This month the guest in the Saturday Seminar was Bruce Wolpe, an academic from the United States Study Centre at the University of Sydney. He is the author of a recent book; Trump’s Australia. Rather than the usual paper or talk delivered, then questions, the session was run as a sort of Q&A session, with Jim Walters talking to Bruce about the issues in his book.
Perhaps if there is a shorthand outline of his thoughts on Trump and Australia it is that there is good news and bad news for Australia, should Trump get re-elected as President.
Firstly, he noted that Trump was not elected by a majority of citizens, but such are the processes and structures that he was able to get the requisite majority of the electoral college to win the day, a process foreign to Australia and Australians. But in answer to the issue of why he could be attractive to so many voters, he suggests that he taps into populist themes of; America first – everything must be in America’s favour, American isolationism – a feeling that Americans should not have to pay for other countries’ problems, and American “native-ism” which is a rejection of immigration.
He also responded to the issue of “Why Trump?”. In brief, he suggests he attracts those who feel left-out and alienated by the changes in the world economic system as it affects the USA; the decline of low-skilled production jobs V high tech, and thus consequent economic insecurity.
The good news is that Bruce feels that the political institutions in Australia are much more robust than the USA. He particularly notes our structure of compulsory voting which reduces the chance of stacked or skewed outcomes. He notes that the Australian PM derives from his/her role (generally) longevity in the party, and thus has experience of dealing with the political structures, although he did not note recent aberration of this in the case of Morrison’s five “ministry” roles. He also notes the great value in our un-politicised Electoral Commission (AEC) where electoral boundaries, etc are changed on a rational, not political advantage basis. Then there is the non-political process of selecting people such as Judges, especially High Court Judges, in contrast to the USA where Trump has been able to select (and have Congress accept) replacement judges which will affect the court decisions for the next two decades. He particularly noted the issue of guns and abortion in relation to this.
He feels that there are some underlying institutional dysfunctions in the American political system. The Presidential system is not working (The President can be a “lame duck”), the Senate is out-of-date because smaller states can have an undue influence on decisions (Vs Australia’s equal representatives) and the issue of the politicisation of courts and selection of judges.
Despite Australia’s robust structures, Bruce still sees some insidious encroachments or reciprocations. He notes things like Trump’s declaration that Nazis are gaining a foothold (something reflected in recent Victorian political fracas), or the “gallows” used in a Victorian anti-Andrews political demonstration which are all probably influenced by events in USA, such as the January 6th “insurrection”. Then there are more subtle “culture” influences such as some anti-Voice pressures, and claims of people afraid to venture onto the streets at night, etc., and the banning of books in libraries. Most disturbing is the possibility that if Trump succeeds and begins to flout the existing US laws, protocols (which he shows signs of doing), it could be the demise of democracy in the USA, with subtle influences on Australia, despite our more robust institutions. An autocratic (or Dictator) Trump could negatively affect Australia’s international relations. For this reason, he suggests, should that happen, Australians should consider “de-coupling” with the USA.
So, for all these reasons, he feels Australians need to keep up an awareness of Trump’s political trajectory and be prepared to understand these existential questions, and deal with them effectively.
But for a better understanding of Bruce’s arguments, read a copy of his book, Trump’s Australia”. And for those begging for more, it may be that Bruce delivers another session next year and keeps us up to date in preparation for November, 2024, the next presidential election date.
A video of the session can be seen HERE.
Report written by Max Nankervis, Saturday Seminar Host