Against normalization: The lesson of the “Munich Post”

Many thanks to Mark Colvin for bringing this measured – and chilling – commentary by Ron Rosenbaum to my attention. I have not asked the Los Angeles Review of Books for permission to republish at this point, so have only included the introductory paragraphs.

I suspect that, on reading this introduction, some may sigh, and mutter, “Not another article about Trump …”. However, the analysis is persuasively argued and is relevant not just to Trump’s America but to everybody on this planet. So, I do urge all interested Pubsters to click on the link and read the complete piece.

Historisches Lexikon Bayerns

The Trump-Hitler comparison. Is there any comparison? Between the way the campaigns of Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler should have been treated by the media and the culture? The way the media should act now? The problem of normalization?

Because I’d written a book called Explaining Hitler several editors had asked me, during the campaign, to see what could be said on the subject.

Until the morning after the election I had declined them. While Trump’s crusade had at times been malign, as had his vociferous supporters, he and they did not seem bent on genocide. He did not seem bent on anything but hideous, hurtful simplemindedness — a childishly vindictive buffoon trailing racist followers whose existence he had mainstreamed. When I say followers I’m thinking about the perpetrators of violence against women outlined by New York Magazine who punched women in the face and shouted racist slurs at them. Those supporters. These are the people Trump has dragged into the mainstream, and as my friend Michael Hirschorn pointed out, their hatefulness will no longer find the Obama Justice Department standing in their way.

Bad enough, but genocide is almost by definition beyond comparison with “normal” politics and everyday thuggish behavior, and to compare Trump’s feckless racism and compulsive lying was inevitably to trivialize Hitler’s crime and the victims of genocide.

But after the election, things changed. Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German. Now is the time for a much closer inspection of the tactics and strategy that brought off this spectacular distortion of American values.

What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought. It’s what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media. And they’re not joking. If you’d received the threatening words and pictures I did during the campaign (one Tweet simply read “I gas Jews”), as did so many Jewish reporters and people of color, the sick bloodthirsty lust to terrify is unmistakably sincere. The playbook is Mein Kampf.

Read on.

 

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Turnbull government reveals a lump of coal at its heart in a disgraceful week of name-calling

Today’s Guest Poster is the inimitable Urban Wronski. Over to you, most urbane of gentlemen:

Mick Tsikas/AAP – I am thankful he has his hands in front of his crotch

“He has no respect for the taxpayer any more than he has respect for the members of the Australian Workers Union, he betrayed again and again. He sold them out. He sold them out.”

A volley of cheap shots rings out across the chamber this week as a beleaguered Malcolm Turnbull begins the new parliamentary year in a flat spin. He’s under attack on all sides, travel rorts, Trump’s dumping on him, Bernardi’s defection, Abbott’s sniping, a seven-month losing streak in the polls and what to do about George Brandis and his diary.

What do you do with an Attorney General, an officer in charge of freedom of information who refuses a court order to make his appointments public as Mark Dreyfus, a real QC, has requested? The London posting can’t come soon enough.

Peta Credlin, Abbott’s all-powerful, all-seeing former chief of staff helpfully puts the skids under the PM she dubbed “Mr Harbourside Mansion” when she tells Sky viewers the Coalition is broken by “an unbridgeable ideological divide”.

Add in to the mix electricity blackouts, a failure to curb power sector emissions and an energy market crisis which has been simmering unattended for years. Luckily energy is all Labor’s fault. It’s their ideological belief in the future of the planet instead of doing whatever it takes to protect the wealth of the coal industry and its many rent-seekers.

The power crisis is caused by Labor because Labor is led by Bill Shorten, a Labor leader who has dinner with rich people!

Desperately, the PM who sold out to his right wing, aims to divert his critics and snatch back credibility by assassinating Hypocrite Bill’s character. Yet Turnbull aims so low he destroys any vestige of credibility; shoots himself in the foot.

The other foot is in his mouth. With nothing left to lose, a gung-ho meets gonzo PM Trumps up his invective; indulges his inner bully in an assault on the man, not his policies, complete with gratuitous, archly homophobic insults.

“This sycophant, blowing hard in the House of Representatives, sucking hard in the living rooms of Melbourne, what a hypocrite,” Turnbull sneers. The “simpering” “sycophant” “sucking up to Dick [Pratt]” “tucked his knees under… tables” jeers the PM. The dig is unlikely to boost his stocks in his inner-Sydney electorate of Wentworth, however many sniggers it gets from his party. Nor will his prejudice play well with his broader constituency.

