There’s a serious misunderstanding of the intentions of many Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson voters.
Focus groups consistently show that a significant slab of them do not actively support the policies of their candidate, nor do they particularly want them to win. What many supporters seek is a shake-up of the cosy and narrow focus of Washington and Canberra, and they are using candidates like Trump and Hanson as grenades to help achieve it.
Society is changing much faster than the political establishment.
Globalisation ultimately is making our world more efficient and equitable, although there are — not unnaturally — some pot holes on this path. Productivity can bring freedom from labour, but its distribution is unfair, and adjustment takes society a while to work through.
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Former First World “haves” must learn to have comparatively less, or there will be trouble.
Former Third World “have-nots” must learn to have, which can be almost as ugly, but in time this leads to greater expectations of free choice and demand for democracy and the separation of powers. This, in turn, reduces corruption, oppression and abuse of power, while increasing transparency, safety and fairness.
Eventually, this helps lift both global productivity and human happiness.
Global thinking means looking for the best value, so in a world where $100 a month is the average wage, $1000 a month defines the top 10% and $70,000 a year makes someone part of a one in 1000 elite, an Australia manufacturing worker earning more than that is an endangered species. That’s why manufacturing in Australia has tumbled from 26% of gross domestic product to about 7% in not much more than quarter of a century.
While we First World countries are importing poverty and exporting our manufacturing jobs, poorer countries export poverty, which has fallen an astonishing 80% in 40 years — arguably one of the greatest achievements in human history.
[Keane: thanks to the unions, old-timey protectionism is back in fashion]
At the other end of the scale the rich are getting richer. The new rich are the global class of owners, less tied to country than ever before. Just 85 of them control the same discretionary income as the poorest half of the world population. In America just two, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, control as much disposable money as the poorest 40%, despite having given much of their respective fortunes away.
While both rich and poor win, someone must lose — and today it’s the turn of the First World low-skilled worker and their dependents. As their work, hope and expectations are exported, society changes; there’s an evaporation of average.
Many sacked workers crawling from the wreckage of the car crash of the unsubsidised part of the Australian manufacturing sector have found themselves unable to get employed again. This has washed through communities causing stress and family break ups, with kids of single-parent families having a 40% chance of being below the poverty line.
Our ethnic mix has changed, and is a hi-viz target for scapegoating loss of advantage or missing opportunity.
With rich and poor both richer but the First World manufacturing-dependent middle getting relatively less prosperous, both exclusive and mass market products boom in Western countries, while mid-market products collapse.
There are waiting lists for $20,000 Hermes handbags, and $3 Primark bags sell out in huge volumes while mid-range bags remain glued to store shelves. Prada and it’s obverse, Zara, continue to grow, while department stores shrink. Porsche has just trebled profits in Australia, Hyundai booms but Holden and Ford are closing.
It’s the evaporation of average.
As hope for this abandoned sector diminishes, within it lawlessness and drug abuse increases. Gang-related violence within disaffected groups is at record highs, as is use of ice and other cheap, powerful mechanisms to escape from impossible expectations.
Poor income partners poor diet and poor health. Body shapes are changing and rather than the old cliche of “fat and rich”, corpulence is now linked to the underprivileged. Cheap and convenient fast foods and the sugar additives in bad diets have made obesity three times more prevalent than it was just a few decades ago, and it is a precursor to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and more.
There may well be a correlation with poor education outcomes too, thus a handbrake on opportunity for the children of society’s losers.
Political parties around the world have failed to keep pace with this changing society.
Free trade agreements are misunderstood and quite sensibly resented by losers in the scheme. Grand gestural decisions on issues like refugee policy are made that have no practical consequence for those in the First Class seats, while some in economy feel them in tangible ways.
When Angela Merkel let in a million refugees into Germany recently it showed global compassion and perhaps some symbolic atonement for atrocities three quarters of a century ago.
But Merkel isn’t the woman worried about the gang next door; she’s not scared of having her shop robbed at knife point, being sexually assaulted, or getting her car stolen by culturally misaligned kids now liberated and naturally opportunistic within Western ideology; that’s happening sporadically back in the shabby bit of the economy cabin, but being greatly amplified by a sensation-hungry media.
[Rundle: a party foul as Trump supporters watch their hero fall off a cliff]
Beyond this, many more traditional voters feel governments have lost control of expenditure. They believe that you should only spend what you have, so the $100 million per day incremental debt minimum that both major parties have been running up for years here in Australia seems grossly irresponsible, and the “debt is OK” or “our debt is small relative to other Western nations” arguments trotted out by commentators don’t wash.
Increasingly, the affected or concerned led, believe their leaders are unaffected and unconcerned and have lost empathy and connection. As classes within Western society slowly decouple, cries for help find form in Donald Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, record-low primary votes for mainstream parties, Senate fragmentation, Pauline Hanson and others of her ilk.
Disillusionment with the major political parties has resulted in them recording their lowest ever primary votes, with the spill going to parties that offer a degree of empathy, a vehicle for protest or even the prospect of change.
A call for transformation represents opportunity, and Donald Trump is one of many candidates who has seized on it, albeit through the vehicle of the Republican Party.
Parties still operate in much the same way they did in the middle of last century, but if they continue to fail to change, they’ll go the way of fixed-line phones and department stores.
Clinton seems highly likely to win the presidency of the United States, or, more accurately, Trump appears destined to lose it. Ironically, however, many of Trump’s supporters may get exactly what they voted for: not a Trump victory, but a destabilisation and longer term reinvention of the Republicans, thus the broader political class.
And if so, what that really means is that, despite short-term apprehensions, our democracy may very well be in better shape than we imagine.
*Toby Ralph is a marketer and board director who has been involved in nearly 50 elections worldwide.