Donald Trump’s election shows the political danger when disgust with the system is pulled to the right. It is already having its effect on Australian politics.
It has given confidence to racists like Pauline Hanson in particular, who boasted that Trump and One Nation stood for similar things. But both the Liberal and Labor Parties have stepped to the right in the wake of Trump’s victory.
Trump has promised to ramp up military spending and expand the size of the US navy in order to confront China. No one seems sure what his foreign policy will look like, as he threatens to destabilise existing alliances and promises to “get tough” on Islamic State.
Turnbull very quickly pledged support for Trump: “It’s in our mutual interest to stand together and we’ll continue to do so through the Trump presidency and the presidencies that follow it.”
Trump’s take over as president means there is more reason than ever to end the US alliance.
The kind of populist xenophobia peddled by Trump has a long and shameful record here. Trump wants to build a wall to keep out immigrants, while Malcolm Turnbull runs a “border protection” regime where the military turns back refugee boats.
The disillusionment with mainstream politics is just as real in Australia as in the US. Just 14 per cent say they trust political parties and only 34 per cent believe “people in government can be trusted”. The underlying disgust with mainstream politics has seen the public approval of all recent prime ministers, from Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard to Tony Abbott and now Malcolm Turnbull, go into rapid decline.
Both Labor and the Coalition have responded to Trump’s election by pandering further to racism. Opposition leader Bill Shorten has ratcheted-up Labor’s campaign against 457 temporary work visas which scapegoats migrant workers for taking jobs and lets the bosses off the hook.
This only increases racism, and makes right-wing figures like Pauline Hanson seem more legitimate.
But Border Force Minister, Peter Dutton set a new low, declaring “There was a mistake made” in bringing Lebanese Muslim migrants into the country in the 1970s, because 22 “second and third generation migrants” have been charged with terrorist offences.
Even for Dutton, this was a crude attempt to blame the whole Lebanese Muslim community for supposed terrorism, smear migrants groups as criminals and stoke racism and fear.
He is guilty of perpetuating the same racism and marginalisation they have experienced in Australia for the last 40 years, on top of Australian government support for every imperialist intervention in the Middle East and every Israeli attack on the Palestinians.
Fighting back racism
With the Turnbull government in serious political trouble and sagging in the polls, it is making a habit of reaching for the race card. Only a week before Trump was elected Turnbull announced the plan for a lifetime ban on refugees from Manus Island and Nauru getting any kind of visa to come to Australia. But outrage at Turnbull’s Bill has killed it off.
Increasingly, the government’s efforts to whip up fear about refugees are not working. Peter Dutton’s scaremongering during the election campaign about refugees taking “Aussie jobs” and Turnbull’s efforts to talk up his plans for “strong borders” had little impact. The Coalition’s vote crashed, and Turnbull went within an inch of losing the election.
The on-going movement for refugee rights—the demonstrations, public meetings and continual revelations of the abuse on Manus Island and Nauru—have blunted the government’s attacks on refugees.
There is now majority public opinion in favour of resettling refugees from Manus Island and Nauru in Australia, a marked change since Labor re-opened the camps in 2012.
The campaign has begun scoring victories—like the success in keeping the 267 people from Manus Island and Nauru in Australia through the “Let them stay” campaign, and now the defeat of the lifetime ban.
The lesson from the US is that we can’t rely on the mainstream parties to turn back racism or stand up for the rights of working class people. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats have been deeply discredited by years of declining living standards and job losses, while bankers and the top 1 per cent are wealthier than ever.
The protests that have hit the streets in the weeks after Trump’s election are the key to resisting Trump and fighting for real change. The same is true here.
But we also need a left-wing alternative to the mainstream parties and their rule for the rich. Trump and the right try to direct workers’ anger onto immigrants, refugees, women and other minority groups.
We need a socialist organisation that builds the fight against the system and against those that are really responsible for racism, unemployment and job cuts—corporations, the rich and the political elite.