Tag Archives: US politics

Former ambassador Jeffrey Bleich speaks on Trump, disruptive technology, and the role of education in a changing economy

The Conversation

Image 20170303 31726 ru4nzy
We need to rethink our educational model, says Jeffrey Bleich. Alan Porritt/AAP

Jeffrey Bleich, University of Sydney

An edited transcript of the keynote address delivered by Jeffrey Bleich at Universities Australia’s higher education conference in Canberra on 1 March, 2017. The Conversation

You can also listen to the full speech here:

Jeffrey Bleich’s keynote address.
Recording by Universities Australia 62.5 MB (download)

While I’ve spoken at many of your universities over the years, it has always been in a non-partisan role – as either ambassador or now as chair of the Fulbright board. So, whenever I’ve been asked questions about politics or elections before, I always did what diplomats have long done. I thought very carefully, before saying …nothing.

But these are not ordinary times. The recent US election has evoked a profound sense of uncertainty across the political spectrum.

The things we had counted on, suddenly and surprisingly proved incorrect. We are not sure what we can rely on anymore, and it has shaken many people’s confidence about the path forward. It is times like these, when good friends like the US and Australia put aside conventions and get real about what we need to do together.

No one saw this coming

Candidly, no one saw this coming – until it came. In the US, on the morning of November 8, 2016, no trustworthy polling organisation, no responsible media outlet, no respected political pundit, no one, thought that Donald Trump would be elected the President of the United States. Even Mr Trump did not expect it.

He won, in part, because many people in the US did not trust the political parties to address their concerns. They did not trust government. They did not trust the media. They did not trust experts. They did not trust the international liberal order. And the fact that neither party liked Mr Trump, that the media mocked him, that experts were appalled by him, and that he seemed to have no experience in government or diplomacy or any interest in it, did not discourage them. It gave them hope. They might not have agreed with him, but they believed that at least he would shake things up. And that is what they wanted.

This is not a fluke. Only a few months earlier, we witnessed something similar in Europe – the stunning decision by the people of the UK to reject the recommendation of their prime minister and virtually all leaders on both sides of politics, and exit the EU.

We’ve witnessed the Philippines elect President Duterte – a leader who attacks all politics as usual, belittles allies, and has authorised the vigilante killings of thousands of people.

Here in Australia, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party won four seats in the last election, and you’ve had five prime ministers in the past seven years (if you count Prime Minister Rudd twice).

Virtually every other major Western democracy these days is led by a fragile coalition government. And the world is already bracing for the rise of new nationalist, populist, and authoritarian minority movements in Europe.

So this populist unrest is not unique to the US.

The question is why, and what are the consequences for Western Democracies around the world. In the time that I have been asked to speak, I’d like to suggest we are witnessing an historic moment that requires an historic response.

New technologies, and global trends, are principally driving the shock and uncertainty. I’ll share my thoughts about what these are and where they are leading us. I’ll then do something that we all need to do – suggest some ways that higher education can adapt to meet these global trends and restore our sense of order and common vision.

But first, how we got here.

The digital revolution

Every person in this room, grew up in a century defined by the Second Industrial Revolution. Today, that revolution is being eclipsed by a Digital Revolution.

The uncertainty that we are experiencing in every aspect of our society, including our politics, is the same disorientation that occurred between 1870 and 1910 when the first Industrial revolution ended and a second one began.

It eventually vaulted nations like America and Australia to the top of the world order. But it also produced a Gilded Age, labor unrest, mass migrations, a great depression, and two world wars. That era is closing, and we are now experiencing the new great disruption that Silicon Valley promised.

Digital technology – while solving crucial problems – is creating or compounding others.

  1. It has outstripped the capacity of Government to control it, and amplified the collapse of public confidence in democratic governments.
  2. It has inflamed rivalries between those who benefit and those who don’t.

3) It has undermined standards – of journalism, of altruism, and of civility – that are necessary for us to find common ground.

To appreciate this, we have to see where we’ve come from.

A hundred and fifty years ago, we went through the same thing. Changes in technology revolutionised media, global integration, and demographics. The changes were profound.

In 1879, during a three-month period, both the electric light and a workable internal combustion engine were invented.

Those two inventions alone produced over the next 40 years a dizzying number of new technologies. The telephone, phonograph, motion pictures, cars, airplanes, elevators, X-rays, electric machinery, consumer appliances, highways, suburbs, supermarkets, all created in a 40-year burst from 1875 to 1915. It fundamentally transformed how people live.

We’ve known for a while that the structures created by this Second Industrial Revolution were running their course, at least in advanced economies, and was being replaced by a new revolution, the digital revolution.

In retrospect, we should have seen all of the side effects coming. Recently the pace of these advances had started to build on each other exponentially, and the pressure has been mounting.

Everyone who has had to throw out their CD player for a DVD player for an iPod for an iPhone for Spotify, knows what I mean.

The pace at which our world is being changed just keeps accelerating. Every year there has been some massive new disruption. Every year a new massive theory of disruption: “the digital economy”, “the social network”, “the Internet of things”, “sharing economy”, “big data”. Last year “machine learning” – where machines teach themselves things we do not know – was the Buzzword.

The word in Silicon Valley this year is “singularity” – where our species itself is altered by technology – gene-editing, bionics, AI – creating a new hybrid species.

Disruptive technology

Three years ago as I was getting ready to depart Australia, I gave a talk about how driverless cars would soon transform our societies, but that this would be a hard transition and it would be several years before we saw driverless vehicles on the streets.

Well I was wrong about that. As I was going to the San Francisco airport to fly here, the car driving alongside me was a driverless Google car.

In Philadelphia driverless cars are operating as taxis. As the tech writer William Gibson wrote:

“The future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Yet.

Now I love driverless cars. Self-driving cars can reduce accidents, save us from needless deaths, injuries, and property damage, reduce traffic, give us more leisure time, reduce stress, and improve our quality of life.

Believe me, as an ex-ambassador, life is better in the backseat of the car.

But that’s not how you look at it if you are a 47-year-old truck driver or bus driver or cab-driver or you drive a fork lift and have a high school education, are carrying a lot of debt, and have a family to take care of. All you see is some elites in San Francisco trying to kill your job and destroy your family.

And driverless cars are only one disruptive technology. If you work in a small hotel or motel, you see AirBnB as an existential threat. If you work in manufacturing, 3D printing and robotics are direct threats to your job. If you are a book-keeper, artificial intelligence is an immediate threat to your job.

Fear of losing control

Many of us feel that we’ve lost control over the pace of it all. The technology is driving itself.

Breakthroughs that once took decades to develop can now be developed in a matter of months. We can test the impact of a particular set of compounds on thousands of cells simultaneously.

We can take the data from every mobile phone, every laptop, every modern vehicle, every refrigerator and toaster and microwave and aggregate them and analyse them as fast as the speed of the internet.

I was with the director of Google’s cutting edge incubator, Google X, Astro Teller, and he was asked what he feared about technology. He said,

“it is simply going so fast now that no one can control where it is taking us.”

Archimedes said that if you gave him a long enough lever, he could move the earth. Today, the lever of technology has extended so long that it takes very little pressure to fundamentally move the earth.

This dramatic acceleration of technology affects not only the workers who see their jobs disappearing and fear these new technologies. It inspires fear in retirees and dependents just as much.

Gene therapies may make it typical for people to live healthy active lives past the age of 100. That should be a cause for celebration. People getting to know their great grand-children, maybe even their great-great grandchildren.

But it’s also frightening. How will society support a generation that lives 20 years longer than they’d planned, that runs out of retirement savings? And if they live healthy lives to age 100, they will need to fill more of those years with work – their work lives may need to last 60-70 years.

But as technology accelerates, their training may barely be sufficient to last them 10 years. How will that work? How do we educate and re-train people for six careers over a lifetime? And what sorts of jobs will those be? How will we give people purpose when machines can do everything that is dull, dangerous, or determinable?

Even if you could find work for people and retrain them every 10 years, what sort of economic model can sustain this?

In denial?

If you aren’t feeling anxious and uncertain yet, then you are in denial. If you are a 47-year-old bus driver, or coal miner, or assembly line worker, or cashier, or toll booth operator, you might want a leader who promises to shut this all down.

Build a wall, bring back the old jobs; let me keep my iPhone and Facebook (I like those), but otherwise, just go back to the way it was.

This could have been predicted.

The Industrial Revolution in the last Century caused the same great anxieties, and caused politics around the world to go haywire. There were massive disruptions in labor markets, unprecedented levels of migration, and other effects of industrialisation.

The result may sound familiar. Popular unrest especially in Europe and East Asia, xenophobia, isolationism, violent protests, and the emergence of authoritarians and demagogues around the world.

