Now that Donald Trump, Leader of the Free-with-the-truth World, has got a dodgy clean bill of health and a thumbs-up from The Drum for keeping almost all his campaign threats, nifty neo-colony, Australia, can breathe again before it blindly follows America into further military misadventure, or a disastrous war with North Korea.
We have already followed The Donald through the looking-glass into the strange, parallel world of Trump-land. It’s a Lewis Carroll-Mad-Men reality running counter to the real world; where things are not as they should be.
Our government loves it there. Totally. Coalition devotion to America and its Manipulator in Chief is so hopeless, that ABC News 24, Sunday, swoons that The Donald “swept to power” on the back of his claim that he is the “world’s greatest deal-maker”. Only the “most dishonest human beings on earth” as he once called the US press would dare suggest that that the only thing that Trump ever swept to power was his pompadour-bouffant hair-do.
The week’s airwaves ring with praise for Trump’s tax breaks for the filthy rich, his incredible medical, his business smarts; his inspirationally loyal, rusted-on “support-base”, amidst other puffery about his achievements.
The arch-bigot of intolerance is feted, even for his 38% popularity rating, the lowest on record. Means nothing. My, how his “conservative support-base” loves him raves our ABC’s Zoe Meers. The US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney helps out again with a glowing endorsement, accommodating and normalising Trump.
“Republicans love his unconventionality,” says Simon Jackman, chief executive of the pro-US US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. “Democrats and Independents detest it, are embarrassed by it.” Seriously?
ABC Idolatry is boundless. Panellists on The Drum echo RN presenters; indulge the Donald’s excesses. They dismiss his inadequacies by chuckling over how with Trump you have to “expect the unexpected”. His wholesale incompetence; his failure to be presidential in any way is lauded as some innovative, disruptive tactic.
The Disrupter in Chief thesis originates, naturally, deep in Republican think-tankards. Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy wonk to Ronald and (Just say no, Nancy) before George W. Bush, claims the president creates “unforced tumult.” His thesis neatly ignores the tumult prompted by the current Congress funding deadlock crisis.
A grateful USA marks Trump’s first anniversary as Deal-Maker-in Chief, fittingly, as the nation is mired in chaos. Lawmakers blame each other over who’s caused the government shutdown while mass demonstrations erupt in cities across the country. But look over there. See the change? Bartlett riffs on Trump the change-maker.
He has changed how presidents behave. He has changed how presidents talk. He has changed how president communicate. He has changed how presidents deal with Congress. He has changed how presidents approach the press. He has changed how presidents regard international trade. He has changed how presidents deal with foreign countries. He has changed how presidents interact with scientists. He has changed how presidents treat the agencies and departments of their own government.
It’s almost Biblical prose. Not one of Bartlett’s changes are for the better. Yet critics don’t know what they are talking about. The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Our ABC and other government megaphones rush to defend Trump from Michael Wolff’s “sloppy journalism” and the heresy of his slanderous allegations in Fire and Fury.
Donald Trump is deeply unpredictable, irrational, at times bordering on incoherent, self-obsessed in a disconcerting way, wacky, way-out Wolff concludes from what he saw and was told. Especially vivid is the contempt expressed by people around the “fucking moron” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tenderly calls Trump.
“A fucking idiot” is his bestie, super-pal, Rupert Murdoch’s frank and forthright assessment but to be fair he was talking about Trump’s contradictory, racist immigration policy which is no less conflicted than our own.
“A dope” is HR McMaster’s term of endearment while to Reince Priebus, the chief is an “idiot”. Yet the definitive portrait of the Trump presidency may go to Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic adviser who emailed for help.
It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits.
Trump threatens to sue his caricaturist, Wolff. It’s “the fake book of a mentally deranged author”. It may be the flawed work of an ambitious hack who has been over-reliant on what Steve Bannon told him, yet it matches other testimony. Tony Schwartz says it fits The Donald he knew in 1987 when he “co-wrote” The Art of the Deal.
