Finance Finance News Trump’s forgotten people: Australia’s lesson

Trump’s forgotten people: Australia’s lesson

Trump media
Donald Trump complains the media has failed to uphold the interests of middle America. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

It’s hard to believe there is any way back for US presidential candidate Donald Trump after a week of sexual harassment allegations against him and fierce criticism from every quarter – including many senior Republicans.

As if the video in which he boasts of groping women wasn’t enough, allegations surfaced mid-week from two women, Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks, who claimed Trump had inappropriately kissed and groped them – challenging his assertion that his boasting was “just words”.

To top it all off, The New York Times, which broke the Leeds and Crooks stories, published a response to threats from Trump’s lawyers that they would sue the paper.

The paper’s lawyer David McCraw wrote: “If Mr Trump … believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticise him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

So yep, it looks like his campaign is done.

Hold the champagne

That will have progressive voters whooping with joy around the world. But celebrations may be premature. While the world looks to have dodged the Trump bullet, there are other dangers ahead.

Firstly, Trump’s apparent wickedness does not prove Hillary Clinton’s virtue.

Ms Clinton’s campaign rhetoric may not be matched by action if she wins, for one simple reason – Trump’s assertion that the US news media has failed to uphold the interests of middle American is not entirely misplaced.

The media machine that is now destroying Trump is the same one that allowed the US to sail blindly into the global financial crisis of 2008, the same one that allowed millions to think President Obama was born in Kenya, and the same one that excoriated Obama for bold reforms such ‘Obamacare’.

So while the US looks set to escape the bad things Trump was going to do, it may end up regretting all the good things Ms Clinton doesn’t do.

Trump’s voters remain

Which leads to the second problem – a lot of bold work does need to be done to lift up the disenfranchised voters that backed Trump in the first place.

Many of Trump’s supporters may hold ugly views with regard to Mexicans, Muslims and even women.

But they also represent a great swathe of middle- and lower-income America that has a legitimate economic grudge – one that is easily obscured by Ms Clinton’s “governing for all Americans” platitudes.

Which is another way of saying Trump at least gave a voice to many Americans who had felt ignored by other Republican and Democrat contenders, and whose economic concerns were being brushed aside with economic orthodoxies such as “be more competitive” or “wait for the wealth to trickle down”.

Trump campaign sinking
Donald Trump’s campaign is sinking, but his supporters should still be taken seriously.

For those who want to get a better understanding of who those people are, a lengthy article by self-confessed “white trash” writer Sarah Smarsh published in the Guardian is essential reading.

Smarsh accuses journalists of being too comfortable, too out of touch with her own people in Kansas and millions of others like them whose reason for gravitating to Trump “started with economics and ended with economics”.

She notes that Trump’s fans are “blue-collar middle class – mostly white people who have worked hard and lost a lot, whether in the market crash of 2008 or the manufacturing layoffs of recent decades”.

Media myopia

And this is where the lesson for Australia also lies. The media industry that I’ve been a part of for 22 years does contain individuals from all walks of life.

However, at its most influential levels, almost by definition, it is staffed with people who have comfortable incomes and access to privileged circles within society – political, business, academic, religious, sporting, you name it.

To a Trump-fancier in Australia, a Pauline Hanson or Bob Katter voter, a retrenched miner or auto-manufacturing worker, or a young Australian adjusting to long-term unemployment, those groups are easily lumped together as the ‘elite’ who have forgotten everyday battlers.

Australia has watched many problems develop in the past decade. Housing is severely unaffordable in many areas, private debt is at record levels, underemployment and ‘real’ unemployment are the daily experience of 16.2 per cent of the potential workforce according to the most recent Roy Morgan survey.

youth unemployment
Youth unemployment rampant in Australia, but not always in the news.

And as Gary Morgan, head of Roy Morgan Research, wrote in the letter to the Financial Review well over a decade ago, many of these people aren’t even counted in ABS statistics: “… no government will change the way unemployment is measured if the ‘number’ is higher. But until the Government is honest with the electorate, the problem of joblessness will not receive the attention that it deserves.”

If the media industry, the politicians, the business leaders and other elites don’t remember the 2 million unemployed and underemployed workers and their families, Australia is setting itself up for a Trump of its own.

And like the Americans, we may end up giving our elected leaders a pat on the back simply for not being Donald Trump.

They need to be a hell of a lot better than that.

View Comments