In the US, William Jennings Bryan was nominated three times for president during this Gilded Age – offering a bizarre mix of populist messages. He was anti-Darwinism, pro-Isolationism, proposed a Silver Standard, favored Prohibition, and stunned the political establishment with the way he campaigned – defying all conventional logic.

Demagogues flourish when large sections of society feel overwhelmed and fear they will be left behind. They offer simple solutions to complex problems and play on people’s fears and prejudices.

But technology does not do this alone. At the turn of the last century, the US did not elect William Jennings Bryan. It elected leaders who embraced technology. It chose people who felt government had an important role in fostering technology and dealing with its unwanted effects. Healthy democracies resisted demagogues and authoritarians and fascists. But less healthy ones didn’t.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of this throughout Europe. So this is not about technology alone. Three other trends already existed that fed public anxiety, and drew people to an authoritarian figure.

The gaming of democracy

The first trend is a 30-year campaign to diminish the importance of democratically elected governments.

For 30 years, political leaders on both sides of the aisle in the US ran for government by running against it. They secured votes by campaigning on the notion that government is a mess and couldn’t do anything right.

President Reagan had demonstrated the power of running for election on the claim that government was too big and bloated and ineffective. He ran on a campaign of cutting taxes and red-tape.

His successor George H.W. Bush did the same, to win, and then lost when he failed to keep his promise not to raise taxes. The next president, Bill Clinton, followed the same playbook, leading the charge that the era of big government was over. In all cases, the message was that we needed less and less government. George W. Bush ran almost entirely on promises to continue shrinking wasteful government.

Tom Friedman, the New York Times writer, had an insight about this. It came from his days when he covered the advertising war between Hungry Jacks and McDonalds.

He was interviewing the head of marketing for Hungry Jacks and asked him why – with the hundreds of millions of dollars Hungry Jacks was spending to win market share from McDonalds – it hadn’t actually gone after McDonalds burgers. Why didn’t they run an ad saying that McDonalds burgers were nasty frozen patties? The marketing head looked at him and said:

“That is the very first rule of marketing. You never kill the category.”

Loss of confidence in governments

Well, to win elections, both sides had been killing the category of government. And then in 2008, the US government seemed to vindicate their worst fears.

In September 2008, the country was already mired in an unpopular war in Iraq that was costing us our bravest troops and billions of dollars, and then we were hit by a recession that was directly due to the federal government easing its bank regulations. The two things that we counted on our government to do most – keep us secure, and protect our economy – it had failed to do. And both parties had supported both decisions.

If anyone was looking for proof that government couldn’t do anything right, that was the moment.

I think the Brexit vote shows that US voters aren’t the only ones losing confidence in government.

All of the indicators are moving in the wrong direction.

Voting rates have been falling in the US and many other Western democracies. Polls show that young people’s faith in democracy is plummeting. Tax protests movements have risen. America’s wealthiest people are looking for ways to avoid paying taxes through elaborate tax avoidance schemes. Recall that then-candidate Trump said that if he hadn’t paid taxes in 20 years, it was because he was “smart”.

Technology has exaggerated these effects.

For the average American, polling, data-analytics, micro-targeting voters, have turned politics into a game, and left them feeling manipulated. The political parties seemed more intent on using these tools to play the system and block each other than to deal with the real issues that we were facing.

While businesses were expected to innovate and do things faster, cheaper, better, governments now had less money, and were hamstrung with older technologies, and had more difficulty keeping pace. Government seemed to make the case for its detractors – moving slower or sometimes not at all. In the face of runaway technology, we have often seen walk-away government.

Millennials have the least patience with democratic government.

Having grown up at the pace of the internet, millennials aren’t afraid of technology. They love the new technologies; they trust technology to transform the workplace for the better.

To them, tech companies will solve their problems more than government, and so government seems irrelevant. To some, not all, government is entertainment or worse. And if you think government is entertainment, then why not elect a reality show star; and if it’s a joke, then why bother showing up to vote at all?

Disrupting demographic expectations

The second major trend in the US relates to demographics. Demographic effects have emerged in the past 25 years that have had a particularly pronounced effect on white males.

Your former countryman, Rupert Murdoch, built a news empire on the simple insight 25 years ago, that white males in America were getting angrier, and wanted someone to vindicate their anger. Even Fox & friends cannot keep up with the appetite for anger. Now they face competition from the even angrier Breitbart.

So where does that anger come from?

If you were a straight white male in the US in the first half of the last century with a high school education or less, you might lose out on jobs or opportunities to college educated white males, but that was it. You had an advantage over anyone else. You did not have to compete against women, people of colour, or people who were openly gay or lesbian. And you did not have much in the way of international competition.

Industries were largely protected among those countries with which we actually traded. But about half of the world’s economy was locked up in a failed economic system – Soviet-style communism – which did not compete with American jobs at all.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the US economy changed dramatically. Programs to enforce civil rights laws profoundly changed the workforce, introducing opportunities for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other previously disadvantaged groups to compete for jobs.

At the same time, the fall of the Berlin wall was effectively a starting gun for global competition. Suddenly a talented workforce around the world that had been denied the chance to compete was unleashed.

Western nations saw great opportunity in trading with these countries and working them into their supply chains. And now, suddenly, a white male worker who had a built-in advantage was forced to compete with women, people of colour, and people around the globe, who were hungrier and potentially more competitive than they were.

Now white males may never have been entitled to that advantage, but the feeling of loss, and resentment, and unfairness that they felt is a very real emotion that most of us would probably feel in similar circumstances. Even if an advantage we have isn’t fair, we still feel pain and possibly anger when it is taken away.

Especially if it affects your livelihood and your place in society.

The truth is, that the benefits of globalisation and modernisation have not been evenly distributed. While women and minorities and people who had been subject to crippling poverty in former communist countries are better off today, the white working class in America doesn’t feel that way.

Unlike minorities, they didn’t grow up expecting to have to work twice as hard to get half as far, or to live in poverty. They expected that their lives would be better than their parents lives, and that their kids’ lives would be even better than theirs.

But that is becoming less true now.

Statistically, about half of the middle class is not more successful than their parents. Their fathers supported a family, had a nice house, two car garage, vacation, health care, the ability to send their kids to college, and enough for a decent retirement, working a 40 hour a week.

Today, wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living. To have those same things, both parents work, they work longer hours – nights and weekends – and they go deep into debt. They feel like they are working harder and not getting as far. And they are worried that their kids will do even worse.

So they don’t want to just turn back the clock on technology, they want to turn back the clock on civil rights and globalisation, too. Because they don’t see how it is helping them.

So it is no surprise that some of President Trump’s strongest supporters want him to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, or ban all refugees, or deport immigrants, or roll back the reproductive rights of women, or reduce civil rights enforcement.

There is some bigotry here, but about 80% of Republicans currently support Donald Trump, and the vast majority of them are not bigots. If you don’t believe the heartbreak in this group is real, consider this.

If you are a white male with no college education in the US you are the only demographic in the OECD, the developed countries, whose life expectancy is going down. The main reasons for this are all forms of self-harm: suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, or morbid obesity.

We miss the point if we think this is just prejudice or intolerance. For many, they voted for Donald Trump because he gave them hope. Everyone needs hope.

All of us want to believe that our lives will improve, or at least that our children’s lives will be better than ours. But for people who have lost their advantage in the market, and have to compete harder than ever just to have the same job, and who worry that their kids will have it even harder, they’ve lost hope in the current system.

Nearly two-thirds of the counties that voted for Donald Trump in swing states voted for Barack Obama. For them, Donald Trump was the hope candidate.

One last thing. I have no tolerance for bigots and racists, but I also cannot abide ignoring the fundamental humanity of others, particularly people who are heartbroken.

Now imagine how the people who depend on these men feel, their wives and their daughters and their mothers, and you can understand how many women, too, would not really care what Donald Trump has said about women.

The degrading of journalism

Finally, the third global trend that we need to address is the dramatic change in how we get and interpret information.

This shift isn’t new either. Before the printing press was invented, written documents were drafted by scribes.

Those documents were trusted because – frankly – they are hard to produce. Only those with some standing in the community and reputation had the resources to produce them. It was too expensive and time-consuming for a scoundrel with a crazy idea to publish a book. And so people got used to generally trusting things that were written.

When the printing press dramatically reduced the cost of the printed word, all sorts of things could be published that wouldn’t have been before.

While this actually improved the flow of information, it also confused people who were used to trusting the things they read, and it disrupted society and politics for many years.

Here, we had two media revolutions at once. Until about 30 years ago, news was generally obtained from one or two newspapers, and the small number of network channels available in each country – which usually devoted up to an hour for news.
While different papers might cover the same news stories differently, they generally reported the same facts and merely drew different conclusions from them.

With the advent of cable news programs, this changed. We created a vehicle for virtually limitless news. Instead of news organisations being forced to decide what were the most important events that happened each day, they could report on many things that were not necessarily relevant to people’s lives but would boost ratings.

