The Politics    Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Warped vision

By Dominic Kelly

Looking to conservatives to lead the opposition to Trump is foolish

Twenty years ago, Quadrant published an essay by Raimond Gaita in which the philosopher took the still young Howard government to task for the zeal with which it had attacked Indigenous Australians. Amid the furore of Pauline Hanson Mark I, Gaita suggested that racism alone could not explain the government’s approach:

To explain it one needs to note how long the Coalition has been influenced by an ideologically driven right-wing intelligentsia. That intelligentsia’s embattled aggression is reflected in the government’s bravado. The strident refusal to be bullied by what it takes to be soft-headed leftism gives the tone to the government’s insensitivity.

This kind of intense hostility to anyone in favour of social justice, followed by their replacement with reactionary zealots, is repeated time and again throughout the world.

But with the election of Donald Trump, American conservatives have got an extreme, warped version of what they wished for, and are having second thoughts. With Trump’s administration barely a week old, neo-conservative hawks from the George W Bush era are presenting themselves as some of his most principled critics. Eliot Cohen, one of the earliest cheerleaders for the war in Iraq, believes that conservatives must stand up to Trump:

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

Along similar lines, David Frum – who coined the term “axis of evil” that nonsensically linked Iraq, Iran and North Korea as security threats – is warning that Trump threatens to build an autocracy. Without a hint of self-awareness, these unapologetic proponents of the singular foreign policy disaster of the 21st century, who helped to create the conditions for the rise of Trump, want to become leaders of the resistance. Spare us.

Back in Australia, the best that might be said about Malcolm Turnbull’s unwillingness to criticise Trump is that at least there’s no pretence of principled opposition. At the National Press Club today, the prime minister refused to comment on the prospect of his party doing preference deals with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation at upcoming state elections, while clinging to some of the economic fantasies that dominate conservative thought in this country.

Turnbull argued that coal can be a source of clean energy, alluded to addressing housing affordability without changes to negative gearing and other unfair tax concessions, and lauded company tax cuts as beneficial to all Australians, rather than the shameless handout to the rich that they, in fact, are. (Amusingly, the Business Council of Australia was yesterday subject to deserved ridicule when it used a young hospitality worker to front its campaign propagating the same myth.)

If voters remained unconvinced by this pitch, the times could yet suit Bill Shorten, but as Katharine Murphy writes, we still have our doubts about him as well.

Today’s links

  • Donald Trump has fired acting attorney general Sally Yates, accusing her of betrayal for her refusal to defend his executive order on Muslim immigration. Comment in the New Yorker.
  • An introduction to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
  • drop to the Australian’s Simon Benson [possible paywall] suggests Trump did a special favour to Turnbull to save our refugee deal, which, frankly, sounds fanciful. Confusion reigns.
  • Western Australians go to the polls on 11 March, and Colin Barnett’s Liberal government is in deep trouble. Will its saviour be a preference deal with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation? Perhaps not with candidates like David Archibald. Meanwhile, One Nation outcast Rod Culleton continues to insist, against all evidence, that he is still a senator.
  • The serious assault of a 16-year-old boy detained in Barwon prison puts more pressure on Victorian premier Daniel Andrews to remove children from adult prisons. The Human Rights Law Centre explains why this situation cannot continue.
  • The alleged Quebec City mosque shooter is a far-right online troll who supports Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.
  • In sport, the AFL is again pushing a twilight grand final [possible paywall]. But according to AFL boss Gillon McLachlan, “It’s difficult to think of getting a better grand final than the one we had this year, it’s fair to say some people ask: ‘How do you improve on that?’” Well, indeed.

Dominic Kelly

Dominic Kelly is a PhD candidate and tutor in politics at La Trobe University. He tweets from @illywhacker_.

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