Happily, in Australia, we are protected by a mainstream media which works hard to support the rich and powerful.
No American President in recent US history has so dramatically improved the American economy boosting pay rates, job numbers, retail sales, business investment, profits and, of course, the share market, gushes The Weekend Australian’s Robert Gottliebsen, who is clearly not constrained by reality.
The S&P 500 may be frothing but Trump is presiding over a slow but steady growth which began under Obama.
Employment growth is not inspiring. Despite the Trump hype, the nation has gained 171,000 new jobs a month in 2017, down from 187,000 in 2016 and 226,000 a month in 2015. Wages’ growth is flat.
Short of unleashing a massive stimulus package, moreover, there is little a president can do to dramatically change the US economy in a year. While it’s early days for economic credit, however Trump has done other HUGE things.
The elevation of ignorance, bigotry, shit-holery and re-inventing work as a break between golf and TV, for example, is inspiring. Of course, transformative genius doesn’t come cheap, but the essence of Trumpery is to get someone else to pick up the tab. Taxpayers have paid almost $US50 million for Trump’s 91 golf trips so far.
Why our crush on Trump? There is much more, of course- and a great deal less- to the current imposter in the Oval Office and his toxic influence on our politics than his supporters’ unctuous fawning. Trump’s far more than our CEO and Commander in Chief, an overlord to whom we must grovel with regular, reckless, self-abasement and cultural cringing. There’s anti-Thought Leader Donald’s vibe, his counter-factual zeitgeist and his gas-lighting.
Gas-lighting, Tony Schwartz, explains is “lying until you get people to doubt their own reality. And it is both frightening and disturbing”. It’s also as seductive as it is addictive. Turnbull’s government is terminally hooked. Michaelia “gaslight” Cash is a magnificent example with her defence of her role an illegal union raid.
“I can assure you that I found out about the raids as they unfolded on the television. I can also assure you that my office did not find out about the raids until after they were being conducted.”
Why raid the AWU at all? Why contact media? Employment Michaelia Cash lies to parliament about her role in an illegal raid designed to smear Bill Shorten and his former employer, along with a bit of ritual union-bashing.
Her lie is based on a farrago of lies including that the AWU broke the law. Some key details, however, deserve refreshing. The AFP errand? All the AFP were looking for was some union book-keeping, a ten-year-old receipt the AWU was not obliged by its own rules to keep for a donation to GetUp!
Had anyone from her office tipped off the media? No, she lies five times. In fact her media adviser, David De Garis, had done so. He confesses only after being outed by BuzzFeed. De Garis resigns only to quickly to be fixed up with a job as media and communications adviser with Australian Hotels Association in WA.
Amazingly, as luck would have it, only last August, De Garis was the employment minister’s chief media strategist, when Cash announced a deal to create up to 10,000 internships with the AHA. Internships enable the government to lie that it is creating employment when in fact it is running an industry subsidy. Jobs? No. Gas-lighting.
Unemployed people under 25 get an extra $200 a fortnight for doing an internship for four to 12 weeks of between 15-25 hours a week. The intern’s employer, however, gets $1,000, and does not actually pay the intern. If, after the internship they do then employ them, they get a wage subsidy of up to $10,000.
The big lie behind this work for the dole scheme is that it helps young people gain work. It won’t. Such schemes are fatally flawed as Greg Jericho notes. In fact the AHA internship merely helps an employer gain more cheap labour – in an industry where there is an abundance of under 25s already employed – in an industry which pays some of the lowest wages and which has some of the highest underemployment.
Michaelia Cash’s promotion in Turnbull’s 2018 Cabinet more than suggests that it was the PM himself who authorised the raid. Also promoted recently is gas-lighting maestro, gang-buster, Peter Dog-whistle Dutton.
