The most disturbing thing about Donald Trump being elected president of the USA is not the election itself – democracy works in mysterious ways – but the image of Pauline Hanson and her posse, popping champagne out the front of Parliament House in Canberra to congratulate him on his victory.
At the same time that thousands of Americans are flocking to the streets of the big cities, shouting “Donald Trump is not my president” (he is; again, democracy works in mysterious ways), here is a bunch of Australian politicians who all but shouted “Trump is my president”. Before anyone had the time to see through Pauline Hanson’s flamboyant presence and palpable, orgasmic joy and utter ‘why’, one of her minions gave the answer. Senator Malcolm Roberts actually said: “We’ve freed the world of this rubbish that is climate change!”
And this is the most disturbing and depressing thing about a Trump presidency. In his roadmap for his first days at the office, he has clearly stated: “I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal. (…) Lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward. (…) Cancel billions in payments to UN climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.”
In terms of posing a threat to the world, this pledge is the equivalent of giving Trump (an erratic, spoiled egomaniac) access to the largest military force on the planet (which is also happening, by the way). Because in this pledge, he doesn’t just dismiss local communities in America who have been campaigning against the Keystone Pipeline, finally persuading the US government for the negative impacts of this gas-emitting, oil-spill-creating project.
He is all but killing the Paris Climate Accord, the single most important step to contain global emissions and give the planet a chance, at the time when climate change is becoming tangible. Coral reefs are dying, ecosystems disappear, communities are plagued by wildfires, superstorms and droughts and small island countries are sinking. Yet climate change deniers continue to shut their eyes and ears to evidence, modelling and the scientists’ warnings − and now they have a global leader on their side, someone who is quick to dismiss policies to address climate change, in favour for the fossil fuel industry.
This is the first tangible effect of the Trump presidency on the world. Granted, the Paris Agreement is not so easy to get out of. But if the US manages to do that, it may lead the way for other polluting countries, such as China and India, or even Australia, which is the worst polluter among the developed nations. None of this matters for Senator Roberts and the other climate change deniers and Trump supporters in the far right.
Their opposition to reason and scientific evidence should not be dismissed as a way to show their loyalty to big coal. It is much more complicated than that, as it plays out to the legitimate concerns of hundreds of workers fearing for their jobs, as countries shun the fossil fuel industry. It happened recently in Victoria, with the closing down of the Hazelwood power station. It may have been the state’s dirtiest energy plant and it may have been announced a long time prior, but the fact remains that hundreds of workers were shocked and shockingly left without a job. They’re worried, they are angry and they are neglected. And this is how they are similar to Trump’s voters.
For all its admirable pledge to support renewable energy − which, by the way, is not a ‘hippie dream’, but an industry of its own, creating jobs and growth and calling for innovation (Turnbull’s mantra, if anyone remembers) − the state administration failed these people and so did the federal government. There was no plan to train these people, to divert these lost jobs from a dying, polluting industry to an emerging, clean one. The same failure has been evident in most cases of factories closing. It doesn’t matter if it is a change of policy or just outsourcing that causes the loss of jobs, the effect is always the same. People uncertain, towns dying, social fabric in danger − exactly the fertile ground for people like Trump or Hanson to sow the seeds of hatred and xenophobia, reaping power for themselves.
People are ready to trade the survival of the planet − and the fate of their children − for a feeling of security and, more importantly, for the chance to be heard. This is only one of the ways that the political system has failed large parts of the population, those who see their communities shrinking and their livelihood threatened. Throughout the developed world, rising inequality has been steadily putting pressure to the middle class, leading it towards extinction, while stealing the working class of any opportunity. We will never understand Trump, or Brexit, or the Greek crisis, unless we look to the voters. Left to pay the price of the Global Financial Crisis, the people have been desperately trying to have their voices heard, only to be met with dismissal. Constantly told that they should not feel as alienated and afraid as they are, they are thus betrayed by the system. The left has failed to address their concerns, the centre is dismissing their fears − it is no wonder they are falling prey for the far right populists; not only do they pledge to avenge the system that betrayed them, but also to solve their problems, by reversing the changes that made the world so hard to understand, all the while offering a scapegoat in the face of the other; the immigrant, the refugee, the minority, the worker abroad stealing outsourced jobs through trade agreements.
And here is the second immediate effect of a Trump presidency. “I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he pledged, and then went even further: “I will direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator.” By campaigning on the false claim that China keeps the yuan artificially weak against the dollar to make its exports more competitive, at the expense of manufacturing jobs in the US, Donald Trump looks to kill the TPP and completely overhaul the country’s trade policy. Speaking to the press, Australian Ambassador Kim Beazley warned that this action could cause an economic crisis. Hence Paul Keating’s appeal to Australia’s leadership to stop being dragged by the US and apply a policy of its own in regards to Asia. If US-China relations worsen, Australia could benefit and take the lead in the area.
Australia, after all, has been entangled in the powerplay between China and the US for a long time − and the aftereffects are bound to be felt where it hurts: the property market. Analysts already predict a surge in Americans investing in Australian property, and competition with the Chinese investors will only lead to the prices rising. Australians have every reason to be worried. And Pauline Hanson every reason to pop open another bottle of bubbly.