Editorial Issue No 85
2017: The year of the rooster
Trump's ascent to the US presidency gives a new meaning to the ‘year of the rooster’. Trump represents heightened conflict, climate chaos, racism and corporate rule. Republicans now control both houses of the US Congress as well as the governorship of 33 states. Conservative judges will soon dominate the US Supreme Court.
The Trump administration is drawn from the corporates. It is strong on oil and gas exploration, denying climate change, cutting corporate taxes and blaming foreigners. As a populist administration it will spend on infrastructure but will be bigoted against migrants and Muslims (and probably other non-Christians) and will promote a frightening nationalism and patriotism.
The collapse of public trust and confidence in politics and politicians is part of the reason for Trump, Brexit, Le Pen and even Hanson. Much of the cause lies with the politicians. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, writing in the New York Review about the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry, says the distortions by Bush and Blair about the need for the invasion of Iraq has left a ‘damaging legacy’. This has fed ‘the revulsion across the Western world against elites and establishments so discredited by Iraq’. It bears recall that Australia, under John Howard, joined the invasion plotted by Bush and Blair.
The Australian Coalition Government does not seem to have changed. Indeed, Foreign Minister Bishop took the Trump line and gave uncritical support to Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu’s illegal settlements in Occupied Palestine by refusing to support a recent UN Security Council resolution condemning settlement expansion. The United States, at the very end of the Obama regime, did not oppose the resolution which was sponsored by, among others, New Zealand. Australia aligned itself with Trump’s approach and put itself at the very tail-end of justice for the Palestinians.
Trump’s war-mongering talk of conflict with China could well lead the world towards a real possibility of nuclear war. As former senior public servant and diplomat, John Menadue, said ‘dangerous allies, outdated treaties and the takeover of Australia’s policy’ highlights the need for Australia to adopt an independent foreign and defence policy.
Malcolm Turnbull was a fortunate winner of the 2016 Federal election and seemingly used some of his fortune in winning. He progressively jettisons liberal beliefs and policies to keep neo-conservative support inside the party. Minister for Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg mentioned a carbon tax only to submerge it within minutes with a spray against renewable energy. Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan says coal is good and the Prime Minister says, straight-faced, that coal should get clean energy funding. They all support cuts in corporate taxes and reject action on negative gearing and superannuation perks; they support ‘robo-debt recovery’ by Centrelink and watch with almost equanimity as the car industry and manufacturing jobs depart.
The world's major meteorological agencies have declared 2016 to be the hottest year on record - making it three new highs in as many years. Greenhouse gases drive global warming yet there are record coal exports from Australia and governments of both major parties champion the Adani Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin. Emissions from the coal will be greater than the total annual emissions from Vietnam or the Philippines and more than the combined emissions from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Yet both the Queensland Land Court and the Federal Court have ruled that environmental assessments in Australia only need to take account of emissions that occur in Australia!
There are some signs of hope; China’s decision to cancel 104 proposed coal plants – many already under construction – is a response to the January 2013 ‘airpocalypse’ and massive overcapacity in the power sector. Prime Minister Modi has announced plans to install, by 2022, 30 times more solar generating capacity than India has now. The International Solar Alliance, an initiative from the Paris Climate Summit has been established in India and the Energy Minister has said that a new coal plant would be costlier than a solar plant.
A number of countries are legislating to be ‘carbon neutral’. Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Costa Rica were in the lead in 2008; they have been joined by the Maldives, Sweden, and Finland. Canada will phase out coal by 2030. Yet, and despite the Paris Agreement, not enough is being done to get the world down to a 2 degree increase let alone 1.5 degrees. Which is another imperative to alter the Australian attitude to exporting climate change.
Taking our lives back
Capitalism operates globally. Trump’s nationalism, protection and migration restrictions limits that global scope and advantages the domestic at the expense of the transnational. Trump’s populism will do best in conditions of backdoor deals and cronyism. While the global corporations are not beyond owning the odd government and regime, they prefer to be able to stand up at Davos and sing pure songs of markets and freedoms. Nationalism gets in their way.
Trump, Breixt and right-wing nationalism treat the rest of the world as ‘others’ who are a threat. Making one country (be it the US or Australia) ‘great’ is to make other countries weak. Global capitalism does not care about countries and is about making the rich, wherever they are, richer at the expense of the poor. Little wonder at the increasing inequality in wealth and income.
Progressives need to oppose nationalism and global capitalism. Local actions against nationalism need to make the global story clear. Actions about global issues need to have clear local roots. For example, opposition to the Adani Carmichael mine should be linked to how to provide cheap and secure energy for people in India, China and SE Asia. Opposition in Australia to the exploitation of 457 visa holders, international students and backpackers needs to be linked to policies that provide decent levels of living for workers in the Global South. We need to create ‘local’ movements that span national boundaries. Perhaps we could start with real solidarity actions around climate change, ecological destruction and cultural exploitation in our close neighbours like Timor L’Este and Papua New Guinea.
This ‘special edition’ of Australian Options draws together pertinent writing about Trump, Brexit and the rise of the right. Thanks are due to Elisabeth Gondwe for getting the necessary permissions and bring the pieces together. Geoff Evans of the SEARCH Foundation is acknowledged noting that part of this editorial draws on his work. Most especially, thanks go to the writers who agreed for their work to be republished in Australian Options.