“People don’t see this in NSW, in Queensland, but the reality is people are scared to go out at restaurants of a night time because they’re followed home by these gangs, home invasions, and cars are stolen,” lies Home Affairs Supremo, Peter Dutton. To blame for this state of lawlessness, is a conspiracy of soppy, soft-sentencing, civil-libertarian Victorian left-wing judges and magistrates, a mob he invents with the aid of his trusty dog-whistle.
Even if there were a crime wave in Victoria – and all the evidence shows a decline, the truth is that there is no link showing severe sentencing reduces violent crime. Successes are achieved in nations where restorative justice programmes operate but these lack political appeal to right wing politicians perversely determined, as is Donald Trump that the multi-coloured, infinitely nuanced and miraculous universe of human discourse is really only black and white. To Dutton, communication is not about complex reciprocal relationships but getting the message out.
Our government even gas-lights about gases. Federal Energy and Environment Minister, Labor Blamer Josh Frydenberg begrudgingly concedes our greenhouse gas emissions rose in the year to last June by 0.7 per cent to 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. He’s done his best to hide the bad news late in December on a busy day as he did last year. But the truth is out. Scrapping the carbon tax has backfired. Direct Action is a failure.
It’s the third year of increase, but his government will still meet its climate change goals, he claims.
Seriously? The Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program, reports that to meet Australia’s wimpy 26-28 per cent by 2030, Paris commitment, at lowest cost to the economy and other key sectors like manufacturing – electricity sector emissions would need to be cut by between 40-55 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Politicians have always lied, it’s true. But where does our government by gas-lighting draw its inspiration?
A key is to be found last May, when Turnbull first publicly paid homage to his US liege-lord, The Donald after an abusive phone call. Australia pledged to normalise an unstable, dangerous monster. Collude in his madness.
Hosted by veteran political impresario, a man who has used his newspapers ruthlessly to make or break governments or parties but who is now less influential, Rupert Murdoch, it’s a ceremony worth briefly revisiting.
On cue, our own fake leader, Turnbull, renews our oath of allegiance and feudal bondage as he toadies to Trump aboard SS Intrepid, a clapped out rust-bucket aircraft carrier-cum-museum trapped in the silt of the Hudson River, a relic of a former age of glory and a vivid warning to rust-belters that making American great again is idle, wilful, mutual, self-delusion. Never have the signs of US decline, degeneracy and corruption been more evident.
In an “amazing snub” Trump keeps our PM waiting three hours. Turnbull, who unsuccessfully contested Liberal preselection for the Division of Wentworth at a 1981 by-election and the 2001 federal election, before his success in 2004, trots out a favourite deception, the myth that he is, somehow, a late-comer to politics.
“We have backgrounds that are similar in many respects — businessmen that found our way into politics — and we’ve also got a lot of friends in common too. So it was a very, very warm, as I said, more family than formal.”
Turnbull’s sycophancy is more than fulsome praise for the most incompetent leader in US history. More than a bonding based on a lie. It sets the tone for the normalisation of The Donald, especially the condoning of his lying; aiding and abetting Trumpism; a plague of fakery; a disfiguring pox on our politics at home and abroad.
Pathological liar, Trump downplays his early rift over Turnbull wanting the U.S. to accept 1,250 refugees stranded in the Dantean inferno of Australia’s off-shore detention system, saying reports of an abusive phone call were “exaggerated” and “fake news.” Dazzled by the effulgence of the Orange Sun King, Turnbull does not demur.
Pants-on-Fire, Liar Trump dismisses any facts he doesn’t like as “fake news”. Yet, in one year, he makes 2,000 false or misleading claims of his own – more than five a day. In a single half-hour interview with the New York Times in late December, he makes 24 false assertions. This is the very definition of gas-lighting explains Schwartz.
Gas-lighting takes time and repetition to achieve success. But it’s catching. Happily, this week our media helps out Trump’s score card with breathless interviews with Trump supporters. Others will doubtless follow.