News organisations could make news a form of entertainment and compete for viewers in ways that didn’t exist before. And, before long, news balkanized so that every viewer could pick a news service that reinforced their prejudices.

In this way, conservatives who did not trust liberals, could find a channel that reassured them that liberals were untrustworthy, and capable of the most irrational and diabolical acts. And vise-versa. Social media only compounded this, because its algorithms ensured that you’d be fed advertising that reinforced your biases and beliefs.

If this was not enough to bring down trust in government, a second wave of media disruption emerged close on its heels.

With the arrival of cellphones and the world-wide web, suddenly every person with an internet connection could become a journalist and publisher.

Before the traditional media had even heard about a story, people were blogging it, uploading images to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and effectively getting their story out faster than cable could.

In order to stay relevant, traditional media simply followed suit and began running with whatever came in across the internet – right, wrong, or horrifyingly wrong.

The notion was that you wouldn’t be wrong for long, but that you needed to publish quickly or risk being irrelevant.

And so we have the phenomenon that at one point over 40% of Americans believed that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. It did not matter that President Obama was born in Hawaii, and that his birth had been duly recorded and reported in the newspaper for all to see. Bloggers created this lie, sent it around at the speed of the internet, and news channels covered the “phenomenon” as if it were actual news.

If anyone on earth recognised the power of this phenomenon, it was the chief evangelist of this claim, Donald Trump; the person who would be the next president.

Today some substantial portion of Americans believe Michelle Obama is a man dressed as a woman. Even more believe that climate change is a hoax, that airplane vapor trails are a government conspiracy to spread chemicals to humans, that vaccinations cause autism, and that toilets in Australia flush backwards.

In this environment, where facts are ignored, and people choose the stories that support their world view, is it any wonder that a substantial number of voters believe even the most outlandish claims.

That the president can claim that it wasn’t raining when it was. That his crowds broke records when they didn’t. That millions of people cast illegal votes when they did not?

Over the past 30 years a perfect storm has formed to produce an election in which a large enough portion of the American public has backed ideas that have been heretofore unthinkable.

Our nation elected a president that was prepared to call into question not only a stunningly broad set of policies that had served the US well, but he was also prepared to question basic facts, science, and principles of our democracy.

And that is why the challenge for our nations, and our nations’ universities is both great and urgent.

Role of universities

So what is the way forward? We should not lose heart. During the Gilded Age, when a similar rapid change in technology, media, and demographics all converged to short-circuit our politics, our nations endured. In fact, our nations preserved and strengthened the values that have made America and Australia great.

We remained nations that ensured religious tolerance, the rule of law, free press, free minds, freedom of travel, free markets, and the free movement of capital.

Despite missteps along the way, over time we became fairer nations, more prosperous nations, and more secure nations not by abandoning our values, but by fighting for them.

So this is the challenge facing our universities as they confront their own disruption. Whatever is happening in the US will challenge every democracy and every pillar of democracy. The future is here, it just is not evenly distributed. Yet.

The only antidote to the impulse to divide and exclude, to isolate, to create barriers, and to resist the future is this.

We need to rethink education to help address the things that ail our democracies. And we must put our best minds to work to offer a vision of the future in this new economy that works for everyone.

The forces I’ve described challenge many assumptions about how we should learn, the lives and careers we should be prepared to perform, and how our economies should operate.

To successfully navigate this turn, educational institutions need to refocus on solutions that reboot our democracy, and prepare our citizens for this new economy.

Australia is already ahead of the US in many actions needed to restore and refresh democracy. Australia’s universal voting offers a model that the US should consider.

Universal voting reduces the influence of extremism and money in elections, it keeps the debate more on the issues that matter, and it forces citizens to stay more informed and engaged.

Australia already has a head start on educating citizens. In the US, free public education is guaranteed only until year 12, and civics education has been dropped from most curricula.

Today, every study shows that to be economically competitive and an effective citizen in a Western economy, you need at least 14 years of education including civics. So again, the system here in Australia is one that Western democracies need to study and adopt.

There are things that no one has solved where we all need to pioneer together. Both of our Second Industrial Revolution economies were originally designed to train people to work from ages 25 to 55 (after doing military service) in one career and generally not live past 65. The training they received prepared them for a single career that would last their full working life. This no longer works.
If the students we are training today are going to live to be 120 years old, and their careers are likely to span 90 years, but their training will only make them competitive for 10 years, then we have a problem.

We need to rethink our educational model.

We will need to increasingly train young people not just in a skill, but in how to learn, and for skills that cut across multiple disciplines. Universities may become less a way station for youth, than a life-long subscription service, with frequent retrainings.

We need to restructure information systems so that facts matter, false statements are exposed, and making false claims has real consequences. The irony of the information age is that increasingly we seem to know more, but understand less. But this can be fixed.

Imagine a world where every article is immediately fact-checked by libraries, and reviewed for accuracy and relevance by a trusted board of editors drawing on high-speed computers. Where every article has the equivalent of a yelp-rating, or is crowd-corrected Wikipedia style. Where every false and digitally altered image can be exposed through blockchain technology. Universities can do this.

After a while, just as we know which restaurants to avoid, we would know which writers and journals and articles and politicians we can’t trust.

And finally, we need to devote our best minds to answering the greatest question of the digital age.

How will we give people purpose when machines can do everything that is dull, dangerous, or determinable? What economic model works where most of the things in life can be produced sustainably at low cost through robotics? How do we develop a bright vision of the future and give them hope.

Australia and America and Europe faced a similar set of questions 100 years ago. Then the vast majority of our citizens worked agriculture jobs in family owned businesses in rural communities. Over 80% of jobs were in family farms then. What would happen when all of the kids moved to the cities? How could there possibly be enough jobs for them all, and how would America feed itself?

Today, more people are employed than ever, they have more opportunity than ever, and America has more food to export than ever. The question for our universities is to help us see the future and prepare future generations to succeed in it.

No one can say for certain yet what the future holds. But the two things we know about the new economy are that people need a purpose, and that the most prized roles for human beings will be things that only human beings can do.

So as you begin this important work, consider this as a model for the university of the future.

The greatest limits on human civilisation have always been access to water, arable land for food, a source of energy, protection from the elements, and protection from each other.

A vast portion of our economy has been focused on producing those things. But now we have ways to turn salt water and brackish water into usable water.

We have the ability to produce foods that are more nutritious and last longer requiring less land.

We have created clean and renewable sources of energy that could make any place on earth energy self-sufficient.

We can create machines that do the back-breaking monotonous work involved in most jobs.

And, for the first time in human history, we can actually visualise a world that is liberated from dull, dangerous, and determinable work, from activities that cause us stress without producing much value, and from lives extinguished before they achieved their potential.

We have the potential to liberate the workforce to do the one thing that machines can’t do – improve ourselves and the emotional lives of others.

To date, our economic models have ignored many forms of high value work. Here’s one example that I think we can all relate to.

Ultimately, every family and community depends on people who raise our children, look after ageing parents, bring food and comfort to ailing neighbour. And in most cases we don’t compensate them, or reward them, or even give them a title.

They are untrained, unsupported, and yet they are entrusted with our most challenging problem – the human condition – a son who is an addict, a brother who is abusive, a daughter who is depressed, a mother who has lost her memory.

So many people need help with the emotional and mental parts of their lives. Yet, human history has been dominated by one era after another of people simply inflicting more misery on other people, while other work is rewarded.

Massive violence, incarceration, alienation, institutionalisation are ultimately products of emotional failings. Our economies have been driven by scarcity, and our actions by irrational fear, and prejudice, and other products of our own emotional and mental limitations.

So imagine this…

Imagine a world in which our technologists work to meet the most basic human needs sustainably, and our economies are freed up to do the things that society has always neglected – resolve disputes, restore mental health, nurse, teach, imagine, explore, imagine, design, create art, and provide the human touch.

Imagine paying people as much to do this, as we currently pay for them to mine coal, or guard a prison.

Done right, the moment of doubt we face today may be the beginning of something even more profound.

We could move from an impulse to exclude and brand people to just the opposite: an economy based on human outreach and improving the human condition.

We stand together at a great human inflection point. Society will be very different in the next 100 years than it has been over the past 100 years.

Either we need to offer a vision for something better, or we cling to the past and will be left behind.

I am confident that we will rise to the occasion.

While we struggle with the impulses and politics and challenges of today, we have to keep our eye on the future.

As President John F. Kennedy said,

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present, will miss the future.”

I believe our best minds and universities can forge a new vision. One in which we produce an economy that is less violent, less wasteful, less stressful, and in which we live longer and better lives. The world as we have created it is merely a reflection of our thinking.

Change our minds, and we can change the world.

Jeffrey Bleich, Former US Ambassador to Australia; Chair of the Fulbright board; Visiting Professor and a member of the Council of Advisors at the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission).  Read the original article.

