An Australian in America

The redoubtable PJF – a stalwart of the ALP, The Pub, and a really nice person – offered this take on his and his even more redoubtable OH’s (please don’t be offended – it’s meant in the nicest possible way!) take on the Prezzy election over there. Thank you so much, PJF, and thank you also to PJF’s OH for keeping him up to the mark.

I have recently returned from an eight week visit to USA. In the course of this trip, I had an opportunity to observe the Presidential contest at closer quarters – although in the internet age that isn’t such an obvious advantage. However, reading newspapers in real time, observing the television ads, and talking with some non-random citizens offered some insights. It certainly firmed up my own assessments as well as suggesting some explanations for the rise of Trump, something I thought incomprehensible before I left Australia.

I arrived in New York during the Democrat convention in Philadelphia, and was able to observe the coronation of Hillary Clinton and a highly successful, carefully stage-managed, event. Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea provided rousing speeches. The show was stolen, however, by Khizr Khan, the father of dead Muslim soldier Humayan Khan. Khizr’s dignified powerful speech encapsulated multiple themes which the Democrats were seeking to highlight and had the bonus of inducing a reaction from Donald Trump which should have further discredited the Republican nominee.

That this series of events is now essentially forgotten demonstrates the speed of the contemporary news cycle and the difficulty of nailing the Donald before his perpetual motion machine moves on to its next bizarre offering.

As I left Australia at the end of July, my expectation was that Clinton’s success was as certain as any political event three months in the future. Since that time, the progress of the campaign has caused my confidence to ebb, although I still think that Hillary will win. When the tide was running in her favour and seemed irreversible, a landslide in the order of 350+ electoral college votes seemed attainable, with states like Arizona and even Utah being considered as possible Democrat gains. Since then an inexorable trend has reduced expectations to the point where 300 votes would be a triumph, and the focus now is on sandbagging the States which provided Obama with his 2012 majority.

The significance of the eventual margin lies in the direct consequences for the concurrent elections for Congress where intransigent Republican majorities in the House of Representatives (virtually impregnable) and Senate (in the balance) have caused such frustration for President Obama. The hostile Congress is the major reason for the disappointment many feel with the Obama Presidency – although that is unjustified and unfair in my view. If Clinton were to have a decisive victory, she would be likely to assist Senate and House Democrats to take seats; as well the dynamics of the contest would shift in the Democrats favour, and even if the Republicans retained a majority in the House (which is almost certain because of the gerrymandered boundaries), they would be under pressure to be more co-operative. It is also possible that a thorough Republican defeat in the context of their ragged Presidential nominating process would pose a serious threat to the viability of the Republican Party.

With the revival of Republican prospects, the possibility of this existential threat has receded, if not disappeared, and the hostile elements of their Party, far from feeling chastened, will be emboldened, reaffirming that their resistance remains a politically effective approach.

While the polls are the obvious indicator of Clinton’s deteriorating position, impressions formed from various casual encounters with people during my travels have also influenced my more sober view at the end of September. Our first hint that Hillary’s position wasn’t impregnable came at a dinner party at the home of a mid-west academic. Our hint that we considered Trump was a lunatic was met politely, but clearly the view was not endorsed by our intelligent, educated company. Many of our other travelling companions evinced highly conservative attitudes – fiscal stability concerns particularly in evidence. I should note that these people could not be considered representative of the electorate, as they were typically older, relatively affluent and disproportionately religious. Nonetheless, they were expressing concerns which have considerable potency among Americans. One politically engaged citizen said (jocularly, I think) that he was proposing a write-in nomination for Margaret Thatcher, which betrayed his prejudices as well as his disaffection with both major party candidates. This individual subsequently indicated his particular hostility to Trump which suggested that he was likely to be a reluctant Clinton voter come 8th November. The other factor which emerged in these encounters were visceral attitudes to Hillary Clinton, who acts as a lightning rod for hostility (about which more discussion below).