But why be resolute or decisive when you can be abusive and impulsive? It works for Trump.

Desperate, the orator with an ear of tin leaps, misses his footing and plunges to dangerous depths. He unleashes a raging, ranting, ten-minute volley of personal abuse and defamatory accusation on the Labor leader – lowering himself to ape Tony Abbott, the leader he deposed because he was incapable of anything but junkyard. Doubtless, he plans to hide, in the fray, how deep in crises he has mired his government. Instead, Turnbull highlights his own bad judgement.

Bellowing, braying, belittling, the PM calls Shorten names in a spray of spittle. He contorts his face fit to out-butch a bull seal bugling. Shorten is a “a climber”, “a social-climbing sycophant”, a “parasite and a hypocrite”, terms of abuse the PM finds on a prompt helpfully handed up to him by his batman, Christopher lickspittle Pyne, obsequious to a fault.

Sadly, all Turnbull achieves is a grotesque Abbott travesty, an homage to another self-made loser who often parodied himself in his puerile taunting, name-calling, monstrous lies, absurd assertions and bullshit braggodoccio until it cost him his job.

Turnbull is wasting his time trying to impress his party’s puritan choir; the Nationals and the Liberal right. They hate him with a passion. He may as well be Labor. No concession will ever be enough to buy their approval. Nor win their trust. For most other observers, the PM’s ill-advised and hammy performance is a shocking demonstration of just how far he will stoop to conquer. Pollster Hugh McKay believes Turnbull has sealed his fate. Disintegration and ruin can only follow.

Turnbull’s big problem is the plank in his own eye. “No consistency, no integrity. This sycophant, this simpering sycophant,” sneers a PM who hosts Rupert, a PM whose merchant banking venture was funded by sucking up to Kerry Packer whom Turnbull had saved a fortune on tax, a PM whose sell-out to his party’s right wing cost him all credibility.

Almost as big for the toff is the vexed politics of class. As Bernard Keane and Van Badham note, Turnbull’s attack is a slap-down for Shorten getting above himself. Essentially, Turnbull’s case is that he’s Prime Minister because, unlike the Opposition leader, he’s a better class of person.

Yet it’s a no win situation. Keane also notes that after decades of berating union leaders for being anti-business and being unwilling to work cooperatively with bosses, suddenly Shorten is fair game for being too close to corporate leaders. Yet none of this matters to the parliamentary party whose blood-lust is up.

Excited by his show of aggression, his colleagues cheer on Turnbull’s Shorten-bashing with school-boys jeers, grins and much thumping of desks. It is an unedifying display of arousal which can only cost the party popular support.

Equally disturbing are those many Press Gallery hacks who applaud Turnbull’s lapse, gushing approval over his “flash of steel”, his “withering putdown”. One scribe sees the theatrics as an “aggressive new course.” Another sees it, somehow, as Turnbull’s version of Gillard’s misogyny speech. Is politics merely blood sport entertainment for a jaded Canberra Press Gallery? Certainly, their praise encourages the PM to further excesses.

By Friday, Turnbull is on 3AW denouncing Shorten as a hypocrite who pretends to be a “horny handed son of toil”.

Horny or corny, it’s all part of a bizarre, ill-judged attempt by a desperate Prime Minister beset by more problems than a junkyard dog has fleas. His government is dead in the water say pollsters. Newspoll has Labor 46-54% on the two-party vote and the Coalition’s primary vote falling four points to 35%, its seventh-straight loss and worst result so far under Turnbull’s leadership. Essential polls 53-47 in Labor’s favour. It would take a miracle to come back from here. Instead, the Coalition declares it is truly, madly, deeply in love with coal all along despite making sheep’s eyes at renewables.

True, not all are on the same page with their passion. There’s a lot of codswallop about being technology neutral, the official Peabody Energy talking point subterfuge and some daggy hamming from Energy Pretender Josh Freydenberg who even promises a new cabinet subcommittee to “oversee the progress”.

Partly Turnbull’s tanty is to cover Coalition hypocrisy in two-timing its 2030 carbon emissions targets with its affair with coal. Federal Treasurer, Mad dog Morrison, a natural buffoon, follows his PM’s lead in the race to the bottom Thursday by bringing a lump of coal into the chamber. It suits him to clown while people die of black lung and other respiratory illnesses. It worries him not a jot that an army of scientists could tell him that burning coal to generate electricity will destroy the planet. Instead he and his party proclaim the sick fantasy that coal is a cheap and clean source of energy.