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Trump’s arrival means it’s time for Australia to review our relationship – and perhaps learn to say ‘no’

The Conversation

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is discovering the political cliché “change the government, change the country” might have bigger implications for Australia’s relationship with the United States than anticipated.

We might re-engineer the cliché to read “change the government, change its foreign policy”, and thus how America manages its relationships with friends and foes alike.

If it has not already dawned on Turnbull and his foreign policy advisers then it should have: a new American administration like no other in recent memory will require a rethink in how Australia calibrates its relations with Washington.

Not since the Gough Whitlam’s Labor government of 1972-75 has such a potentially awkward relationship existed between Australia and its principal ally, or to use another description, custodial power.

Whitlam parted company with his predecessors in his testy interactions with the Richard Nixon White House. Whitlam felt under no obligation to espouse a “pro-American” perspective on matters relating to the war in Indo-China in particular.

Many Australians found this refreshing.

While it was inevitable that a moment would arise when Australian and US interests would find themselves out of kilter, it has perhaps come more quickly than anticipated, driven by the arrival in the White House of a man untethered from principles that have guided American foreign policy for generations.

In Trump’s Inauguration speech there was one passage that should have given Turnbull and his advisers pause, even if these words might be dismissed as a rhetorical flourish:

We assembled here today are issuing anew decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only American first, America first.

He added:

Protection will lead to greater prosperity and strength.

The latter observation could hardly have been more antagonistic to the free trade principles and practice on which Australian prosperity rests, or for that matter be regarded as anything more than an affront to America’s own history.

In 1930, Congressmen, Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley sponsored legislation that raised punitive tariffs on some 900 imports, and in the process added poison to the well of slowing global trade, as The Economist put it.

Smoot and Hawley did not cause the Great Depression or add significantly to it, but the legislation represented a populist response to political anxiety.

Nearly a century later, an American president appears to hold the view that an “America first” approach – or a form of isolationism – will serve his own country’s economy well and those of its friends.

This view, even if you accept that the trade liberalisation pendulum has swung too far, is not sustainable if economic growth globally is to be nurtured.

Otherwise, disaster beckons, including a global entrenchment that will serve no-one’s interests, including America’s.

Trump’s stroke-of-a-pen end to America’s involvements in the liberalising Trade Pacific Partnership gave expression to his antagonism towards trade deals generally and spelled a pause in American leadership of a laborious process of opening markets and reducing trade barriers.

From the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariffs Trade, to the formation of the World Trade Organisation, to progress towards open markets under the Uruguay Round – alongside a plethora of bilateral trade deals – an era of liberalising trade has underpinned global prosperity.

So, the question becomes: how should the Turnbull government respond to these new circumstances in a way that serves Australia’s interests, and in an environment in which the world is in disarray? And it is likely to become more so if the early stages of an idiosyncratic Trump administration is any guide.

Policymakers need to think outside the narrow confines of what has been regarded as “America first” policy postures that have dictated Australia’s foreign policy choices, to consider what might be regarded as a less dependent relationship on our security guarantor.

None of this is an argument to weaken Australia’s commitment to the ANZUS alliance, nor our alignment with what we have always regarded as America’s better angels. But the time has come for a reassessment.

Trump’s ascendancy to power reminds us there is no such thing as permanent alliances, simply permanent interests.

Australia is not obliged to make a choice between its security in the form of its treaty arrangements with the US and its commercial interests, namely with China. But it does need to move to a position where it gives itself more flexibility in addressing its security and other challenges.

In other words, arguments for greater self-reliance – including defence preparedness – grow by the day.

How Turnbull achieves such a shift will prove a test of his diplomatic and leadership skills, and indeed his understanding of our country’s history. After relying on great and powerful friends for our security, we may be entering a new and distinct phase.

Whatever judgements might be made about the likely trajectory of a Trump administration, early days suggest that what he said on the campaign trail will guide his actions in office.

So when he talks about a form of isolationism summed up by the phrase “America First” he must be taken at his word, until demonstrated otherwise.

This poses obvious challenges for Australian policy. Do we gravitate towards the sort of world defined by Trump – with its risks of a return to a 1930’s isolationism or perhaps a form of 19th century mercantilism – or do we assert our own separation from such a worldview?

Are we seeing the end of “pax Americana”, in which the US proved to be the indispensable cornerstone of global security in the rebuilding of Europe, the containment of the Soviet Union, and a security presence in Asia post the Korean war that has enabled an extraordinary economic transformation in our own region to our advantage?

Turnbull needs to ask himself whether it is in Australia’s national interest for institutions like the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to be weakened.

Is it in Australia’s interests for there to be a confrontation between the US and China on trade, or security in the South China Sea?

Or a return to a ground war in the Middle East that would demand a larger commitment from Australia with unknowable consequences?

Lessons might have been learned from an earlier disastrous intervention.

Finally, Turnbull should resist pressure from his the right wing of his party, salivating over the arrival of an authoritarian in the White House.

Turnbull was derided over his initial response to Trump’s decision to abandon the TPP, in which he said China may wish to fill the gap as if, reflexively, he needed to fall in line with Washington.

While the TPP may be dead, Turnbull and his ministers shouldn’t be blamed for trying to keep alive an idea that would have provided a basis for a liberalising trade and investment zone in the Asia-Pacific.

Contrary to the views of its critics, the TPP was always about more than simply a trade liberalisation mechanism. It was also aimed at providing a framework for further action in counterpoint to China’s growing dominance.

Finally, Turnbull might consider the example of former Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who politely declined when he came under pressure to join George W. Bush’s cavalry in the invasion of Iraq.

Chretien, as leader of a country that shelters under a US security umbrella and is a fellow NATO member, said “no”, or “non” in his native Quebecois.

Last time we checked the sky had not fallen in for Canada.

The ConversationTony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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All hail Trump, the great transgressor!

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

Since Big Brother first exploded onto our screens in 2000 I’ve been a fan of reality TV. In 2002 I wrote a book that included a defence of the genre’s democratising impact on our culture.

Where many commentators and more than a few of my academic colleagues dismissed reality TV as dumbed-down trash pandering to the baser instincts of the mob, I preferred to regard it as a prime location for the untold, self-revelatory, often intimate stories of ordinary people.

Shows like Sylvania Waters, Driving School and Airline showed non-celebrities – “real people” – going about their business, revealing their emotional and psychological quirks, overcoming the obstacles of everyday, previously unexamined lives.

The Apprentice exemplified a particular sub-genre of reality TV, giving us a glimpse of what it was like to build a business and struggle for success in corporate life, the dynamics of team-building and peer rivalry, the hubris that brought down the blowhards and the self-regarding.

“You’re fired!” was the catchphrase of Donald Trump (and Sir Alan Sugar in the UK version). It was informative and also entertaining. Trump was good at it, bringing his tough, no-nonsense management style into our living rooms.

And if that’s where his “tell it like it is” approach had remained, we would probably be looking forward to four, maybe eight years of President Hillary Clinton. Instead, we face the ascendancy to the most powerful office on Earth of a man formerly known to most of his voters as a reality TV star.

It’s as if Kim Kardashian, or, god save us, Kanye West was suddenly running the country (Yeezus for POTUS in 2020, anyone?) – surreally shocking in a way that the elections of former film stars Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger to the presidency and the governorship of California respectively never were.

Trump presents himself as an outsider, though his reality TV celebrity means that he comes from the heart of mainstream popular culture, as well as being a fully paid-up member of the rich capitalist elite he affects to despise – one who proudly pays no taxes, has been near bankruptcy several times, and convicted for racial discrimination in his real-estate operations among other alleged ethics violations such as the Trump University scam (settled out of court in December).

The white working- and middle-class stiffs who voted for him in such numbers appear to have forgotten the latter, or to not care, while rewarding him for his readiness to say the refreshingly (for them) transgressive things he thinks they want to hear.

From the beginning of his campaign Trump deliberately transgressed the conventions and codes of political communication in America. He already had the “Birther” slander on his political CV, the mark of a racist who simply couldn’t bear the idea of a black man in the White House.

At the outset of his campaign he proposed his wall on the Mexican border, and insulted that nation with crude stereotypes. He expressed racist views about a judge who was handling one of the many legal actions against him because the man had Mexican roots.

He promised to ban all Muslims from entering the US until “we’ve figured out what’s going on” with Islamic State – a pledge now downsized to include only those Muslims who come from countries with a history of terrorism. Will that include France and Belgium, one wonders? Or Australia? Or the UK? All of those countries have produced homegrown Islamists who have fought and killed for IS.

None of that put off the people who would eventually vote for him. He famously mocked a disabled reporter in front of a huge rally of baying supporters. It only made them love him more.

As did the release of the recording in which he observes that when you’re famous – and you got the sense listening to that tape that he was talking from experience – you could “grope” women’s “pussies” with impunity. The man actually boasted about how easy it was for people like him to commit what most people would regard as sexual assault.