A waitress in a hotel restaurant in Las Vegas hesitated momentarily when I asked who she would be voting for, but then unequivocally pronounced herself a Republican and a Trump voter. That was somewhat unnerving as she is a relatively low-paid worker in a swing state. The offset was the airport worker at Vegas who was definitely in the Hillary camp. I also recall the New York suburban Italian-American woman who revealed her remarkable hostility for Hillary, and her willingness to make allowances and wishful thinking about Trump. Her small (family) business seemed to be her politically determining characteristic. More encouragement came when I encountered two thirty-something women from Connecticut (finance industry workers) in a queue in the breakfast room at our hotel; both were adamant “Hillary’s our girl”.

Typically, just about every non-American who expressed an interest in the election would be a Clinton voter, if they had the opportunity, and for the most part they expressed bemusement that Trump was even competitive. It is a frustration for those of us who live in other countries that American elections impact on us, but that we don’t have any opportunity to vote or even influence the outcome.

So why is the Donald even remotely plausible? My professional prejudice is that economics decisively influences political attitudes, but people’s self-perception is also important. Twenty or thirty years ago most Americans had no doubt that their country was the best in the world and other than those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, most felt confident and secure about their personal circumstances. However, economic developments since and the decline in national prestige and command have left many Americans less personally secure and less confident about the future. The particular cohort which is Trump’s most reliable source of support, white males without college degrees, have been particularly hard hit by these economic developments. They also are susceptible to simplistic identifications of scapegoats for their troubles – immigrants, women, Muslims. At the same time, the vast majority of the population has experienced virtually static real wages and reduced job security with declining confidence about the future prospects of their children.

Paradoxically, the apparent tightening of the contest may be a significant asset for Clinton. Given the evident hesitation among her supporters, the clincher might well be that the uncommitted when confronted with the real prospect of a Trump Presidency will vote for Hillary, notwithstanding their qualified support. If it appears that she is headed for a relatively comfortable victory, the temptation will exist for reluctant supporters to either sit it out or flirt with either the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, or the Greens’ Jill Stein. This coupled with her superior GOTV apparatus should be sufficient to get her across the line, although the GOTV campaign is also likely to be more successful if there is a perception that the contest remains tight. Both the enthusiasm of the volunteers and their ability to get the voters out will depend on the perception that the race is in the balance. The difficulty of converting the potential Hispanic support into Democrat voters was explored in this recent article in the NYT Magazine.

I alluded earlier to the hostility which Hillary arouses. This has a certain familiarity for Australian progressives who lived through the excoriation of Julia Gillard. However, unlike Julia, Hillary does not enjoy the intense support of a minority, as even her supporters tend to express reservations. Her situation is also complicated in a voluntary voting system, particularly one in which significant barriers are put in the way of those who are potentially her most reliable potential voters.

A columnist in the Chicago Tribune in August saw a parallel with a gubernatorial election in Louisiana in 1991, when David Duke of KKK notoriety challenged Edwin Edwards, a long-serving Governor who had a reputation as (at least) borderline corrupt. A popular bumper sticker, which was anti-Duke rather than pro-Edwards, read “Vote for the crook, it’s important.” While the Tribune writer was alluding to Clinton’s unpopularity rather than implying corruption, he saw an element of analogy between that Louisiana election and this year’s presidential contest as one where voting anti-Trump was a more resonant message than supporting Clinton.

The other factor which goes some way to explaining Trump’s support is the superficial attraction of the simple solution. Unfortunately, Mencken’s view “that there is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible and wrong” has scarcely any currency these days, especially among those whose interest in politics is limited to knowing what a terrible job they’re all doing and how government is the problem.

The first debate has reinforced my view that Clinton is on track for a victory by a small margin. I think the debate demonstrated to anyone undecided that there is only one qualified candidate. Hillary’s understanding of the issues, her policy proposals, and her ability to manage the demands of the position is light years removed from that of her opponent. Undecideds at this stage more probably refers to voters who are questioning whether they will bother to vote at all as well as those unhappy with either major party candidate and seriously considering a vote for Johnson or Stein. Clinton seemed to successfully disarm at least some of the hostility which she arouses and to reassure waverers as to her competency.