Ultra super-critical coal-fired plants would cost double renewables reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The Melbourne Energy Institute agrees. And who could cost their emissions? New analysis from the government’s own research institutions reveal emissions from USC would exceed the current Australian average of 820g/kWh.

Of course we don’t have to burn coal ourselves to contribute to global warming. Currently we export enough coal each day for others to burn and create emissions equivalent to a 500-megawatt coal-fired power station, or 570,000 cars, in a year. Yet we don’t factor in our CO2 exports into our climate policy. It’s been our dirty little secret for thirty years.

Not a single company has any plans to build new coal power plants. No bank will lend any money. The Turnbull government may wave its shotgun as much as it likes but it may never get coal and banks up the aisle again.

Of course, it has a patent remedy which climate change sceptic and front bench coal-tosser Barnaby Joyce has already forecast. The Clean Energy Foundation, established to fund innovative approaches to power generation, will be raided to pay for energy which is neither clean nor a good investment in the future. Who could possibly find fault with that?

At least, finally, some of the Coalition has stopped pretending it is only a litlle bit pregnant to Peabody Energy. Indeed, the Turnbull government’s recent embrace of coal-fired power shows it has “abandoned all pretense of taking global warming seriously”, Climate Change Authority member Clive Hamilton explains as he resigns from the agency. Professor Hamilton, who teaches ethics at Charles Sturt University, fires a parting shot. He says it is perverse to be advocating coal when 2016 was the hottest year in history.

Bernie Fraser resigned before Hamilton in disgust at the feeble emissions-reduction targets the government was prepared to set. Fraser, a man of principle, pointed out that the government’s post-2020 carbon reduction efforts – a pledge to cut 2005-level carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030 – as put Australia “at or near the bottom” of comparable countries.

The Climate Change Authority itself soon got five new you beaut members in October 2015, one of the first reforms of young turk Turnbull who is always quick off the blocks when it comes to doing the bidding of his minders, be it his National Party minders or- as in this case -a toady to the coal lobby. The five new members had been appointed by “coal is good for humanity” Tony Abbott and remained to be approved by Macolm Turnbull.

Described at the time as being as “more sceptical of climate change” the five coalition appointments stacked the committee in favour of government policy and removed the vexed Left-Greens ideological commitment to the continuation of humanity and the troublesome notion of taking responsibility to reduce emissions and redress some of the damage already caused to the environment through global warming, noxious emissions and other pollution.

It is timely to review the government team players. Assisted by former National Farmers’ Federation’s head Wendy Craik the committee gained Kate Carnell, former CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and former ACT Liberal chief minister; Danny Price, economist and managing director of Frontier Economics, who advised the government on its Direct Action policies; John Sharp, a former Nationals politician and federal transport in John Howard’s government before stepping down after questions raised over his use of ministerial travel expenses; Stuart Allinson, the chief executive of Bid Energy.

No-one can pretend these worthy figures, however deserving they may be as representatives of their constituents, have been chosen for their halcyon impartiality. To use Turnbull’s term du jour Australia has been sold out.

Those who were shocked by gonzo Scott Morrison’s pet rock in parliament Thursday – and it’s impossible not to be shocked by the graphic abdication of responsibility to future generations not to mention a contempt for science and a cavalier disregard for all of the economic and environmental benefits of investment in renewables should thank him for so dramatically revealing the government’s hand, a hand which has been prepared ever since Turnbull took office despite all sentiment and nostalgia for the Old Leather Jacket. Get real. This government has always been pro-coal.

But it’s not all plain sailing or committee stacking. Coal is a big blow to the Prime Minister’s new self-appointed role as Parliament’s Grand Inquisitor determined to root out hypocrisy and energy heresy in the opposition. Why, only seven years ago he, himself, was urging Australia to move to a “a situation where all or almost all of our energy comes from zero or very near zero-emission sources” to avoid the risks, laid out in the science, of catastrophic climate change.

Along with Groucho, Turnbull has principles and if you don’t like those, well … he has others.

“You don’t quit a party you already run, protests Sam Dastyaryi when Cory Bernardi, the man who single-handedly, caused Malcolm Turnbull to drop all mention of any form of ETS in 24 hours flat, leaves the Liberals this week over principle, he says. Principle. Yet he is unable to say what the principles are beyond a bit of mangled metaphor about broad tents and churches and pegs. Fearlessly exercising his new role as moral guardian, Turnbull tells him the honourable thing to do would be to resign. The PM gets one thing right. Hasn’t Cory already caused enough trouble?