He ran beauty pageants, and it seems reasonable to speculate that he would have enjoyed groping a few of the competitors along the way, when he was not insulting them for their body shape or attitude. Miss Piggy and Miss Housekeeping were his names for Alicia Machado, Miss Universe in 1996 when Trump took over the franchise. Apparently she ate too much.

In one televised debate he obliquely referred to a female journalist’s menstrual cycle, and routine misogyny has been a key element of Trump’s transgressive pitch. He “loves” women, he insists. You can imagine him joshing to his alpha male mates – why else would he marry and grope so many of them?

He invited the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails (and they did), and praised the sound management skills of dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and Rodrigo Duterte.

In the past, the merest hint of a candidate’s admiration for the Russian Bear or Saddam would have killed a campaign stone dead. Not Trump’s.

Having spent a century denouncing the USSR and Russia as the existential enemy par excellence, the American political system and public were now embracing a man who actively favoured Putin over his own president – the same Barack Obama who Trump regarded as an imposter in the White House.

Not one of these transgressions made the slightest dent in his image, or slowed his rise. On the contrary, his supporters recognised a kindred spirit. Hell yes! Pussy groping, disability-mocking, casual racism and sexism, joking about getting away with shooting people in the street because you’re so popular – that was the American way, and after eight years of a black man running the show and spoiling their fun it was time to remind the world who’s boss.

Trump’s transgressions were not gaffes of the type that sunk Gary Hart in 1988 or Gerald Ford in 1974, but delivered with a skillful eye for the attention they would attract in the news media. He succeeded in setting the 2016 news agenda way beyond his wildest dreams.

It’s reliably reported that neither he, nor his campaign team, seriously thought they could win the presidency when the race started, but so hopeless were his 16 competitors in the GOP camp that he was able to take the nomination and go on to challenge Clinton – one of the “nasty women” he despised so much.

Clinton had her vulnerabilities too, and Trump skilfully exploited them, which is what we expect in a political campaign. But he transgressed by calling on the Russians to assist, and by – it is alleged, and currently under investigation by the US intelligence agencies – actually conspiring with Putin’s security services to damage the Clinton campaign.

Which brings us to the Buzzfeed dossier, of which the most exotic if not politically significant feature is the assertion that Trump was videoed while in Russia engaging in “perverted” sex acts with prostitutes.

Let’s tell it like it is, in the spirit of The Donald. He is alleged by a Russian source in correspondence with a senior former MI6 operative, regarded by the CIA as credible enough for the dossier to have been passed to Obama, to have employed prostitutes to piss on a hotel bed previously slept in by Barack and Michelle Obama.

It is further alleged in the unverified dossier that, as a result of this and other sexual transgressions recorded on videotape, Trump is vulnerable to blackmail in his dealings with Russia.

This may or may not be true, and we may never know now that Trump himself is in charge of the US security apparatus, but the mere fact that we regard it as even possible in the context of a US president is, when you think about it, the most transgressive thing of all. Bill Clinton was Slick Willie, but at least the Monica Lewinsky affair happened in the security of the White House, and he came close to impeachment for lying about “not having sex with that woman”.

Trump’s alleged transgression was only exposed after the election, and despite the implications for US and global security – if the allegations of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the FSB to distort the US political process are true, Trump would be guilty of treason – it does not seem to have seriously disrupted the transition.

Neither his voters, nor the great of majority of Republicans in Congress, seem the slightest bit worried that their man in the Oval Office could be a Russian stooge with a taste for golden showers. So deep is their hatred of the “liberal elite”, political correctness and all the other bogeymen of their nightmares that they seem able to let the scandal and the sleaziness wash over them.

And that means, alas, that those who think Trump will settle into a more conventional presidency, constrained by wiser heads like Rex Tillerson or Mad Dog Mattis – Mad Dog being the voice of moderate reason in this administration – are deluding themselves.

There is no precedent for the Trump presidency in modern times, and no limit to where he can go from here. He has transgressed and broken taboos all the way to the White House, and been rewarded.

He will continue to smash political conventions built over decades and centuries, using Twitter to goad and mobilise his supporters as required, attacking the free and independent media as well as dissenters in general, embracing murderous dictators and corrupt capitalists all over the world where he has business interests.

He will start a dynasty, and use the venerable office he now occupies to boost family members and businesses, friends and cronies. No-one seriously doubts that, and no-one in the GOP except for John McCain and a few sidelined others can be relied upon to stand against it.

For Trump, transgression has worked as a campaign strategy, and he can be expected to pursue a similar approach to governance, as in his recent comments about the EU and Germany. Until he fails, and fails so badly that no amount of scapegoating muslims or liberals can cover it up, America is his to do with what he will.

His transgressions will shift the culture and may even become mainstream, so that the kinds of racist and sexist discourse we have spent decades erasing from public view will again be respectable. The new culture of unapologetic bigotry and bullying will spread. Political success in a volatile ideological market place drives imitation.

In Australia Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will have a go at emulating Trump. In the UK, Nigel Farage is hovering menacingly. In France, Marine Le Pen could easily become president of the republic, and so on.

All over the world, hitherto marginal figures who share Trump’s contempt for fact-based rationality and informed policy making, good manners and basic civility will be jumping on the populist bandwagon.

Some media organisations will strive to maintain critical scrutiny over the Trump administration, others will become cheerleaders and propagandists such as Sean Hannity on Fox News. No-one can assume that in this atmosphere what we still call “liberal” democracy will survive.

If the democracy we have built in so many places around the world since 1945 is to outlast one or perhaps two Trump terms, all who reject the political philosophy of the strongman and the bully must prepare to counter it, in their private lives and public utterances.

They should do so in the knowledge that Trump is a minority president, defeated in the popular vote, the perverse product of a dysfunctional political and media system which for too long treated him as an absurd novelty and then, having given him the opening, had no means of preventing his rise.

He won by the rules, though if the dirty dossier is even a bit accurate, he did not play fair. We must remember that when his supporters start demanding “respect” for the office, and for Trump himself.

For a president who has transgressed so many of the conventions which make our democracies civilised and decent, respect is not an entitlement. It must be earned.

So come on Donald, prove yourself fit to be president, and prove us sceptics wrong.

If in four years time the American and global economy are just as strong or stronger than Obama helped make them; if the Chinese and the Russians have been dissuaded from their expansionist and illegal activities in the South China Sea and eastern Europe; if the progressive sexual politics and multiculturalism of the past decades have not been reversed; and if Islamic jihad has indeed been defeated as you assert only you can do – then you’ll have my respect.

I’ll even eat my Make America Great Again hat.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission).  Read the original article.

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Two cheers for Barack Obama

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Barack Obama’s presidency was always bound to be something of a disappointment. Few presidents can have entered office with such great expectations, not least because of what went before him.

Indeed, when we try to make sense of the significance of Obama’s term in office, we need to remember the truly appalling legacy he inherited from his predecessor.

Not only did George W Bush begin an entirely unnecessary and disastrous conflict in the Middle East – the consequences of which continue to destabilise the region to this day – but he also helped trigger a major economic crisis that threatened to bring down the international banking system.

The massive spending – and deficits – required by Bush’s ruinously expensive war in Iraq contributed to America’s economic problems. But the efforts of the Bush administration to wind back a painstakingly constructed, largely effective, regulatory framework that exercised some degree of control over the banking system and its self-destructive pathologies was another entirely avoidable incidence of self-harm on an epic scale.

The first thing Obama had to do on taking office, therefore, was to stop the international financial sector from falling off a cliff and prevent icons of American manufacturing like General Motors from going bust.

The fact that the sky didn’t fall in tends to be forgotten or wilfully ignored by Obama’s growing army of critics. If he did nothing else, though, staving off the world’s second Great Depression looks pretty good on the CV.

He might have done much more if he hadn’t been so initially bogged down with cleaning up someone else’s mess, not to mention dealing with a hostile, ideologically recalcitrant Congress that remained implacably opposed to everything he did. Whatever else the Trump presidency has to deal with, the domestic institutional roadblocks should be easier to navigate.

That Obama managed to get his signature healthcare reforms through Congress is a minor miracle, although one that is likely to rapidly dismantled on ideological grounds – not to mention the fact that “big pharma” will be enthusiastically backing its repeal.

Bizarrely, some of the people who actually benefit most from Obamacare – poor, white and working class – are also the most hostile to Obama and his “socialist” policies.

It is testimony to just how difficult it is to have a rational, much less an informed, debate about key elements of public policy in the US that such counter-intuitive outcomes are possible.

It is not necessary to be a conspiracy theorist or even a critical Marxist to recognise that there’s something odd, rather sad and deeply troubling about people voting against people and policies from which they might have been the principal beneficiaries.