406 thoughts on “An Australian in America

  1. Section 4 . . . with Cartoon Corner

    Clinton is trouncing Trump with Asian-Americans.
    Michael Gordon with some strong advice to Turnbull to ditch the SSM plebiscite.
    Things get worse for the RSL as the story unfolds.

    Gorgeous work from David Rowe on Abbott’s visit to London.

    Warren Brown with the budgie smugglers in Malaysia.

    Alan Moir nicely depicts the support Turnbull is getting from the right.
    Jon Kudelka also goes to Malaysia.

  2. Rod Culleton sounds as nuts as Malcolm Roberts.

    Senator Culleton’s argument rested on the premise that legislation amended in 2003 meant judges in the Supreme and District courts were no longer required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, meaning they had no jurisdiction and all decisions of those courts since 2005 were invalid

    Or maybe he has been asking Mad Mal for legal advice.

    Hanson certainly knows how to pick the nutters. And why on earth did she choose a candidate who was so obviously unfit for office? I think it’s possible she was influenced to do that by someone close to her, someone with political ambitions, someone who understands how things work, someone who knew Culleton would not last long, someone far more intelligent than Hanson.

    Will it soon be bye-bye Senator Culleton, hello Senator Ashby?

  3. So much for all that ‘it will be a woman/it will be someone from Eastern Europe’ speculation.

    António Guterres to be next UN secretary general
    Security council agrees, in surprisingly quick decision, that former Portuguese PM will succeed Ban Ki-moon at start of 2017

    António Guterres, the former Portuguese prime minister, will be the next UN secretary general, after the security council agreed he should replace Ban Ki-moon at the beginning of next year.

    In a rare show of unity, all 15 ambassadors from the security council emerged from the sixth in a series of straw polls to announce that they had agreed on Guterres, who was UN high commissioner for refugees for a decade, and that they would confirm the choice in a formal vote on Thursday.

    “Today after our sixth straw poll we have a clear favourite and his name is António Guterres,” the Russian UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters with his 14 council colleagues standing behind him.

    “We have decided to go to a formal vote tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, and we hope it can be done by acclamation.”

    • Vic Rollison is already tweeting about this..

      But the description on Austender does not suggest anything other than a typical request for IT/data solution.

      The Request for Expressions of Interest aims to identify a solution or solutions to enable location coordinates for emergency calls from mobile services and address details for fixed line services to be made available to the Emergency Call Person (ECP) for 000 which would then forward on those details to the relevant Emergency Service Organisation (ESO) (police, fire, ambulance). Alternatively, the solution or solutions could provide for those coordinates to be made available to both the ECP and the relevant ESO in parallel. Solutions to provide mobile coordinates may also specify address information as part of proposed solutions.

      Thousands of private businesses profit from govt contracts, especially for IT solutions. I’d prefer more of this work was done in-house, but years of outsourcing means the skills for this type of specialist IT are not available in the public sector.

      I think Vic is over re-acting, but perhaps the detailed docs reveal more sinister intent – I don’t want to provide my email address to request them.

      Who operates the 000 services now? Aren’t they operated by state SES/police etc?

    • Telstra operates the service.

      Fifield’s statement was very clear about the entire call service being pit out to private tender, not just the IT stuff.

      There are two EOI entries, a bit more rummaging around found the one for the entire service, not just the IT aspect. (Sorry about that, I had to go out and do taxi duty while I was searching.)

      I’m not sure how the privatisation would work. Telstra’s operation is under specific legislation, so any change would surely have to go through a new bill, or at least, you’d think so.

    • The State of Victoria privatised its 000 services or its management of Ambulance call outs under Kennett
      It didn’t work, people died or waited 1 hour in dire situations. I think Bracks straightened it out

      I don’t have time to go devilling now,

      I think Victoria Rollison is right to be alarmed

      Remember privatisation brings reduction in service, lack of accountability, reduced oversight, especially in our days of government by Attorney General with no regard for the rule of law

    • Thanks Leone and Billie

      Happy to stand corrected.. (and stand at the barricades!)

