, it is my turn and it is time to appoint a woman president”. Trump is a most distasteful character, has no experience, has a short attention span and a limited vocabulary (makes him prefect for Twitter!). His narcissism is on display by his name emblazoned on every object he is associated with and these cannot be good characteristics for a leader.

Trump married people with an anti-political correctness agenda (a right wing issue) with people with an anti-free trade agenda (a left wing issue). But Trump did not come up with sensible policies which you said in your blog they were problematic and would be tempered by the Congress. What Trump and all the other popularists (e.g. Greens, Pauline Hanson, Nick Xenophon) do is to reflect back to people what they complain about. Years ago you compared this sort of leadership with the way the prow of a ship is leading the ship. So rather than the election result being a triumph democracy where the little people stuck it up the elites, democracy has produced a totally inappropriate leader who we can only hope the people in the administration and the actions of the Congress will substitute for his deficiencies.

So how did it come to this? To answer the question we should look beyond the elites and the “overwhelmingly liberal media”.

In Australia it is commonly stated that we have too many levels of government but I think it is more accurate to say we have too many politicians. They say how hard they work, which they do, working hard to get re-elected, rather than for the good of the country. I like to see them so busy with their parliamentary duties that they had no time for endless photo opportunities.

There are so many ways to communicate with politicians now, do we actually need local members? Should the parties nominate parliamentarians to be responsible for different issues and members of the party contact those people?

Winston Churchill’s comment about democracy having lots of problems but being better than any other political system is still valid.  The American pragmatic philosopher and educationalist John Dewey believed that a democratic society of informed and engaged inquirers (my emphasis) was the best means of promoting human interests. The emphasised words highlight the problem; voters take democracy for granted and don’t make the time and effort to understand political issues. This has allowed politicians to claim more and more credit for things they have little or nothing to do with and voters to blame them for things over which they have little influence. So now they have very little credibility with an increasingly cynical electorate.

In 1797, one Alexander Tyler, a then professor at the University of Edinburgh, is reported to have said: “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that the voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority will always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.” It would appear that this prophecy is now coming to pass. We have what I consider to be the appalling situation where federal politicians spend time and taxpayer’s money on local sporting grounds and donations to clubs and we have an expectation that this is what they should do.

“We the people”, as per the US Constitution, need look at our role in democracy and not just blame everything on the failings of the elites, the media, the shortcomings of politicians and take some responsibility for our own actions. As you often point out in your blogs, blaming others for our problems perpetuates a victim mentality and puts the solution of our problem in someone else’s hands. Inevitably we will not like their answer because it is not our answer.

Re the overwhelming liberal media; is that really correct? ABC, yes, Fairfax media, I don’t know, but the shock jocks, the Courier Mail and Daily Telegraph all run a popularist, Trump like agenda and News Corp are hardly liberal. Is it that different in the US? I did read that for most of the 2 years the media reported on Trump’s antics which easy to do and basically gave him a free ride. It wasn’t until he won the Republican Party nomination that the media had a come Jesus moment when they realised they had not made any attempt to seriously analyse his candidature.

With regard to how pollster’s got it wrong I did a little thought experiment. I imagined myself a voter in Detroit who had been laid off from a closed down industry with no prospects of another job, I saw the city crumbling from neglect, I would be thinking that more of the same with Hilary just wasn’t a good answer and so maybe I should think about voting for Trump. Then I saw Hilary telling me I was deplorable (which I think was the turning point of the election) that would make up my mind and I would gleefully tell the pollsters “yes I’ll vote Hilary” and do the reverse!

The question of elites seems to me to need some unpacking; it does not seem as simple as latte drinkers bad, little people good. What is the definition of an elite? America has a great history of philanthropy, which continues, e.g. Bill and Melinda Gates, and surely some rich people like FDR and Kennedy’s need to be recognised for their efforts, through politics, to help poorer people in American society. I dislike “pinko academics” who seem to pontificate on ABC TV as much as the average Trump supporter but not all academics are like that and although they have too much influence, they are not a large portion of the population. In our past lives you and I would labelled elites. Doctors would most definitely be considered elites but I know Ben is a doctor because he can help some sick children and he thrives on the intellectual challenges medicine provides. It seems if you voted for the Democrats and you are not Hispanic or a poor black, you some kind despicable, anti-proletariat, cynically manipulating poor people to enrich yourself. How can the hero of the downtrodden be a tax avoiding, bankruptcy law manipulating, mega rich person living in luxurious surroundings on 5th Avenue?

No doubt as a result of trade liberalisation and financial deregulation which has massively increased wealth and arguably dragged hundreds of millions of people, mainly in Asia, out of extreme poverty. This is definitely a good thing but not if you are a middle American and it appears to have been achieved at your expense. We need to address the problem of wealth distribution worldwide and be very careful not to destroy the very initiatives that generate new wealth.

One area where it seems to me that elites have performed abysmally is on environmental issues particularly climate change. I detect an attitude from climate scientists and the like, that says everything natural is good and wholesome and every action of humans is bad because everything is controlled by rapacious multinational corporations all run by greedy white males or Jewish bankers. They happily enjoy their modern lifestyle while sanctimoniously denigrating anybody who works to make that possible. They show little understanding and no commitment to the processes and institutions that make their privileged lifestyle possible.