Sadly, the domestic agenda, disappointing as it has been in many ways, was arguably Obama’s strong suit.

Critics argue that procrastination and an unwillingness to use America’s undoubted military might decisively has made the situation in the Middle East even worse. Red lines were crossed by the likes of Bashar al-Assad with no consequences, something that encouraged Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping to test America’s commitment to maintaining its primacy, the arguments go.

Perhaps so. And yet, “don’t do stupid stuff” is not the worst strategic doctrine the world has ever seen. Indeed, when contrasted with Bush in particular, it looks entirely reasonable and in keeping with a highly complex and unstable international order that defies quick fixes.

More pointedly, we actually know what happens when American administrations are determined to do stupid stuff, no matter how implausible such a strategy may be.

If we’ve collectively learned anything over the course of the last few decades – indeed, the last few millennia – it ought to be that wars are a lot easier to start than they are to finish. They generally don’t have happy endings either.

Perhaps a few carefully calibrated surgical strikes would have made a difference in Syria, but the record of American intervention over recent years is not encouraging. The motto “if you break it you own it” is worth keeping in mind.

We will soon have the opportunity to compare and contrast Obama’s presidency with someone who is altogether more impulsive and apparently determined to act decisively.

Whether the Hulk is preferable to Hamlet we shall have to wait and see. But that we came through one of the more troubled periods in recent history more or less in one piece is perhaps as much as “we” – privileged denizens of what’s left of the Western world – can hope for.

Donald Trump may rapidly discover that there are no tweet-sized solutions to the world’s problems. Winston Churchill’s famous aphorism may prove alarmingly prescient:

Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Obama’s great attribute was that he recognised in advance how dangerous and counterproductive certain actions could be. There is absolutely no guarantee that his successor does. The Obama presidency may yet go down as a relatively sane and sober period bookended by the two worst presidents in American history.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Rex Tillerson and the new transnational oligarchy

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

If it weren’t quite so serious it would be funny. A man who styles himself as a champion of the common people, who he claims have been shamefully neglected by out-of-touch, uncaring elites, plans to stuff his cabinet with billionaires.

The nomination of Rex Tillerson, chief executive of ExxonMobil, as America’s next secretary of state is the culmination of an alarming pattern that threatens to overturn the postwar international order and entrench an unelected oligarchy with no record of – or obvious interest in – public service.

Even those of us who feared the worst from a Trump presidency have been astounded by a series of changes that for once merit the adjective seismic. At least Tillerson, whose name is only familiar to those who read the business section of the papers, is not a former general. Trump’s first cabinet will look slightly less like a military junta as a consequence.

Tillerson has no experience of international diplomacy of the conventional sort. This is not to say he’s not well-connected, though. Among his friends and business associates is none other than Vladimir Putin. Given the CIA thinks Russian skullduggery tried to influence the recent US election, one might think this would immediately disqualify Tillerson for this office – or any other government position for that matter.

Perhaps it will. Even some prominent Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio have cast doubts on his qualifications and credibility, so it’s possible Tillerson won’t get through what is likely to be a bruising confirmation hearing.

But, then again, he just might. No-one thought Donald Trump would become president, after all, so why should we be surprised if another “decisive dealmaker with unparalleled business experience” becomes America’s foreign minister? Trump has done his bit by dismissing criticism of Russia and suggesting the CIA is partisan and incompetent.

Without wanting to sound too alarmist and conspiratorial – although what passes for political reality these days needs little embellishment in that regard – are we about to see a remarkable coming together of transnational business interests?

This may not be as fanciful as it might seem. Tillerson already has a well-established and mutually beneficial business relationship with the Russian government. His putative boss has extensive global business interests, which he is likely to “leverage” via the presidency.

Call me old-fashioned, but this is starting to look a bit like the emergence of what the Marxists used to call a global ruling class.

The great irony of the Trump presidency may be to unambiguously confirm what some of us have long suspected: that global elites have far more in common with each other than they do with the people of the countries they come from and sometimes claim to represent. It is striking that Xi Jinping is off to Davos to hobnob with the global plutocracy for the first time next year, for example.

This is not so surprising. The billionaires who make up China’s rising capitalist class also have more in common with their counterparts in the West – their membership of the Communist Party notwithstanding. The sort of “transactional approach” to international politics that team Trump seems to be intent on developing might suit China’s authoritarian oligarchs just as well as it does Russia’s.

This might give ideas about the pacifying impact of economic interdependence a real shot in the arm, but not in the way we imagined. Why would global elites want to go to war when they can come to some sort of mutually agreeable – and enriching – deal?

The other great potential advantage of the Trump presidency from the perspective of global business elites is that a little authoritarian transnational co-operation might be able to put a stop to all this endless bleating about human rights and democracy. Surely Trump can make a deal with the Chinese over the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong, too, for that matter?

Fanciful and absurd, right? I certainly hope so.

And yet when democracy is in retreat or under intense pressure around the world, and when the incoming US government shows little interest in providing leadership, much less a plausible role model for the rest of the world, even the improbable needs to be considered.

The absence of democracy is no impediment to economic development and wealth creation, as China so vividly demonstrates. Dealing effectively with unpleasant autocrats with no respect for human rights may not be so difficult with practical types like Trump and Tillerson in charge.

After all, if you can’t beat them …

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Trump’s America: the irresponsible stakeholder?

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

How times change. A decade or so ago, former World Bank president and deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick suggested to China that it needed to become a “responsible stakeholder”. Even at the time this advice looked slightly condescending and patronising. Now it looks bizarrely out of kilter with a rapidly evolving international order.

In the twilight of the Obama administration, Xi Jinping is the most important leader at the current APEC summit in Peru. His keynote speech in support of trade liberalisation means he is also the current standard-bearer for continuing economic integration and the sorts of institutions that are supposed to facilitate it.

Until recently the conventional wisdom had it that only the benign dominance of the US could underpin the sort of rules-based system that is thought to distinguish an effective international order. The imminent inauguration of Donald Trump threatens to permanently overturn such assumptions, not to mention the international status quo itself.

Not only is Trump seemingly no admirer of the existing array of international institutions, but his actions and mooted policies are also likely to fatally undermine whatever remains of American authority and soft power. China, on the other hand, may be about to start playing the sort of stabilising role as a “good international citizen” that many believed a uniquely American responsibility.

In one of the more striking manifestations of this role reversal, China has urged the putative Trump administration to honour its Paris Accord commitments to climate change mitigation. The fact that it is almost certain that a pro-fossil-fuel Trump administration almost certainly won’t is less significant – in the short term, at least – than the fact that China probably will.

China may be assuming the role as defender of the prevailing international order. This is not only a remarkable transformation in the roles of the US and China, but it also poses challenges for their respective friends and possible foes alike. The key question for the countries of East Asia generally and Australia in particular is: which of the rival great powers is most likely to actually preserve the existing international order on which they have come to rely?

Given the procession of Southeast Asian leaders making their way to Beijing to pay their respects, it is clear which way some regional leaders think the winds of diplomatic influence are blowing. Plainly, some of Asia’s more authoritarian regimes may have compelling short-term reasons to favour a more politically and ideologically accommodating China over the US.

China’s evident goal of reassuming its historically dominant role in East Asia may be dramatically accelerated by a Trump presidency. A paradoxical outcome, perhaps, but less surprising and outlandish than it may seem to some in Australia and the US.

On the contrary, it has been persuasively argued that when China has been strong the region of which it is the most important part has generally been stable. Only when China has been weak has the region descended into turmoil.

If this idea holds true for the contemporary era the implication is equally clear and potentially discomfiting for policymakers in Canberra: the rise of China may not be as destabilising for the region as some – especially in the US – claim. China might even provide the sort of stability that was formerly associated with the US – despite the latter’s prominent role in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Indeed, it is important to remember – as many in China do – that China’s geopolitical track record compares rather favourably with that of the US. Historically it hasn’t been an expansionary power and it has been involved in far fewer recent wars than America has.

None of this is cause for complacency, as China’s actions in the South China Sea remind us. But if the countries most directly affected by China’s assertive policies are apparently shifting their positions and possibly even their alliances, this could make high-profile strategic gestures from Australia ineffective and contrary to our notional national interest.

More importantly from an Australian perspective, if China really does begin to underpin rather than undermine the existing regional order it might actually be in Australia’s interest not to oppose Chinese diplomacy quite so vigorously.

Such a proposition is an unthinkable heresy for most of Australia’s strategic and policymaking elites. But why would Australia want to uncritically align itself with a foreign power that may, by intention or neglect, undermine the current international order? It really does make a difference who is in power in other countries, even those upon which we have come to depend so heavily.

Precisely the same logic applies to China, too. Xi Jinping is an increasingly assertive and authoritarian figure who is directly implicated in China’s recent strategic policies.