      I’m was just concerned that ‘we’ (the collective ‘we’ of left-leaning/progressive etc) don’t cry ‘wolf’ over every LNP announcement….

      It looks like it is a “determination” under the Telecommunications Act that Telstra is the current Emergency Call Person, and the Minister can make a new determination and just publish in the C’wealth gazette. I don’t think it requires a change to the Act itself.

      The 2nd austender link includes a reference to 112 numbers which is the National Relay Service for hearing and speech impaired.

  4. Leone

    Geez, only week to submit tender. It would suggest that a provider has already been decided on. Wonder which donor to the lnp is the lucky winner.

  5. Excellent article, last paragraph eloquently summarises the impact 20 years of downsizing, efficiency dividends and especially outsourcing has had on the capacity of the APS to implement policy and deliver govt programs and services…

    Both LNP and ALP equally share blame for this – LNP for starting it, ALP for not halting the trend or standing up for efficient govt service delivery..

    Fixing the now entrenched cultural problems and lack of expertise and capacity will take at least 2 generations, assuming anyone in the ALP has the balls/willingness to do so.

  6. Does anyone else think this Brandis business is the result of Brandis trying to get rid of Justin Gleeson?

    Why would he do that? Simple. Gleeson was a Labor appointment and he is a far better lawyer than Brandis could ever hope to be. Brandis is jealous and quite possibly wanted to get rid of Gleeson so he could appoint some Liberal stooge who is owed a favour. So he has tried to force Gleeson to quit by taking away his responsibilities and by telling lies to make it seem Gleeson had approved of certain actions when he had in fact not even been consulted.

    I believe Brandis thought Gleeson would eventually get fed up with all this undermining and would quit. Instead Gleeson took the ‘don’t get mad, get even’ approach, carefully documented everything and waited until the right moment.

    Now it’s Brandis who should resign, not Gleeson.

    It’s just my theory though.

  7. Karma
    the creator of lying rodent comment now can be similarly identified for all “as the lying Toad”
    stay alert we need more lerts

  8. Ok, brace yourselves people. I’m about to go in to bat for Uhlmann.

    He’s a bit more precious than he likes to pretend he is. He used to boast about taking no notice of social media, but this article makes it clear that he does. But it also shows that he’s not as hardline against renewables as he’s being portrayed. As witness here:

    Finally, we know that the energy market is in transition to cleaner forms of power and that is unstoppable. In time the engineering difficulties posed by wind will be overcome.

    He jumped in way too quickly on the ‘blame renewables’ wagon in the wake of last week’s SA storms. And his main fault at the moment is that he’s leaving the crazy claims of politicians – right up the the PM – alone. The message from the Liberal/One Nation camp is that we should back away from renewables. He seems aware of that with this line –

    Politicians have said a lot of things in the wake of this outage. But judge them by what they do.

    So it appears he’s comfortable with politicians gaining mileage out of misinformation and deluding the public, which I’m not happy about. But generally, the article seems to be a genuine attempt to make some sense out of what happened. He’s largely abandoned the conceit that renewables caused the blackout, except for this bit:

    The real drama plays out in a 90 second window between 4:16:46pm and 4:18:16pm.

    The weather triggers a series of transmission faults and three major 275 kilovolt lines are lost. Then, in two separate events, 315 MW of wind generation is disconnected. This unexplained, rapid loss of wind power is the event that begins the cascade towards blackout.

    “In the events leading up to the SA region black system, generation reduction occurred at six wind farms,” the report says. “There was no reduction in thermal generation.”

    Why it happened is still a mystery.

    He’s guessing at the 315MW wind generation disconnect beginning the cascade, I would think. We’ll probably discover in time that it was a transmission issue rather than a generation one. It’s a mystery, so it’s a certainly that he doesn’t know what happened.

