Global economics and politics have just changed our world … UK, US and China at odds over globalisation … People demand safety, stability and a liveable future while global corporations and banks gouge their way ahead … At home: lessons from the demise of NSW Premier Mike Baird.
UK, China and US directions
Keynote speeches this week by three world leaders – Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, China’s President Xi Jinping and incoming US President Donald Trump – changed the face of global politics.
On Tuesday Mrs May released her timetable to quit the 28-nation European Union and go it alone. She sketched a phantasmagorical picture of Britain as a new “world trade power” driven by new free trade agreements with Europe, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other unnamed countries.
Listeners had to suspend their critical faculties as they listened to the vicar’s daughter from Church Enstone in the Cotswolds sermonise about glorious still-to-be-negotiated trade partnership with Europe – while simultaneously affirming that Brexit means Brexit! Mrs May extolled the virtues of globalisation while on the other side of the Atlantic incoming Team Trump continued to badmouth globalisation and spruiked “America first” economic nationalism.
The only thing missing from Mrs May’s performance was the sound track: a rendering of “Rule Britannia” from the Union Jack-waving audience at the Proms, followed by a grim-faced choir singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and the clink of china cups as tea and scones were served on the lawn afterwards.
It was a thoroughly unreal affair because it attempted contradictory objectives: appeasing right-wing Tories and “little Englander” kippers from UKIP while placating the “remainers” (her own preferred position) in the Tory Party, the very nervy City and CBI and the increasing number of voters who wish they’d never voted Brexit.
As London commentator Rafael Behr wrote: “For decades Britain has struggled to get a comfortable sense of its scale relative to the rest of the world. We are about to find out how big – or small – we really are.” (Guardian, 18 January 2017).
China has its say too
Meanwhile, over in Switzerland a few hours later, President Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to make the keynote speech at the Annual Economic Forum of political and business leaders at the ski resort of Davos.
Predictably, he extolled the virtues of globalisation and free trade. And why not? In the past 20 years China has surged ahead in leaps and bounds fuelled by monumental expansion of its international trade, selling cheaply priced goods to enthusiastic markets around the world, including the US and the EU. In the process, China has built massive trade surpluses with the rest of the world and boosted its currency until it has become second only to the mighty greenback, the US dollar.
President Xi delivered a direct message to Trump: the US might want to turn its back on globalisation and free trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico, but China won’t.
Did you see what just happened? Trump, the leader of the “free world” has been turned into an aggressive protectionist and economic nationalist, while Xi Jinping, the leader of the world’s biggest Communist Party, is the new leader of the globalisation lobby. He’s become the pin-up boy of the global corporates, the world banks and the conservative economists from the World Bank and the IMF while Trump recoils America into defensive economic nationalism.
Trumpism takes charge
In Washington DC today (Saturday, Australian time), Donald Trump will be sworn in as America’s 45th president.
While his predecessor, Barack Obama, was easy to like, Trump is much easier to hate. Trump’s presidency promises an era of strife, division, turmoil, rancour and disorder as well as the enthronement of backwardness, anti-science, anti-intellectualism and nastily regressive social views and policies. In that sense, the world’s most powerful nation, with a population of 326 million, has junked progress (for which it is famous) and taken a step backwards.
He won’t be making America great again as he promised in the election campaign, he’ll be leading it in the direction of ridicule, distaste, distrust and the marginalia of Twittering. The American century was last century: this is the Asian century.
For the record, the People’s Republic of China’s population is 1.388 billion people and the Republic of India’s is 1.355 billion. Asia’s population is currently 4.478 billion people, and most of them have never heard of Donald Trump.
The royal Commonwealth of Australia, with England’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, has a population of 24,332,000. Go figure.
In the US and among Western middle class liberals in Europe and Australia there is a protest campaign to illegitimise the Trump administration. They want him indicted, impeached and expelled from office.
I asked one of the anti-Trump organisers in Australia whether the president’s anti-TPP policy would be a central theme of their protest. “What’s the TPP?” he replied.
The confusion doesn’t end there. One statement issued by Washington protesters said Trump was taking the US to war with Russia and China. Simultaneously, other organisers said Trump was Putin’s “best friend” and was the “puppet of the Kremlin” while commentators argued his administration was the ally of Beijing.
Trump’s ambassador to Beijing will be Iowa Governor Terry Bransted, a longtime friend of China. Bransted has visited China on numerous occasions and met President Xi Jinping while the Chinese president has been Bransted’s guest in Iowa.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called Bransted an “old friend” of China, adding: “We welcome him to play a greater role in advancing the development of China-US relations.”
When Republican President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger, the war criminal, opened diplomatic relations with Chairman Mao’s China in 1972 they were hailed as “foresighted statesmen”. How times have changed …
Nostalgic for a “strong America”?
For the past 60 years Washington has been engaged in rigging elections in Latin America and Africa, assassinating political leaders, newspaper editors, trade unionists, lawyers and academics – and I never heard America’s liberal estabishment raise a whimper. The exceptions were some brave journalists, a few academics and some individuals in Congress. But the vast majority went along with the murders, rapes, assassinations and coups from one end of the world to the other.
When the CIA spent billions of dollars to propel pro-US candidates into office in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, distributed “fake news” and doctored polls, there was no outcry in the US. Those courageous souls who raised their voices were ignored and/or ridiculed. Some lost their jobs.
I very much welcome the activism of citizens who are stirred into action by the advent of Trumpism; their political agitation is a sign that the fog of American exceptionalism is beginning to lift.Their enemy, however, is not Trump but US imperialism and their task is not to indict Trump – however satisfying that may be – but to indict Henry Kissinger, George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and a collection of war criminals who led America into wars, civil wars, coups and bloodshed for which atonement is pending.
It has become obvious to people all over the world that to leave the planet governed by profits-hungry Big Business will end life and Nature as we know it. Nobody should be walk idly into that kind of future when a solution is at hand: taking economic and political power out of the hands of the one per cent and giving it to the 99%.
Four centuries ago, the feudalists and believers in the “divine right” of kings told serfs and artisans they had no right to consider parliamentary government. But they prevailed. Why can’t we?
Bye bye NSW Premier Mike Baird
One year ago NSW Premier Mike Baird was the most popular politician in Australia. He reached approval ratings of almost 80% and became the envy of leaders of Liberal and Labor administrations.
When he resigned this week, 48-year-old Baird’s popularity had collapsed and “Teflon Mike” had become so unpopular he decided to chuck it in. He contributed to his own downfall by bulldozing unpopular decisions and resorting to executive rule rather than community consultation and public explanation.
He was hounded by social media on a scale not previously seen in Australia. Anonymous trolls depicted him as “Putin”, a “dictator” and worse.
While Baird had serious faults – his rabid god-bothering defined his bigoted approach to social issues and his previous career in merchant banking explained his top-down and elitist view of governance – at heart he was a woolly liberal driven by his High Anglicanism to “do good”. His right-wing opponents in the religious right rejected Baird’s approach; they believed in “doing good” for the Liberal Party, not NSW.
In the end, Baird was an isolated and forlorn figure brought down by dumb decisions, a back-stabbing parliamentary party and a hostile “regime change” media led by the Murdoch press. At the end, even his own family told him “enough is enough”.
Supporters of NSW Labor are drunk with success: they can sniff electoral victory in March 2019 and suddenly, the campaign donations from developers, gambling companies, real estate merchants and the liquor industry are starting to flow back to the ALP.
NSW is crying out for a socialist alternative which protects public health, education, transport and affordable housing and inspires a lively private sector for business.
Switching from tweedle-dum to tweedle-dumber isn’t the answer.