All the more reason, therefore, that Australian policymakers should attempt to develop genuinely independent positions on critical issues, such as the growing tensions in the South China Sea or the role of the international institutions that attempt to maintain strategic stability and economic openness.

The region and the world are changing rapidly. Policy ought to reflect contemporary geopolitical realities, not anachronistic shibboleths. As Keynes famously observed, when the facts change we may need to change our minds, too – however difficult that may be for some of our leaders and policymakers.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

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Nick Cohen pins some blame for Trump’s election on the Regressive Left

Why Evolution Is True

Several commenters on the Internet have blamed the Regressive Left (RL), for contributing to Trump’s victory, asserting that working-class whites, who were Trump’s major supporters, were turned off by the identity politics of liberal young people and Regressive Leftists. This thesis appeals to me because I despise the RL’s hypocrisy and arrogance and would love for Trump’s victory to have one salubrious effect—that of dissolving the RL. But as a scientist and skeptic, I am wary of supporting theses that emotionally appeal to me, and I’ve always doubted whether white working-class Americans even read anything by RLs, including feminists and liberals who support oppressive Muslim ideology.

Yet the RL-created-Trump idea is adumbrated by the estimable Nick Cohen in this week’s Guardian, in a piece called “If liberals want to stop the right winning, we must change.” He first blames Democrats in general for running a poor candidate, one who didn’t…

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Five things that explain Donald Trump’s stunning presidential election victory

The Conversation

Anthony J. Gaughan, Drake University

A populist wave that began with Brexit in June reached the United States in stunning fashion on Tuesday night. In one of the biggest upsets in American political history, Donald Trump won a truly historic victory in the U.S. presidential election.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/EWT0e/9/

Trump’s remarkably decisive win stunned most political pundits, myself included. Throughout the campaign, Trump seemed to have a polling ceiling of about 44 percent and he consistently had the highest unfavorability rating of any major party nominee in history. Accordingly, months ago I predicted that Clinton would easily beat Trump.

Then, at the beginning of October, the uproar over Trump’s lewd and offensive remarks on the “Access Hollywood” videotape, combined with the escalating number of women who accused Trump of sexual assault, seemed to finish off his campaign. Right up until Tuesday afternoon, therefore, a comfortable victory for Clinton seemed like a foregone conclusion.

But I was dead wrong. Trump won a sweeping victory in the presidential race. His night began with critical victories in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, three states essential to his path to 270 electoral votes. As the night wore on, Clinton’s “blue wall” collapsed amid a red tide that swept across the country from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains. The blue states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa fell to Trump like dominoes. The election returns made clear that Trump would carry over 300 electoral votes, more than enough to win the presidency.

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It’s extremely early to draw conclusions about the 2016 election results, but here are five factors that at least partially explain what happened.

1. Silent Trump vote

There really was a silent Trump vote that the polls failed to pick up on. The nationwide polling average gave Clinton about a 3-point lead overall, and the state-by-state polls indicated that she would win at least 300 electoral votes.

But the polls were as wrong as the pundits. Problems with the polls’ methodologies will undoubtedly be identified in the days and weeks ahead.

It seems equally reasonable to conclude that many Trump voters kept their intentions to themselves and refused to cooperate with the pollsters.

The extraordinary role of FBI Director James Comey in the presidential campaign cannot be underestimated either. Two weeks ago Clinton seemed on the verge of winning a double-digit victory. But Comey’s Oct. 28 letter to Congress, which announced that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s State Department emails, changed the momentum of the race. Clinton retook the polling lead at the end of last week, but the final polls masked the lasting damage that the Comey letter had done to her campaign.

Whatever the ultimate explanation for the polls’ failure to predict the election’s outcome, the future of the polling industry is in question after Tuesday. Trump’s astounding victory demonstrated that the polls simply cannot be trusted.

2. Celebrity beat organization

A longstanding assumption of political campaigns is that a first-rate “Get out the Vote” organization is indispensable. The conventional wisdom in 2016 thus held that Trump’s lack of a grassroots organization was a huge liability for his campaign.

But as it turned out, he didn’t need an organization. Trump has been in the public eye for over 30 years, which meant that he entered the race with nearly 100 percent name recognition. Trump’s longstanding status as a celebrity enabled him to garner relentless media attention from the moment he entered the race. One study found that by May 2016 Trump had received the equivalent of US$3 billion in free advertising from the media coverage his campaign commanded. Trump seemed to intuitively understand that the controversial things he said on the campaign trail captured the voters’ attention in a way that serious policy speeches never could.

Most important of all, he had highly motivated voters. Trump’s populist rhetoric and open contempt for civility and basic standards of decency enabled him to connect with the Republican base like no candidate since Ronald Reagan. Trump didn’t play by the normal rules of politics, and his voters loved him for it.

Trump’s victory would seem to herald a new era of celebrity politicians. He showed that a charismatic media-savvy outsider has significant advantages over traditional politicians and conventional political organizations in the internet age. In the future, we may see many more unconventional politicians in the Trump mold.

3. Populist revolt against immigration and trade

It will take days to sort through the data to figure out what issues resonated mostly deeply with Trump’s base.

But immigration and trade seem virtually certain to be at the top of the list. Trump bet his whole campaign on the idea that popular hostility to liberal immigration and free trade policies would propel him to the White House.

From the beginning to the end of his campaign, he returned time and again to those two cornerstone issues. In his announcement speech, he promised to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants. He also pledged to tear up free trade agreements and bring back manufacturing jobs. From day one, he made xenophobic and nationalistic policies the centerpiece of his campaign.

Critics rightfully condemned his vicious attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, but Trump clearly understood that hostility toward immigration and globalization ran deep among a critical mass of American voters.

His decision to focus on immigration and trade paid off in spades on Election Day. It’s no coincidence that Trump did exceptionally well in the traditionally blue states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all of which have large populations of white working-class voters. Previous Republican nominees such as John McCain, who embraced generous immigration policies, and Mitt Romney, who advocated free trade, never managed to connect with blue-collar voters in the Great Lakes region.

But Trump’s anti-immigration and protectionist trade policies gave him a unique opening with white working-class voters, and he made the most of it.

4. Outsiders against insiders

Trump will be the first president without elective office experience since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. Eisenhower, however, served as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II and had unrivaled expertise in foreign affairs.

So how did Trump make his lack of government experience an asset in the campaign?

The answer lay in the intense and widespread public hostility to the political, media and business establishments that lead the country. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low and a majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.. The angry and volatile public mood made 2016 the ultimate change election.

Amid such a potent anti-establishment spirit, Trump’s vulgar, intemperate and unorthodox style struck voters as far more genuine than the highly cautious and controlled Hillary Clinton. As the brash and unpredictable Trump positioned himself as an agent of change, Clinton seemed like the establishment’s candidate, an impression that proved fatal to her campaign. Indeed, Trump used Clinton’s deep experience in the White House, Senate and State Department against her by citing it as evidence that she represented the status quo.

Ironically, Bill Clinton won the White House 24 years ago using a similar anti-establishment strategy. In the 1992 election, he successfully depicted incumbent President George H. W. Bush as an out-of-touch elitist. Eight years later Bush’s son, George W. Bush, employed the same tactic to defeat Vice President Al Gore. And in 2008 Barack Obama successfully ran as an outsider against John McCain.

Trump is thus the fourth consecutive president to win the White House by running as an “outsider” candidate. That is a lesson that future presidential candidates forget at their peril.

5. America, the divided

Above all, the 2016 election made clear that America is a nation deeply divided along racial, cultural, gender and class lines.

Under normal circumstances, one would expect the new president to attempt to rally the nation behind a message of unity.

But Trump will not be a normal president. He won the White House by waging one of the most divisive and polarizing campaigns in American political history. It is entirely possible that he may choose to govern using the same strategy of divide and conquer.

In any case, Trump will soon be the most powerful person in the world. He will enter office on Jan. 20 with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, which means Republicans will dictate the nation’s policy agenda and control Supreme Court appointments for the next four years. It seems highly likely therefore that Nov. 8, 2016 will go down in the history books as a major turning point in American history.

The 2016 election defied the conventional wisdom from start to finish. It is probably a safe bet that the Trump presidency will be just as unpredictable.

The ConversationAnthony J. Gaughan, Professor of Law, Drake University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Trump’s claims of a conspiracy against him are undermining democracy

The Conversation

Stephen Harrington, Queensland University of Technology

Two months ago – in a piece I submitted to this website, but which was not published – I wrote:

As the coming months unfold, [Donald] Trump is likely to do or say something that will push him beyond a hitherto unforeseen event horizon that will almost completely break his candidacy.

And, when the post-election analyses are written, it’s looking very likely that “grab them by the pussy” will be marked as that event horizon: the point at which public (and, particularly, Republican) support moved away from him to a point of no return.

Although, as a result, many political observers around the world now seem almost certain to breathe a sigh of relief on November 8, that sense of relief might also be premature.