Cory Bernardi helped Tony Abbott change from an ETS wuss to an axe the tax crusader in 2009. If there were one man we could thank for Tony Abbott becoming the worst Prime Minister Australia has seen, Cory would be right up there. And weather vane Abbott is quick to take any opportunity now to put the boot into Turnbull.

“… While Cory and I have sometimes disagreed I’m disappointed that more effort has not been made to keep our party united. The Liberal Party needs more people, like Cory, who believe that freer citizens will make a fairer society and a stronger country and who are prepared to speak out and make a difference …”

Now a man of principles he can’t articulate, Bernardi will continue his vanity politics while his quest for relevance becomes even harder, however many anti-halal meetings he attends. The harsh truth is that Cory Bernardi represents Cory Bernardi and while he may indeed enjoy the support of Gina Rinehart, it will take more than the backing of the coal lobby to make him a real political force now he’s out on his own and competing with quite a range of other right wing nut jobs for the reactionary and the protest against the two major parties’ vote.

The South Australian senator is, however, a powerful emblem of the disunity and lack of discipline in Turnbull’s parliamentary party and his weak leadership. It is also a reminder of the parlous state of the Liberal Party when it comes to principles.

As poor Cory comes to leave and make his stand on principle, he can’t clearly articulate a single principle. Looking at the government’s disastrous week, its hypocritical bashing of Bill Shorten and its theatrical flourishing of a lump of coal in parliament, most Australians would also have trouble identifying a single principle – apart from its steadfast loyalty to the mining lobby – in the Turnbull government’s shameful behaviour this week.

Friday! And it’s the first #5and5 for 2017!! Popcorn, anyone???

Just in case anyone is/was ‘bemused’, moi did not put paw to keyboard. Moi only cut-and-pasted Tony Burke’s admirable summary. To make its provenance abundantly clear …

Fiona,

Until this week you could say that Malcolm Turnbull may have adopted all of Tony Abbott’s policies, but at least he had made the policy debate less angry and over the top. Can’t say that now. This was the week Malcolm Turnbull finally went full Abbott. The transformation is complete.

1. The first sitting week of the year only really started when Cory Bernardi stood up to announce his departure from the Liberal Party, surprising no one. Penny Wong had a parting compliment for Cory Bernardi, surprising everyone.

“Now, there are very few issues, in fact there are almost no issues upon which I agree with Senator Bernardi. But I do respect one thing – he does stand up for what he believes in and he is clearly no longer prepared to stomach the rank hypocrisy of a leader who clings to office by parroting views in which he does not believe.”

Watching the drama unfold with his digital popcorn, Sam Dastyari made a great observation.

“You have Senator Bernardi who is quitting a party that he runs! Who leaves a party that does whatever you want them to do?”

 

Credit: Nick Haggarty

2. There’s a lot that can be said about Malcolm Turnbull’s weird and angry 10 minute rant about how obsessed he is with Bill Shorten. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that people should be defiant and passionate in defending their beliefs. I just wish we had a PM who could have that sort of passion to deliver for the rest of Australia, not one who reserves his most passionate speech to tell us how much he hates his opponent.

On Thursday, it was still a few minutes before Question Time was due to start and Malcolm Turnbull was already in the Parliament when Rob Mitchell stood up and said this:

 

“Yesterday we saw one of the nastiest speeches by the Prime Minister since the election night dummy spit. The second he was questioned about his attacks on families, he spat the silver spoon across the dispatch box. The Leader of the Opposition had the figures; the PM had the tantrum.”

 

Only a few minutes earlier Labor MP Joanne Ryan drew attention to the PM’s disgust at people he termed “social climbers” and asked:

 

“Who put the cordial in the PM’s Grange?”

 

Joanne also said the speech “will forever be known as Prime Minister Turnbull’s ‘know your place’ speech.”

Because Malcolm Turnbull had his tantrum, a lot of people seem to have missed what we were debating. It was a motion moved by Bill Shorten which opposed the Government’s cuts to families, criticised the debacle of telling pensioners they had Centrelink debts when they owed nothing, and pointed out that the best way for the Government to save money would be to abandon its $50 billion handout to the biggest companies. Bill moved to condemn the Prime Minister for being “so out of touch that his hopelessly divided Government punishes families, pensioners, carers and new mums while giving a $50 billion handout to big businesses.” Bill was on 7.30 with Leigh Sales that night, and had this to say.

And Jenny Macklin, always standing up for families and pensioners, rose to her feet to bring a distracted LNP back to the question.

3. Social Services Minister Christian Porter must wish people would stop listening when he talks. In Parliament, trying to justify his cuts to family payments he said:

 

“We invest all of the money we’re saving in the Family Tax Benefit system.”

