As Donald Trump was threatening to steal the election yesterday evening, former prime minister Kevin Rudd was pinning the blame for the great American unraveling on another old white man: Rupert Murdoch
“In creating two warring states in America, our friend Rupert has had a big role to play in that,” Rudd told an exclusive talk for Crikey subscribers.
An election that should have been a Democratic landslide had turned into an anxious nail-biter. For Rudd, a big part of Trump’s enduring appeal, despite his disastrous management of everything his presidency has touched, lies in America’s descent into a nation of hyper-partisan warring tribes. And he believes a lot of the blame for that lies with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.
Fox has created an “echo chamber of disgruntled far-right populism”. It’s helped harden the profound dislocation of life in a late-capitalist hellscape into anger and resentment against external enemies. And when Trump gives people a target for that rage, they flock to him.
Seven years after News Corp helped kick him out, Rudd gets something about politics which a lot of pundits and pollsters miss — that regular voters aren’t always driven by a careful deliberation of policies, but rather baser, arbitrary emotion.
And there, Rudd says, lies the success of the modern demagogic right. They’ve been able to “mobilise the emotional neuroscience of fear, anxiety and hatred”, creating a politics built around nationalism and pride.
Meanwhile, the left’s attempts to fight this, with Obama-esque platitudes about hope and opportunity are falling flat.
“It’s like entering a street fight in Brooklyn in 1962 with a pocket-knife.”
Rudd is arming up in his own way. He is, in his own words, “still from Queensland and still here to help”. In his sights is News Corp. Hours after speaking to us, his petition calling for a royal commission into the Murdoch empire reached half a million signatures, more than any other in Australian history.
Rudd says its tremendous success is a sign more people outside the media-political bubble are recognising the extent of News Corp’s malevolent influence. And even if it goes nowhere in parliament, that shift in the conversation is important. He foresees growing opposition to News Corp among Labor’s grassroots, as well as the possibility of shareholder action and financial divestment against the company.
Of course, at the end of the day, Rudd needs progressive politicians to fight the crusade too. And as he himself concedes, many are terrified of Murdoch. He should know, having kissed the ring himself before the 2007 election.
Rudd is unapologetic. He said News Corp was a different beast then, one which would, occasionally, give the ALP a fair hearing. Now things are different.
“They’ll seek to destroy you, disembowel you and then defenestrate your remains,” he said.
The silver lining to that is that a current Labor leader simply has nothing to lose. They should fight back, Rudd says. In fact, it’s essential that they do.
The left needs more than just platitudes to beat back the deeply emotional siren call luring the old working class to the reactionary right, he tells us. That means getting a hell of a lot more bold. And boldness begins with knowing your enemy.