    But what’s interesting, in terms of the SA power mix, is that “wind farms cannot be used in the initial stages of a power system restoration due to the variable nature of their output”. So in terms of delaying getting SA back on the grid, that can be talked about.

    But ultimately, he’s saying in the article that the SA power system is having teething problems, not that it’s dysfunctional. He appears to accept that renewables are here to stay.

    • I think you are being much kinder and much more generous than Uhlmann deserves.

      He is cherry-picking bits from the report that he hopes will prove he was right and it was the renewables, in particular the turbines, that failed.

      Read the report and remember, it’s only a preliminary report. There is more to come. –

      Further reading.

      A preliminary report into last week’s blackout in South Australia from the Australian Energy Market Operator says it is clear that it was a “weather event” that sparked 30 seconds of chaos and triggered the collapse of three main transmission lines and ultimately the state-wide blackout.

      But the report, although reaching no conclusions, and based on incomplete data, invites the media – and wind farm opponents in Coalition and industry – to cite wind energy as a key factor by inferring that some of the state’s wind farms contributed to the cascading impacts that caused the state-wide outage

    • Dunno how that happened. Used that in a link to Brandis being in the dock. Try this

  9. Leone

    I like your theory. Transfer the names and places, and you could say it is very much like what is happening with BB and HI.

    • Very much like BB and HI, and I did have that thought cross my mind.

      I’m not sure whether Brandis is a bully or a jealous old queen. It’s probably both.

  10. Aguirre

    Good try at defense of toolman, but from the reaction on twitter, he was the one that started the rubbish and was reveling in it.

  11. The Shovel –

    Banks Charge Government ‘Processing Fee’ For Answering Inquiry Questions

    A $22.50 processing fee has been applied to each question answered during the parliamentary inquiry into banks, it was revealed today.

    The Government – which only discovered the fee today – has racked up a debt of $695,000 in the three days of the inquiry so far

  12. Another day, another stuff-up.

    This time it’s the Baird government (again).

    New intercity trains too wide for rail line to stations in Blue Mountains

    Don’t you just love this bit of frantic arse-covering.

    Transport for NSW confirmed it was finalising where modifications such as platform extensions, track work and signal changes would need to be made to allow the new trains to run.

    “The new trains are being custom-built to our specifications. It’s always been our intention to carry out some modifications to the rail infrastructure so that we can run these trains and deliver our customers the comfort they deserve,” it said in a statement.

    “These modifications are a part of the overall project to deliver the new trains.”

    But – the cost of the ‘modifications’ was never included in the cost of providing the new trains. It will blow quite a hole in the NSW budget, just after Gladys Berejiklian has been boasting about NSW now being debt-free. She avoided mentioning that was achieved by flogging off assets, in true Liberal style.

    NSW Government debt free, but only due to housing boom, asset sales: Opposition

    And –

    • The balls-up with the “new” Blue Mountains trains has been called by our local member (and I’m proud and happy to say,friend of mine) Trish Doyle.

  13. The Shovel again, with the way things will work with a privatised 000 service.

    The triple-zero emergency call service is up for private tender. We travelled into the future and listened in on the first call with the new provider.
    Triple Zero™: Hello, welcome to Triple Zero. Please note the options have recently changed. To hear our privacy statement, press 1. For details of our new mobile plans, press 2. For ambulance, press 3. For police, press 4. For fire services, press 5. To hear these options again, press 6.
    Thank you. At the end of your call, please stay on the line to answer a quick three-question service about your experience today.
    Now, in a few words, please tell us why you’re calling today.
    Caller: Heart attack!
    Triple Zero™: I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. In a few words, please tell us why you’re calling today.
    Caller: Heart attack!
    Triple Zero™: Did you say ‘new mobile phone plan?’
    Caller: No
    Triple Zero™: Please say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
    Caller: No!
    Triple Zero™: Thanks, transferring you to our sales department now

  14. On hurricane Matthew.

    Haiti was brutalized but all the talk now is about Florida.

    Forget about the poor and concentrate on the rich in the USA who can get out of there.

