President Dropkick & The US Confusion Centre
When an obscure, unelected committee, rising up from the bottom of Canberra’s bureaucratic swamp, decided to appoint the diversity campaigner David Morrison as the 2016 Australian of the Year, they got it half right. Australia needs more diversity of opinion. But in terms of delivering it, Morrison is not the man (if I can use such a term).Indeed, his first act was to urge less diversity in our language, insisting that words such as ‘guys’, ‘bossy’, ‘feisty’ and ‘shrill’ be expunged from the national vocabulary. Like a lot of military guys, he was being very bossy, feisty and shrill.
If only Morrison wasn’t such a goose. Diversity is urgently needed in framing Australia’s response to President-elect Donald Trump. As taxpayers, we fund three high-profile think tanks, charted with the task of anticipating international events and advising on Australia’s national security. They are the United States Confusion Centre at Sydney University, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in Canberra and the Lowy Institute in Sydney. Between them, they have 88 policy analysts – so-called strategic experts.
During the long, 18-month US election season, none of them supported Trump. The Donald was dismissed as an unelectable buffoon, with nothing useful to say on international affairs. The academic elites awaited the restoration of the natural order of things, via the election of President Hillary Clinton, enthusiastically barracking for her in the Australian media. What a mistake (of the taxpayer-funded variety). Not only was their analysis wrong-headed, it was ignorant of the main drivers of electoral behaviour.
Let me give an over-cooked example. One of the Confusion Centre’s Associate Professors, Brendon O’Connor, developed a grand theory explaining Trump’s unpopularity in the global community. The Donald eats the wrong kind of food. ‘For all of his money, the Trump diet consists of lots of McDonald’s meals, extremely well-done crispy steak, diet-cola and no alcohol,’ O’Connor opined on another publicly funded university website, The Conversation, on 3 November. ‘In a world where eating a variety of food has become commonplace, Trump’s diet lacks sophistication and imagination… Many around the world would see it as trashy.’
I have no idea what Trump’s diet does for him, but reading O’Connor’s analysis of it has given me mental diarrhoea. If people internationally regard The Donald’s eating habits as trashy, they must also have a lowly opinion of their own, given that McDonald’s is the world’s most successful food franchise. Most politicians can only dream of winning the votes of every Maccas fan in their constituency. Culinary O’Connor is typical of the Confusion Centre’s zany scholarship. After the election, his colleague David Smith described Trump’s victory as one for ‘white supremacists’.
How deplorable. Over 80 Clinton backers, zero for Trump – that’s quite a score-line, as lopsided as Australia’s recent test cricket results. How do the directors of the Confusion, ASPI and Lowy centres justify such bias, leaving Australia hopelessly unprepared in understanding the policies and direction of the incoming Trump Administration? How can they live with such an outrageous waste of public money?
In the case of Simon Jackman, the head of the Confusion Centre, the answer is simple: just pretend the bias doesn’t exist. On the night of Trump’s victory, Jackman appeared on Sky News’ Paul Murray Live and declared, ‘We have a well-balanced line-up at the Centre’. When I asked him how many Trump supporters he had among his 30 academics, he said, ‘None’ – a parallel universe.
For half-a-century, Australia’s foreign policy establishment has made mistake after mistake: from Vietnam to Iraq, and now the South China Sea. Is there any group in our public life that has been more error-prone?
Perhaps one: the nation’s journalists in their misjudgment of Trump. Most of the reporters who covered the campaign work in an elitist echo chamber, a cultural bubble in which they avoid contact with people as down-to-earth and ‘vulgar’ as The Donald. In their language, values, recreational interests and even their diet, Trump and his supporters are thought to be too trashy. Among the scores of commentators at Fairfax and the ABC, I didn’t see a single Trump supporter during 2015/16. Now they have moved seamlessly from abusing and misrepresenting Trump-the-candidate to abusing and misrepresenting Trump-the-President-elect. My favourite knucklehead is the ABC’s Barrie Cassidy who, a month from polling day, forecast a 1984 Reagan/Mondale type result. That is, 525 electoral college votes for Clinton and 13 for Trump. On polling day he tweeted: ‘Trump cannot win, the nightmare is over’. Can anyone explain why we taxpayers are still paying this guy’s salary? He could easily gain alternative employment as a George Hamilton impersonator, so why doesn’t the ABC move him on? Laurie Oakes has also chipped in with child-like hyperbole, describing the new leader of the free world as ‘President Dropkick’.
In the course of Trump’s triumph, we have witnessed the death of independent, evidence-based journalism. Somewhere in the last 20 years, journalists stopped being recorders of events and became cultural and moral dietitians, determined to impose their snobbish, sneering view of the world upon others. They became narcissistically unaware of life outside their occupational echo chamber and obsession with identity politics.
Objective reporting of the facts has been replaced by “advocacy journalism”, which is code for brazen political barracking.
The Trump phenomenon has not caused a crisis in global democracy.
Rather, at home and abroad, its greatest impact has been to expose the crisis in the credibility of the political, media and foreign policy elites.