Sunday, January 15, 2017

What Will Donald Trump be like as President? Let's Look At Some Australian Parallels

In just a few days, Donald Trump will become President of the USA. What will the next four years be like? There's lots of speculation, but nobody knows for certain yet. But here's an interesting take on it:

Donald Trump's election last year saw the despair of many young and self-described progressive people, not just in the US but also around the world. But as a keen observer of Australian politics, I felt a sense of deja vu. Just three years earlier, when former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was elected, the situation was very similar. Young intellectuals were crying, protesting, saying that he was not 'their Prime Minister', even thinking of leaving the country. After all, Abbott was elected on a platform of securing the borders, repealing environmental measures, and making the government work again, whatever that meant. Sounds familiar? Should I also mention that Abbott didn't have a good reputation among feminists, and was opposed to marriage equality? Sounds familiar again?

In office, Abbott not only maintained his platform, but became increasingly nationalistic too, using the national security agenda to boost his polls. For many Australians, it was a really horrible time indeed. Yet his popularity went south and never quite came back again, despite all this. It appeared that people were not buying the nationalistic message anymore. Instead, when he moved to weaken Australia's government-funded healthcare system (another Trump parallel here?), people just lost faith in him, perhaps permanently.

Nationalism and 'border security' can only get you so far, bread and butter issues will count for much more in the long run. If Trump behaves like Abbott did, his popularity will not last.

In the end, Abbott's reign came to an end when his communications minister Malcolm Turnbull challenged him for the leadership, just shy of two years of the day he was sworn in. Of course, this kind of leadership change cannot occur in the US context. But there will be a mid-term election in 2018, and if that goes badly for the Republicans, there won't be a lot that the Trump administration will be able to do from that point onwards. (Think Obama's or Bush's last two years.)