In the blog you talked about a simpler time when “Townsville Tom” rode his bike (with the handlebars turned backwards) to visit and help out constituents. Now there are so many other options for help and advice, politicians, who are now seen as largely self-serving, are probably the last person one would confide in. Your local member was a train driver which, I would posit, is today’s equivalent of an airline pilot, i.e. a member of an elite! I agree it seems like a good idea for politicians to have had careers outside politics, like Malcolm and Kevin Rudd but unlike John Howard and Tony Abbott, maybe it doesn’t matter so much. To have no experience of public service however does not seem like a good attribute for a President.

We need to demand our politicians act responsibly and in the national, state or community interest, depending on the level of government. We need them to honestly debate issues and not just spend time bagging the other side. We need to demand our media report and analyse political issue and drop the obsession with the theatre of politics. We must be keep ourselves informed and not just vote for politicians who promise to give us most from the public treasury. And I am really starting to wonder about wisdom of compulsory voting, why ask someone to give their opinion if they don’t have one? If they have not taken the time to be informed and engaged their vote is meaningless.

I consider humanity has 3 pressing problems:

  1. How to maintain our population in a manner that we aspire to, within the available resources and without making the planet uninhabitable with our waste;
  2. We need an economic system with the necessary incentives to for people to work that fairly distributes the wealth to everyone in the world, (not just those in Wisconsin, Philadelphia and Michigan); and
  3. Monotheistic religions.

I don’t see anywhere evidence of democratic processes making any impact on these problems. In my view the election of Donald Trump will make it worse.

Larry Whitehead 27/11/2016

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  1. 4 Comment(s)

  2.   By Greg Brown on Dec 3, 2016 | Reply

    Very nice piece Larry. Well thought out, logical and rationally presented. In other words never likely to get the time of day in the current media.

    I suggest there is another pressing problem although perhaps not as pressing as your other 3 at this time. At some point economic theory must change. For all time growth has been the holy grail of economics. Make the pie bigger rather than splitting it up more fairly has always seemed logical however our planet is finite and we are rapidly becoming a global species with the same standards everywhere. At some point therefore we must accept that growth will not be good. This will take a huge shift in thinking. Capitalism and the competitive business model that is the norm will need to be replaced. I think this change is inconsistent with human nature however and I am not sure what it means for our species overall. Anthony De Mello said it well.

    The Master sat in rapt attention as the renowned economist explained his blueprint for development.
    “Should growth be the only consideration in an economic theory?” he asked.
    “Yes. All growth is good in itself.”
    “Isn’t that the thinking of the cancer cell?” said the Master.

  3.   By tedscott on Dec 3, 2016 | Reply

    Well done Greg. Can you see through my strategy here? With a bit of luck I will have erudite people writing stuff that I can publish, leaving me free to go fishing!

    Not that I entirely agree with your statement about economic development. Much of our economic development these days is focussed on our service industries and as such enhances our standard of living without any great impost on our physical resources. I will write a little more about that in a future blog essay.

    But I applaud your Anthony De Mello reference as I suspect Larry would be a fan of that wise, gentle sage!

  4.   By Roslyn Ross on Dec 3, 2016 | Reply

    It really is time to give up repeating the American propaganda that the US ‘leads’ the free world, however one may qualify it.

    The United States watched the once-free world in torment in both World Wars until it suited the US to become involved to protect its own interests. The US defended nothing and led nothing.

    Since it was invented, the United States has been at war with someone, aggressively so, denying and removing freedoms and the CIA has been actively involved for more than a century removing, often killing, democratically elected leaders of sovereign nations – the very opposite of leading the free anything – to serve its own economic and political agendas.

    At this point in history and perhaps always, the world does not need to be led and particularly not by the most militaristic and aggressive of all developed nations and the one which offers the poorest quality of life on average to its citizens.

    The US does stand as a useful example, but of what not to do, and woe betide any nation which allows itself to be led by the militaristic/capitalistic machine which is the United States of America.

    It needs to be remembered that the US does not represent Capitalism per se: but unregulated Capitalism functioning within a corrupt political system where rights, favours and legislation are purchased through a lobbying system. Again, this is not a system which other developed nations have taken up, thank goodness.

    The three pressing problems are more American problems, as anyone can see who spends time there, than they are Western problems, although variations on the theme apply.

    And given the utter failure, of ‘imagining’ the future, we need to be cautious in whatever plans are made. For example, in terms of world population, given the poor health of children in general, at levels never seen before, there is a good chance that current generations, in fact those born since the Seventies into the most meddling and medicalised age, will not live long lives given the rates of serious and chronic disease. But, that is a digression.

    Beyond that, interesting article as always.

  5.   By Roslyn Ross on Dec 3, 2016 | Reply

    It is more correct to say all growth serves a purpose, as opposed to being good or bad in itself.

    That is in fact the holistic medical view, including for tumours, where all responses from the body are seen to be part of a process of attempts to balance and heal.

    Conventional or Allopathic medicine takes a new stance in seeing the body as a piece of equipment and symptoms as indicators which need to be repressed or removed, as opposed to treating the body as a whole and recognising that disease is in response to dis-ease at various levels.

    The Allopathic approach is however akin to that of a mechanic who opts to ‘solve the problem’ of the flashing warning light, by cutting the wire to the light and thus ‘turning it off,’ i.e. ensuring the light does not flash which is seen to be the problem but which is in fact not the problem simply an indicator of a problem.

    It is ironic that people will accept such an approach from modern medicine for their body when they would not accept it for their car.

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