 

This is wrong and Jenny Macklin was quick to let him know:

“Under the government’s policy it’s cutting $2.7 billion in family payments and only spending $1.6 billion on its child care policy. Is the Minister aware he was misleading the Australian people, or is he just plain incompetent?”

Mr Porter embarrassingly conceded that:

“I should have said almost all, that is true, that is true.”

 

Hang on. Almost all? There’s a gap of more than $1 billion. It seems Christian Porter thinks that’s just a rounding error.

4. Western Australia heads to the polls on 11 March. Labor’s WA MPs used the first Matter of Public Importance debate of the year to draw attention to the Barnett Liberal Government’s chaos and dysfunction, which mirrors the state of the Federal Liberal Government. Colin Barnett and the Liberal Government have grown arrogant and out of touch, creating record levels of debt and deficit without delivering the jobs and services and infrastructure WA needs. But WA Labor Leader Mark McGowan has new ideas and a comprehensive plan for WA jobs.

5. Tanya Plibersek has been tireless in her efforts to hold the Government accountable for its $30 billion cuts to schools, right when we’re seeing $50 billion going to the Government’s big business buddies. Economists are telling us in no uncertain terms that investing in education gives better returns. Bringing it back to the street level, Tanya drove home the sabotage of school education:

“If you walked down any street in any electorate in this country and you stopped a random stranger and said, ‘Here’s $2,000. You can invest it here, giving the banks a tax cut, or you can invest it here in your local school,’ what would parents say? This is not a mystery.”

 

1. A short memory is a dangerous thing in politics. On Wednesday, Josh Frydenberg thought he was having a go at Labor by quoting comments from Penny Wong in 2009. There were two problems with this. One: Frydenberg had forgotten that 2009 was the year Malcolm Turnbull had supported Labor’s policy on emissions trading. Two: Everyone else in the room remembered. You could watch the energy draining from his face as the gaffe dawned on him and he quickly found a way to finish his answer and get well away from the microphone.

2. Labor has a plan to level the playing field by reforming negative gearing concessions. This week, the Libs scare campaign around housing prices has changed direction once more. No, twice more. Kelly O’Dwyer says house prices will go up, Malcolm Turnbull says house prices will go down, and on Wednesday Scott Morrison says they’ll go up again. It’s enough to give you whiplash. It’s hard to keep up to date with these videos. I put this one up on Wednesday and then on Thursday George Brandis changed their scare campaign again. Admittedly it doesn’t matter whether or not Brandis is trying to run a fear campaign, there’s something intrinsically scary about that man.

3. The Government had delusions of power all week. Mark Butler called out Josh Frydenberg for trying to blame renewable energy for the blackout in parts of Adelaide. Mark had the statement from the Pelican Point generator, which had been ready to supply the power required to avoid overload, and the federal regulator, which reports to Frydenberg, had refused to tell the generator to turn the power on. Tanya, Chris and Mark showed Frydenberg how to flick a switch from off to on.

4. And apparently yesterday was the day we were meant to bring our Christmas presents to Parliament. Scott Morrison arrived with a lump of coal. We must be the only country in the world with a government saying the solution to extreme heat and climate change is fewer renewables and more coal.

Spot the inanimate object.

5. The Government’s Centrelink debacle has many victims. Pensioners and other Centrelink recipients have been sent debt notices and had pensions cut off, even though they owed no money. The Government itself has confirmed a 40% failure rate of those cases that have been publicly raised.

Linda Burney stood up for the victims in Parliament and said:

“In the eyes of those opposite, we are all either ‘lifters’ or ‘leaners’, and anyone who has received a Centrelink payment in the last six years is a leaner. Age pensioners are not leaners. Those caring for relatives are not leaners. Former students who received Austudy are not leaners. Those with disability who receive the DSP are not leaners. That is callous, it is a massive failure and it speaks to the complete lack of empathy on the minister’s part.”

 

So the fight to stand up for the people who need us most for 2017 is well and truly underway. You can be guaranteed we will be fighting passionately for families, pensioners, education, Medicare and an inclusive Australia. You can also be guaranteed Malcolm Turnbull will be fighting passionately for Malcolm Turnbull and half his party will be fighting passionately against Malcolm Turnbull.

How many friends do we have in our classroom today?

We’re back in Canberra Monday so I’ll give you another update in a week.

Tony

PS – Turnbull’s only passion is for power. Here’s the song of the week.

Midnight Oil – Power and the Passion