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If you don't want a Trump in Australia, speak up


If we want to avoid the rise of an Australian version of Donald Trump, politicians need to lift their game and ordinary people need to speak up, writes Adelaide lawyer Andrea Michaels.

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It looks like Trump is finally toast. More than 70% of Americans surveyed in a recent poll now say he’s ‘no longer a good role model for children’.

But what’s really worrying is how he was able to get this far in the first place, with the ticket of being an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate and a celebrity.

What appears to have toppled him isn’t just the ongoing racist, sexist and culturally insensitive comments that he has repeatedly made throughout his campaign, but that secret recording of so-called ‘locker room banter’. But by that stage many of us weren’t all that surprised.

What was really shocking, though, is that it took that illicit recording to spark the national outrage. Why didn’t that come when he took to the podium the very first time?

Just why has Trump been tolerated for so long? How could the majority of voters in a party choose him as their representative? Why have the American people tolerated the kind of overt sexism and racism that would get most CEOs fired on the spot in Australia? Why have so many been silent?

Part of the answer is cultural – the American political landscape is very different to Australia (the difference in attitude to guns is a good example).

But another major contributor to Trump’s rise is a move in Western democracies toward non-establishment candidates or policies. Trump has successfully promoted himself as not a “Bush” or a “Clinton” and therefore not of the political establishment. That appeals to voters these days.

In England, Labor opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is the most left-wing leader in decades and has been rejected by his own shadow ministry (the establishment) but voted in by the party members.

In Australia, we’ve seen Hanson, Xenophon, Hinch, Lambie and others all running a non-establishment line.

How do you dispel the cynicism? Start standing for something. Life is hard for many people – don’t try to tell them it isn’t. Politicians need to remember who they are representing, to tackle the fears head-on and to show real leadership.

In Western democracies when the economy and jobs outlook is poor the voter feels insecure and looks for other solutions. Non-establishment forces rely on this fear for their success.

In a broad sense, such fear is driven by what’s playing out on the world stage: a stagnating global economy, regional instability and mass migration, changing power structures and the threat of terrorism. Against this backdrop, life for the average person on the street is also getting tougher.

As our world seems to be changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. Technology and the ‘age of machines’ is leading to job losses. For those who have been working for a while, regular wage increases are now off the table – yet the cost of living is increasing. As a result, there’s a real awareness of the growing gap between rich and poor.

Picking up the papers to see headlines shouting ‘bank profits in the billions’ and ‘multinational companies avoid taxes’ is hard to take when politicians keep telling us they are ‘optimistic’ about the future. This only drives resentment.

And if nothing is done to address this growing anger, it’s too easy for the Trumps of this world to march to the top just because they hit a chord that says ‘I’m with you, I understand your pain.’

Politicians today need to understand and address this anti-establishment movement quickly. But to do this, they’ll need to find a way to engage voters again.

How do you dispel the cynicism? Start standing for something. Life is hard for many people – don’t try to tell them it isn’t. Politicians need to remember who they are representing, to tackle the fears head-on and to show real leadership.

Social equity issues need to form a bigger part of the mix. Growing fears about the changing environment and what it might mean should be addressed with straight talking and solid policies.

Politicians need to remember what their policies are and why they are in office. Part of that includes governing for the good of the country and society – and to make Australia a better place to live. Get out and listen to people more about what matters and about what’s actually happening in the suburbs. Do it now before it’s too late.

The rise of Trump shows just how quickly tapping into an undercurrent of anger can result in a damaging wildfire.

Trump’s supporters would say he’s doing a great job at bringing back the power of free speech. But what he’s really doing with his offensive comments is polarising society and ligitimising bigotry.

Trump gave a voice to thousands who believe it’s actually OK to say women have nothing to offer but their looks, that your religion can brand you as a terrorist or that immigrants are not valuable members of society.

A large voter block in the US seemingly wanted someone who was ‘different’. And we can see that pattern starting in Australia, but we have time to stop it.

We don’t want to leave the door open to people who would actually do a really bad job of government and, in some cases, make damaging and dangerous views popular.

Running a state or a country is not a reality show. It’s not that easy. I’d actually prefer my country to be run by deeper thinkers than a person who wants to build a wall.

Trump should be a warning to all of us: staying silent is simply not the answer. Let’s make sure anti-establishment sentiments don’t start a wildfire here.

Andrea Michaels is the Managing Director of South Australian commercial law firm NDA Law.

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