I had a look at the archive, and last January we were confronted with the question One-third of Australian pensioners live in poverty?, an overheating planet, and groups of men humiliating, sexually assaulting and robbing women around the main railway station in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.
A year later it has become clear that opportunistic, small-scale acts of terrorism are going to be with us for a very long time.
Meanwhile Britain voted to leave the EU, Americans shocked the world by electing Donald Trump, and after eight excruciating weeks of campaigning, Malcolm Turnbull fell over the line, and with a dummy spit on election night, and as one Coalition insider said, “with his authority diminished and his judgment is being questioned on multiple levels”, proceeded to try to govern with a polyglot senate.
Somehow the system seems broken, and those who have gained power are not well-placed to fix it. Julie Gottlieb in Sheffield has a compelling piece Was 2016 just 1938 all over again?
- One could go on seeking coordinates but the sum total would still be the same. The rug has been pulled out from under the assumed solidity of the liberal democratic project. A delicate tapestry of structures and ideas is coming apart at the seams.
Even more specifically, it is the psychological experience, the search for meaning, and the emotional cycle, the feelings – collective and individual – of 1938 that are uncannily familiar.
Post-truth politics is anti-rational. Emotion has unexpectedly triumphed over reason in 2016. Love and/or hate has beaten intellect. That’s true for Hillary Clinton’s “love trumps hate” slogan as much as it is for her opponent.
National crises can be internalised:
Almost immediately after the EU referendum, therapists reported “shockingly elevated levels of anxiety and despair, with few patients wishing to talk about anything else”. And the visceral nature of the US election campaign contributed, tragically, to the exponential increase of calls to suicide helplines.
Yet around 40% of people in the US or more than 90 million didn’t vote. In Australia, trust in politics is at an all-time low at 26%, and
- Just 7 per cent of Australians thought that the government had had a good effect on the country’s economy over the previous year.
Just 13 per cent thought it would have a good effect over the coming year.
Perhaps we disengage, perhaps there are many who never did engage.
Against expectations, sharemarkets have risen to new highs, believing in Trump’s promised tax cuts and infrastructure spending. This has made the situation fragile and full of risk. Again, I think emotion trumps reason. John Edwards in the AFR looks at Trump’s situation in relation to that of Reagan in 1981, when Reagan cut taxes and launched massive defence spending to stimulate a faltering economy. However, today’s debt is three times higher already compared to GDP. The price-earnings ratio of companies on the S&P Index was 10 times back then. Today it is more than 25 in the USA, (about 16 is considered par) meaning that at the slightest hitch there could be a massive sell-off as all the sheep run to one side of the paddock.
Paul Syvret in the Courier Mail has a cautionary tale about Trump’s proposed tariffs on goods imported from Mexico and China. In June 1930, less than a year after the famous 1929 stock market crash, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act raised the tariffs on 20,000 imported goods to record levels. Canada retaliated, followed by other countries around the world. Over the next few years US exports collapsed by more than 60% and world trade shrank even more.
Smoot-Hawley arguably deepened and lengthened the depression.
With trade I think the time has come when you just have to suck it up. If Trump wants infrastructure, he’s going to need imports. That’s the way the world is.
Meanwhile China has given Trump a taste of things to come. Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan. Suddenly a Beijing newspaper reported that an un-named American car-maker would be charged with price-fixing. Ford and GM stocks plunged. Then sure enough, GM was pinged for $US 40 million.
There is plenty more where that came from.
Our stock broker, Macquarie Financial Services, is positive about 2017, believing that even mining investment will come back, albeit in the second half. But that too is predicated on a successful Trump stimulus.
Locally, James Massola at the SMH identifies five Malcolm Turnbull mistakes and how he can fix them:
- “Increasingly beige Malcolm is enduring death by a thousand cuts.”
In brief, he should stand up to the right, present some big ideas that don’t involve saying “agile” and “innovative” all the time, strike a deal over cutting the corporate tax rate for smaller companies and move on, stop underestimating Bill Shorten, and promote Tony Abbott to the cabinet.
The chances? About zero.
Here’s a helpful image:
Bernard Keane’s Year in review: denialism and demonisation in an anus horribilis is the most pungent piece I’ve seen. To make sure you know where he is going, this image heads up the piece:
He tells a tale from William S. Burroughs of a man who taught his asshole how to speak. Unfortunately the asshole develops teeth, chews through his trousers and shouts up and down the streets that it wants equal rights, before the man’s mouth seals over and he is rendered mute while his arsehole yells at the world.
- “For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes went out, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab’s eyes on the end of a stalk.”
The neoliberal economic system has stopped delivering growing material wealth to most citizens. Those on the right of politics seek to bind us together with a “tribal loathing of the Other.”
The Other can take many forms, but immigration (those people who go on the dole and take all our jobs) is high on the list. It served Brexit and Trump well. Here in Oz, add the unions, Bill Shorten, Labor, the Greens, climate change advocates, the list goes on.
- And the more the right has relied on this tactic, the more atrophied its capacity to govern has become — the more it has become only about attacking the Other. The tactic has become the strategy, and then a goal unto itself.
He doesn’t think 2017 will get any better:
an incompetent, denialist Trump administration is likely to emerge, while an incapable, listless Turnbull government obsesses about obscure issues and tries to delegitimise Labor, presiding over tepid economic growth and a fiscal problem that keeps stubbornly getting worse. There is no reason to think that we will see anything but a further vicious circle of demonisation, incompetence and resentment.
Then he returns to his primary motif, where:
you can see that “silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes” of a government that taught its arsehole to talk.
Annus horribilis was anus horribilis.
Julie Gottlieb, suggests going to the movies, but be careful what you choose, and starting a diary, so that your grandchildren can see what it was like to live through these times.
We saw a great escapist movie last night – The Pink Panther 2.
Then being a sports nut, there is almost always something on, like the ubiquitous Big Bash.
I think we’ll all have to find personal ways of coping.
Sadly, I can’t finish without mentioning the galaxy of stars that faded from the universe in 2016, including David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and others, people who are mostly in my consciousness as young, vital, and full of life.
For me I’m reminded of Dylan Thomas’s exhortation to his dad:
- Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I think they both died soon after he wrote that, so we’ll proceed with perspicacity and care. I think we are on this planet to help each other, no more and no less, within our own sphere. So 2017 will be the best we can make it.