With Trump ahead in the polls, a test looms for Dutton’s Liberal Party
Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Within a fortnight, Anthony Albanese met with the presidents of both China and the United States. This week, those two presidents will meet with each other. All of this requires great diplomacy – both subtle and unsubtle – and flattery on all sides.
Still, there has never been any doubt where Australia’s sentiment lies. Australians tend both to believe in democracy and support our historical alliance with America – a comfortable combination, as those beliefs have tended to go hand in hand. It is, however, worth considering news from America this past week.
Illustration by Jim PavlidisCredit:
Three new polls on the presidential election came out. Each looked at a set of swing states: those likely to decide the vote. Bloomberg News/Morning Consult found Donald Trump ahead in six of seven states. New York Times/Siena College found Trump ahead in five of six states. Emerson College Polling found Trump ahead in five of six states. The numbers differ a little, some are within the margin of error, the prosecutions of Trump may yet have a large effect, and the election is a while away. Overall, though, they make the point: there is a significant chance that, a little under a year from now, Trump will once again be president-elect.
The second piece of news arose after comments from Hillary Clinton. Clinton is not an objective witness when it comes to Trump. At the same time, her comments were so sharp as to deserve attention. This is obviously a more-than-usually fraught time to make comparisons with Nazis – and yet, Clinton chose to compare Trump to Hitler in order to make her point: “When I was secretary of state, I used to talk about ‘one and done’. What I meant by that is that people would get legitimately elected and then they would try to do away with elections, and do away with opposition, and do away with a free press … Hitler was duly elected. All of a sudden somebody with those tendencies, dictatorial, authoritarian tendencies, would be like ‘OK we’re gonna shut this down, we’re gonna throw these people in jail.’ And they didn’t usually telegraph that. Trump is telling us what he intends to do.”
The direct comparison risked obscuring Clinton’s fundamental point: institutions and conventions remain in place because individuals decide to treat them as important. Which brings us to the third piece of news, which prompted Clinton’s comments. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Trump and those around him have started to plan how to go after their critics should Trump win. Trump wants them prosecuted. This type of political interference might be illegal, but perhaps only temporarily: “his associates have been drafting plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations.”
Two weeks ago, a quite different group of conservatives gathered in London, under the banner of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship. Its essential purpose is to lay out a new path for conservatism. Three of our former prime ministers attended – John Howard, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison – so you will not be surprised to hear that some of it was evangelical, some of it performative, and some of it tired.
Not all of it, though. After several dispatches mentioned him favourably, I watched online the speech of Paul Marshall, one of the founders of the Alliance. I won’t urge you to watch because you will have heard most of it before. What is interesting, though, is that you will have heard it from the left. He criticised large companies practising predatory behaviour. He attacked the power that donations had over politicians. He criticised Uber’s treatment of its drivers, and the way the gun lobby manipulated Congress. He spoke of the massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich since the financial crisis of 2008.
The speech arguably fits into a new framework described by one writer, Sebastian Milbank (a self-described “Blue Labourite”), as “marrying right and left wing critiques of liberal modernity”, based on an agreement that “both state and market are failing”. Of course the right and the left will remain distinct – their proposed solutions will usually differ. In Marshall’s speech, though, there was some suggestion of convergence on definition of the problems. And this in turn may suggest some common principles that could underlie right- and left-wing visions of the future: limitations on power and abuses of power; protection of workers; parliaments that represent people, not business; equality as a virtue.
On Saturday, another story about a future Trump administration was published, this time in the New York Times. Trump plans to “scour the country for unauthorised immigrants”, place them in “sprawling camps” and use “mass deportations”. This would amount “to an assault on immigration on a scale unseen in modern American history”. Now recall Peter Dutton’s attack on migration in the parliament earlier this year. And consider how fragile unity in this country feels, as racism in different forms rears its head and groups face off against each other.
Much is made of Australia having to thread the needle between America and China, so different from each other. That is a task for both major parties, though right now, mostly Labor.
It is however just as important to contemplate what will happen to our politics if the two countries begin to converge on authoritarianism: how much more difficult that might make it to maintain our own democratic beliefs. In that scenario, it will be essential for Australia’s political system to hold strong with a convergence of its own: the agreement between right and left on the importance of common principles and common aims. That is a task for both major parties – but as one strand of the right veers away into Trumpism, and as Trumpism veers away still further from democratic conventions, the role of the Liberal Party will be particularly crucial.
Sean Kelly is a regular columnist and a former adviser to Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.
The Opinion newsletter is a weekly wrap of views that will challenge, champion and inform your own. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article