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January 19, 2017

Learning from Trump

Ahead of President-Elect Donald Trump's inauguration this week, CityMag editor Farrin Foster reflects on the lessons Australia can learn from America's example.

  • Words: Farrin Foster

I was in America at the time of their presidential elections. In the lead-up to them, the country was involved in a fever-pitch screaming match – divided into tribes by the sensationalist figure of Donald Trump.

Remotely, Donald is good for a laugh. But watching up close as he fulfilled The Simpsons’ dystopic prediction of a President Trump shed fresh light on a few truths about America. 

It’s a country that is as far down the path of the capitalist experiment as any has gone, and what its example reveals is not so much what an economic system does to an economy, but what it does to people.

The most noticeable difference between the USA and Australia is the primacy of the individual. Over there, political conversations are laser-focussed on showing what a candidate can do for you, not for your community. That means that gun laws are determined by a single person’s right to bear arms, not the safety of a society. It means that Trump saying horrible things about how he treats women is an issue for women, not an issue for everyone. It means that raising taxes is a personal affront, not a redress to inequality.

It’s only in an environment of individual supremacy that candidates like Trump have a chance. His shallow populism, disinterest in the truth and propensity for bullying are cancelled out (in some minds) by his supposed merits as an individual businessman and a few policies designed to make people feel like he’s the best deal for them.

Trump doesn’t exist without fanatic individualism, and fanatic individualism increasingly seems like a by-product of capitalism – a system that says growth and accumulation of personal wealth are the highest priorities.

Glimmers of this individualism are increasingly apparent in Australian political rhetoric. So, while I watched the Trump fiasco play out on TV screens in LA, I couldn’t get past the feeling that the next time I saw something so divisive, it would be on home soil.

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