  15. UN SG

    They’ve gone a long way downhill since the days of Trygve Lie and Dag Hammarskjöld

    • Oh, it’s the greyhounds what done him in!

      Privatization and selling off the state silver don’t get a mention.

      Stuff Their ABC!

  16. The apologies of the budgie nine and the Banks’ CEOs have so much in common. Both sets are so obviously a case of sorry for getting caught and nothing to do with any sorrow for those who suffered as a result of their indiscretions.

  17. Brian,

    I bet if Dr Mahathir were still PM the rotan might have been administered to the budgie nine.

  18. Leigh interviewed Richard Roxburgh.

    It was terrific.

    Richard was so engaging and Leigh looked (gasp) quite beautiful. It was a very unusual angle: i give huge credit to the bods with the camera and the producer.

  19. Just got polled by reachtell. Seems they were interested in who I supported at the last election, who will I support in the next, if I am in favour of SSM, Do I think the issue should be decided by Parliament or plebiscite!

    No surprises as to how I answered!

  20. Richard was so engaging and Leigh looked (gasp) quite beautiful.

    Noorty Ducky! 😉

  21. puffy, TMD,

    I would not have raised a sweat over that.

    Me neither. It would have been well deserved Something I bet their parents never delivered.


    This is big news in the UK, for more see these articles

  23. Bookshelves said this morning that his staff took notes during meetings with Gleeson and they would back up his claims.

    Looks like the staffers are not going to be part of the lies. Good on them.

    So I suppose this means Bookshelves can finally kiss goodbye to that High Court position he has been angling for.

  24. Leone,

    I heard it and thought Ms Burney was really good. Incisive, and both dispassionate and passionate at the same time.

    I’m very glad she is now in federal parliament.

  25. FOR SALE: 20 metres of grandiose wall height bookcases. POA. Apply Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra ACT.

  26. 90 years of car manufacturing by Ford ends today in Melbourne and Geelong. The Pinnacle of ‘Hockeynomics’.
    Holden on its last legs.

    • Worse still, media is still just echoing LNP feeds.

      Trying to wriggle out of the red faces accusing SA’s clean energy strategies causing the storm blackouts, they even fed the lie that Weatherill’s policies have led to the decline in manufacturing there.

      Considering what Hockey and Truss did to car-making with barely a blink, while Abbott was discreetly out of the country, that really is an outrage.

  27. Good morning Dawn Patrollers. Quite a lot on the plate today!

    Michaela Whitbourn looks in to the mess Brandis has got himself into. Dreyfus has his foot on Brandis’s throat.
    Laura Tingle writes on Brandis getting no support from his staffers. Google.
    Mark Kenny writes about Brandis’s extraordinary ability to put himself in the dock.
    Tess Lawrence – Gleeson and Brandis at war. Well worth a read.,9565
    Tony Wright has some fun with the battle of the silks.
    Even the Coalition refused to swallow these banking excuses says Chris Johnson.
    Amy Remeikis nicely pulls apart the show trial that the banking inquiry was.
    And here is a short satirical review of the banking inquiry.
    Rob Burgess writes that the banks didn’t save Australia. They ate it!
    Banking executives could face accountability laws. Google.
    Eight things we learned from the banking inquiry.

  28. Section 2 . . .

    Woolworths can’t even get Masters to die properly.
    Victoria describes today’s COAG meeting as a stunt to sane Turnbull’s skin.
    Here’s Kristina Keneally’s take on the issue.
    I wonder what seat pitch JetStar has used to configure the aircraft.
    Paul McGeough on why some pundits say Trump is still in the running.
    Peter Lewis on how Turnbull’s NBN is unravelling. The article’s last sentence sums it up beautifully!
    A message for dickheads – pride and privilege only get you so far.
    “View from the Street” has a good look at the dickheads’ actions.
    Amanda Reade on ABC viewers going dark on Uhlmann’s effort on the SA blackout.
    Michael Pasco on how we do and don’t use credit card points.

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