‘The election is going to be rigged…’

Donald Trump was never going to be a magnanimous loser. Big egos almost never enjoy a soft landing when they fall.

It’s hard to imagine a man who once disputed the outcome of the Emmy Awards would suddenly become more gracious when the stakes were raised, and when running against a female opponent.

As far back as August he was buying insurance for a potential electoral loss by telling his supporters:

I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest.

In recent days, now faced with an almost certain landslide loss, he has massively ramped-up that rhetoric.

Donald Trump’s supporters worry about the ‘rigged’ election.

When pressed during Wednesday’s third presidental debate by moderator Chris Wallace as to whether he would accept the election outcome, Trump said he’d “keep [us] in suspense”.

That may be a non-answer, but it is still an unprecedented move by a major political candidate in the US.

Why we need faith in the system

It is quite normal for people to lack faith in their political representatives or to disagree with them, even vehemently, on ideological grounds.

It is also common for politicians to claim that they have been represented unfairly. Conservative politicians, for instance, have long railed against the so-called “liberal” media. Indeed, Trump is claiming that negative coverage of his campaign is one part of big conspiracy to have Clinton elected (who, ironically, also once complained about conspiracies herself):

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It is, however, quite another thing entirely for people to feel that officials have been elevated illegally to their positions, or that the electoral apparatus itself is corrupt. For them to get that feeling from the presidential nominee of a major political party is very dangerous indeed.

Democracy rests heavily on the idea that, though we may not like those who govern, they gained that power by fair means, and there will be another opportunity to remove them from power via the same mechanism in the near future.

In order for the political system to work, we require broadly shared faith that it does work: a somewhat circuitous idea academics have called “system legitimacy”.

In healthy democracies, the vanquished play a crucial part in this by performing a display of respect for the will of the people, often in the form of a gracious concession speech. In some cases they can display extraordinary goodwill to their former rivals.

That is why Trump’s attempt to paint himself (and his supporters) as the victim of a corrupt system may be uniquely damaging, and may permanently reshape the political landscape. Because this is unprecedented, we have no idea what the long-term effects of this strategy might be.

Suggesting that the election is “rigged” creates doubt among some citizens as to whether they should even bother voting in the first place. It can intimidate those who do choose to vote, and lead some fringe groups to believe that politicians should be removed by force.

In a country that loves guns – and their open carriage – as deeply as America, it’s a potentially deadly combination.

Governing after Trump

Trump prides himself on being a political “outsider” who – unlike the “career politicians” he disparages – has not devoted his life to the political system. So, assuming he is defeated in less than three weeks, he has no investment in the ongoing stability of American democracy.

It would be my guess, therefore, that he will be content to keep his supporters in a state of permanent anger for as long as possible.

In fact, observers have suspected for some time that his ultimate goal might be to leverage that support to create his own news media outlet, which might explain why he currently has Stephen Bannon (formerly of Breitbart) and Roger Ailes (the disgraced former CEO of Fox News) working for his campaign.

A news outlet of this sort would presumably contribute even further to what I have called “a collapse of factual consensus” in recent years, in which it’s becoming almost impossible to find societal (let alone political) agreement on reality.

At the same time, existing partisan divides are getting wider and wider.

Even John McCain, the man who once built a political movement around rejecting extreme partisanship, now says that the Republican Party won’t hold hearings for any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominations. This too, as Ed Kilgore points out, is unprecedented.

Hillary Clinton will go where no woman has gone before when she becomes the president of the United States. But, if this instability and obstructionism continues, she will face challenges that no president before her has faced either.

Rupert Murdoch once called Australia “ungovernable”. But, thanks in large part to Trump’s destructive efforts, Clinton may soon find out what a truly “ungovernable” nation really looks like.

The ConversationStephen Harrington, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Clinton triumphs over a trio of Trumps

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

“People hear what they want to hear, and disregard the rest,” sang Paul Simon about America in the 1960s. The line came to me when I reflected on the varying interpretations of how these three Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debates have gone.

To me, and I’ll freely declare my personal preference for Clinton – I rooted for her in 2008, too, though Barack Obama was a worthy winner and has been a great president – she has trumped Trump in all three matches, seriously slipping up on only one occasion in four-and-a-half hours of primetime grilling.

Quite late in the third, apparently losing concentration while answering a question about the Middle East, she got her words mixed up and seemed to freeze momentarily.

I know the feeling, as someone who speaks regularly in public for a living, and I know how easily it can happen that your thoughts race ahead or behind of the words coming out of your mouth, and you frantically try to cover it by steaming nonsensically on regardless. It happened to Obama in one of the 2012 presidential debates, I seem to recall.

In the entirety of those three long, gruelling debates, despite being called a “liar”, a “nasty woman”, the enabler of a rapist and more by Trump, this was the only time she wavered. That shows strength and resilience in the face of hostile fire, and bodes well for the Clinton presidency in its dealings with bullies around the world.

Those who favour Trump, on the other hand – particularly the deplorables who pack his rallies and cheer his every threat and insult – think he did quite well. For them, the very things they love about their man were on full display. The Guardian reported after the third debate that:

Sean Ringert of Maryville, Ohio, who was wearing a shirt that proclaimed ‘keep calm and carry guns’ thought last night’s debate was Trump’s best yet.

Ringert was reported to be:

… comfortable with Trump’s unwillingness to concede the election, saying: ‘I am perfectly fine with that; it’s a great media tactic’.

This is disturbing, because Trump will not go quietly, and others will come after him with similarly fascistic beliefs, but armed with better media advisers, slicker publicity machines, more experience of how to lose and how to win elections in our hyperactive communication environment.

That’s a worry for another day, though. For now, let’s dare to celebrate a little.

I missed the live broadcast of the third debate, and watched it later. By then I’d read some commentary and spoke to a few folk whose judgement I respect who had witnessed the event in full. Trump had done well, it seemed, hitting home on a couple of points. The Guardian felt it necessary to headline an article with a question:

Who won the final presidential debate?.

I approached my recording of the debate with trepidation, therefore. Could it be that he had improved on his earlier performances, reined in his worst instincts, and persuaded some undecided voters of his fitness for office?

Nah.

In my opinion, hearing what I wanted to hear, as I perhaps was, there was no contest. This was his worst performance of the three.

He ranted and raved, throwing names and accusations around like confetti – “Buffett” this, “Clinton Foundation” that, blaming Clinton for everything that had ever gone wrong in America, blurting out immediately satirisable statements such as:

No-one respects women more than I do, no-one.

Alec Baldwin will have fun with that.

Clinton stayed calm, occasionally allowing her anger to show, but not to overwhelm her delivery. And she laced some very telling points with wit and even humour.

While Clinton was in the Situation Room with Obama, she pointed out, overseeing the demise of Osama bin Laden, Trump was on Celebrity Apprentice. The audience at home could only imagine Trump yelling “you’re fired” at some hapless publicity-seeking B-lister. She told that one twice, and I smiled both times.

While she was working to improve the lives of socially deprived black kids in the 1990s, she noted, he was being prosecuted for racial discrimination against black tenants in the management of his New York rental apartments.

While she was working hard in the Senate to secure good trade deals for America, he was using undocumented labour on his construction sites, and cheap Chinese steel imports in Trump Tower.

In the end, Trump went completely off the rails. “I’ll keep you guessing,” he pouted at debate chair Chris Wallace when asked if he would accept the result on November 8. That throwaway insult to the democratic process, and the entire 240-year history of US presidential politics, was the final evidence that he knows it’s over and doesn’t give a damn anymore.

Not for the first time in these debates, the spoilt rich kid used to getting his own way was on display, threatening to take away his ball because the game was “rigged” (and Clinton also had some fun with Trump’s history of calling foul when he loses).

While supporters like Sean Ringert will never give up on their hero, the rest of America, and the world, witnessed in this third debate the ignoble end of a bizarre and literally obscene political campaign in which much of what the official GOP candidate said was classifiable as For Adults Only.

What next? Will he and his offspring set up Trump TV? Will Clinton as president establish a Cosby-type legal process into Trump’s history of sexual assault, or his tax dodging, or his alleged links to Putin and the Russian government?

I don’t think she will, even if she could, because she is better than that and will wish to win back the less deplorable segments of the Trump base. But part of me wishes she would, not least to keep Trump fully occupied for the next four years while she continues the good work that Obama began.

I won’t have a vote in November, and like many observers around the world have watched anxiously as the Republican candidate sunk to evermore murky depths in his efforts to win, and seemed until very recently to be getting away with it.

I am much more confident after this trio of Trump performances that she rather than he will take the US forward into the difficult years ahead. Trump, as Clinton often said in the debates, and as the opinion polls now indicate, is not who America is, and that’s deeply reassuring for the rest of us.


Brian McNair is the author of Communication and Political Crisis (Peter Lang, 2016).

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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