In lieu of leadership

Last night in Salon magazine, I read an interview with a former GOP strategist who turned against the Republican party when Trump was elected. He’s now an active member of the Lincoln Project, who are basically disaffected Republicans who oppose Trump because he has trashed the values of the party. They’re old school types who uphold traditional virtues by force of character, and whose strident opposition to Trump is an attempt to redeem a version of America they hold true.

The interview was blunt and surprisingly scathing. Here was a man who had dedicated his professional life to the Republican cause. He’d been there when Reagan was president, the Bushes, and through the McCain and Romney campaigns. Then Trump came along, and he lost all belief.

One of the interesting things I found was that he admitted there’d always been a dark side of the Republican party, but it had been held in check – that is, until the events of 9/11. We all know what happened, but he contends that was the beginning of the end for the Republicans. The hawks were released on that day, and the dark side took over. Then along came Trump, and corruption, racism, and the politics of hate became the order of business. He calls it anti-American.

He is bitter in his condemnation of Trump, who he calls a gangster, and of GOP, whose only concern now is power and retaining it. In his reading, the Republican party has effectively lost its soul. He forecasts a bleak future for the party as a waning force, a party for white voters only.

I would commend you to read the article. It’s powerful and candid and, for an American, pretty bleak. There’s no happy ending being portrayed here, though he urges a vote for the Democrats. The poison has been released into society and the coming election, as he sees it, is the most dangerous time in American history since the Civil War.

It’s a fascinating read. It’s hard to get your head around how extreme the situation in the US has become. I’ve watched the events unfold over the last week and I shake my head at how it has so degenerated. The footage of the black man shot seven times in the back by a police officer was almost surreal, here on prime-time TV. You wonder, how could that happen? Then, you see all the white supremacists get up in their combat gear taking to the streets with their automatic weapons, unhindered, in opposition to the BLM protests, and it feels like a dystopian movie you’re watching – but this is America! Then one of them, a 17-year-old kid no less, shoots and kills a couple of BLM protestors – and is called a hero! (For those who know their history, it reminds me of Horst Wessel, who became a martyr and rallying-cry for Nazi Germany.) The whole situation there is obscene.

I wonder at the election, too. I’m sure there’ll be some attempt to corrupt the voting process, even as a ploy (which is described in the article.) Trump – and certainly his supporters – will not go quietly, and there’s a long record of corruption. Biden should win, but so too should have Clinton – and Biden is not the most compelling candidate. And though Biden leads the polls, it’s shocking to read that Trump is the more popular among white males – how can that be? And, even if Biden wins – and he should – then Trump has a few more months in power to create carnage, and you can’t rule out his supporters taking to the streets in protest, and worse. America is a country divided. I don’t know how they recover from this, because the poison’s gone deep.

Australia is not the US, but there are many parallels, as there are in other parts of the world. It’s the description of GOP of being only interested in power for power’s sake that resonated most because I think that describes the LNP here. It used to be different. There was a time that public service was a noble pursuit and that the highest aspiration of our government was to make a better life for its citizens. Nowadays, that comes a distant second to ensuring that power is claimed and then maintained. Policies are contrived not to advance the nation, but to further the interests of the ruling party and – most importantly – the vested interests who support them, and then to marginalise the opposition. The number one priority of the LNP is to stay in power forever, and whatever it takes.

I sense that not everyone believes or understands that. It’s the kind of ignorance that allowed for a Trump to be elected in the first place. There’s a complacent disinterest, rarely challenged these days by the media, which is mostly either lazy or part of the problem. So much either is unreported, or barely reported, and the government swats away unwanted scrutiny. There is so much to report on that if even half the Australian people understood it would make a difference.

Take superannuation as a current case in point. The superannuation guarantee, introduced by the Hawke/Keating government, has been a tremendous success since it was introduced. It means that millions of Australian workers have a relatively secure income once they retire, and don’t have to rely on the pension. It’s also created a great fund of savings which are reinvested in infrastructure projects, and so on. It’s a driver of growth and wealth.

By far, the most successful superannuation funds are the industry funds, generally run by the unions. Their fees are much less because they’re not designed to make a profit, unlike the private funds are and, for whatever reason, their returns are always much better. I have my money in an industry fund and am very happy with it.

The problem for the government is the union aspect. Having so much money at their disposal gives the unions clout the government wants to destroy. Never mind that millions of individual Australians benefit from this, it’s not in the government’s interest. For a few years now the government has been undermining superannuation generally, and industry funds particularly – they even had them dragged into a Royal Commission (which found nothing untoward). It’s obvious the intent of the government is to weaken the superannuation guarantee, even though it benefits working Australians and the economy in general. As so much with them, it’s ideological. If they can crush the industry funds, by hook or by crook, then their political cause is advanced, and their opponents debilitated.

It’s all about the politics. And by politics, I mean power.

Last night I tuned into Q+A. I used to watch it a fair bit until it went off by inviting nonsense, partisan panellists to the show. Last night I watched because it promoted that it would be tapping into the wisdom of older Australians – but really, I watched it because I saw Kerry O’Brien would be appearing.

For many years, O’Brien appeared in many guises across the ABC, but generally as political commentator and host. He had an aura of integrity, a fierce, probing intelligence, and was a vivid communicator. He’s become revered since, much from a sense of nostalgia I figure, as the ABC he was part of is not the ABC today. And the ABC commentators today, or indeed any commentators, are not what he was – bracingly honest and stubbornly intelligent. He held public figures to account and wouldn’t accept the mealy-mouthed response that is common today.

Oh, those were the days! You didn’t know any different then because the standard was uniformly good – though O’Brien was always most eminent.

So, I watched, wanting to see him again and hear his views. He didn’t disappoint. As always, he cut to the heart of things. It’s a pity he’s lost to us as a commentator. He spoke on a wide range of issues, but there was one thing he spoke of which goes to the nub of the ‘problems’ we have today: a lack of true leaders and leadership.

We don’t have leaders anymore. We have partisan hacks, by and large. And, these days, it’s the rare journalist who calls them out on their nonsense. I suspect that things will have to get really bad until we understand it, by which time it might be too late.

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