ABC RN Breakfast Fran Kelly’s stand-in, her political body double, Hamish Macdonald airs the wisdom of Nicole Martin, a pet Trump supporter he met in America in 2016 and whom he invites on regularly. Martin loves Trump for being a businessman. Turn American around economically. Keeping her safe. 9/11 is repeatedly mentioned.
Martin’s vacuous, inarticulate, endorsement of The Donald supports Richard Fording’s thesis that it’s not about education or even disaffection but that Trump voters have lower levels of knowledge about politics and less interest in using ideas to understand politics – place little premium on the ‘need for cognition’.
Barnaby Joyce’s supporters showed the same predilection at his byelection. And there’s no need for cognition for a nation to thrill to the clatter of 14,000 tonnes of shiny Whyalla steel unloading at the start of the Parkes to Narromine stretch of Barnaby’s “steel Mississippi”, the 1700km Melbourne to Brisbane $10.7 billion Inland Rail.
How dare Treasury try to tell government Barnaby’s boondoggle will lose money? Our nation is back on track.
Not everyone’s aboard but who cares? “Suck it up, ” says Joyce, who became Infrastructure and Transport Minister by shafting Darren Chester. Chester was respected for his competence.
NSW farmers fret over consultation; worry that the 307 kilometre section of the track crosses valuable crop land and volatile floodplain from Narromine to Narrabri. But Barnaby is big on vision; not listening.
An Inland Rail gravy train is all part of a forward-thinking Turnbull-Joyce infrastructure government, dedicated to nation-building, says the visionary deputy PM. As always, he is a fashion statement. He wears an arresting air-sea rescue orange outfit, pairing an ARTC Hi-Vis hard hat with soft back flap to protect himself from brain snap.
Or a thought-bubble. ARTC stands for Australia Rail Track Corporation, a government statutory body that since 1998 manages what’s left of our interstate rail since B Doubles won 96% of the nation’s east cost intercity hauling as part of a push to get rail unions out of transport. The big trucks will continue to rule.
Even ARTC and government research warns of losses. Former Nationals’ leader John Anderson’s Deloitte 2015 report says the line would deliver a net economic benefit but the expected operating revenue over 50 years would not cover the initial capital investment and the project would therefore not attract the private-sector investment required to build it. As Bernard Keane says the project’s a winner if you didn’t have to pay for its construction.
Barnaby’s iron rooster is like Snowy 2.0, a revamped, rebadged “iconic” con. Wokka Truss came up with the tag before the former Nationals’ leader and bean farmer handed over the caboose to younger buck Barnaby.
Barnaby’s reviving a 1990s pipe dream, the hobby horse of Everald Compton, a Belke-Petersen adviser and latterly seniors’ advocate; appropriately Chairman of the Longevity Forum, an outfit which is blue-printing an ageing Australia. It’s an idea which has been around for a long while – even longer than the ANZUS alliance which despite popular misconception offers only an “agreement to consult” should we need US protection.
The week shows we have more of a need to be protected from the United States – at least from Trumpism, its latest cultural export. And we need to end our love affair with The Donald before things really get out of hand. Normalising the 45th President merely feeds a monster, a mistake we could all live to regret.
Gas-lighting, in particular, has no place in our politics any more than Barnaby’s inland rail, a boondoggle which is nothing to do with transport and everything to do with pork barrel politics, another gravy train we can ill-afford.
Similarly we cannot afford to subsidise outfits like the AHA who raise false hopes in the vulnerable, by offering rip-off internships when what young people need are real jobs, secure jobs, that offer a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Not McJobs or rip-offs. Grovelling to the United States is not only demeaning it will do us great harm.
Gas-lighting: The term comes from the classic 1944 psychological thriller “Gaslight,” in which a husband (played by Charles Boyer) manipulates a gaslight to dim and brighten alternately, while insisting to his wife (Ingrid Bergman) that it’s steady — the first of a whole series of deceptions intended to undermine her sanity, so that he can have her committed to a mental institution and claim her inheritance.