24 January 2017
Congratulations Donald Trump! I do not support anything you stand for, and certainly would not have voted for you, had I been an American citizen eligible to vote last year. Nor do I think you will be a good President for the United States or the world. No, congratulations are due because in less than week in office you have arguably changed the nature of political discourse for years to come, and so are already probably already the most influential American President of recent times. In classic Orwellian doublespeak, you will succeed, even if all your policies fail, because you will be constantly telling us what a success you are. Your supporters are already so disillusioned and embittered that they do not expect you to be able to make things better for them, even if you serve the full two terms. They support you because they think you understand their pain.
We know a little about this in New Zealand, especially those of us who went through the Muldoon years. He promised to “rebuild our shattered economy” and create 410,000 jobs “for your children and your children’s children”. Yet during his time, debt, inflation and unemployment all rose to near record levels. No matter, he still proclaimed his belief in the “Muldoon economic miracle”, and lectured the world on economic reform. But, to be fair, he paled alongside you. And it has taken us only a generation to get over the damage he wrought.
Even all these years later, and after pretentious academics, economists, business leaders and others have written so many terrible things about him, he still has his admirers – politicians prepared to deny reality if they think there is a heart string to be plucked, or a vote to be gained. They share your distaste of science and evidence because it can be awkward. We have some calling for the reopening of a mine where 29 men died so tragically over six years ago, even though all the evidence says the mine is still unstable and unsafe to enter. We have a major housing problem in Auckland, our biggest city, and some politicians are calling for a ban on sales of houses there to people with foreign sounding names to solve the problem, even though the facts show only about 3% of Auckland homes are sold to real foreigners. Your idea of a wall of just building a wall to stop foreigners entering in the first place sounds so much bolder.
Your intelligence agencies may have told you we have an election in a few months. (Oh, I forgot, you do not trust them because they found out about the Russians hacking computers to swing the election your way.) But, anyway, your imitators here are likely to try the same tricks you did last year – you know, all the post truth politics stuff, and, the one I really like, that your staff released last week – the alternative facts idea. However, I do not think they will do as well as you. Partly, because they are not as bright as you keep telling us you are (some of them try to tell us how bright they are, but it does not really wash, because we know they are just narcissists and bullies, something you would never let anyone accuse you of.) But the bigger problem is New Zealanders are a bit too cynical. We are a nation of bargain hunters, and are much more likely to see how something works and whether it will last the distance before actually buying it.
Our political charlatans and snake-oil merchants will be watching you closely over the next few months, to see how you keep getting away with it, and then trying to do the same here.
The problem is our media is still not completely cowered yet, (we do not have an equivalent of Fox News here) and has not quite got the hang of alternative facts, although some are trying hard to. They may not choose to see things the way you do, which will be inconvenient, for your imitators here, but you will be pleased to know the charlatans will still be given plenty of air time because trivia is what counts for news these days, apparently.
On their behalf, I am not worried. I am very confident that as you get into your second and third weeks in office, the art of governing the most powerful nation on earth will be so much clearer to you, and so much more of a breeze that you will have easily found new and convincing ways of making white look black, and no crowds at your inaugural parade look like the greatest public turnout ever in the history of world.
Congratulations, Mr President. You have shown up those of us who believe in politics based on evidence, reason and common sense (the shared values of our community) to be part of the problem. Far better, perhaps, to follow your lead and throw reason and evidence out the window, and rely on simple slogans, and gut prejudices instead. After all, we all only live once, and, anyway, it will be the next generation who have to pick up the pieces from our folly.