What would a Trump presidency mean for Australia?

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Frank Luntz is the leading Republican communication strategist and pollster. His focus groups are legendary. His book, Words That Work is a bestseller on both sides of the political aisle. And his communication ‘memos’ have changed the face of political discourse.

This election, his focus groups have been chaotic. ‘What I see and hear, night after night is all about passion, not compassion. It’s about catharsis, not consensus. Payback, not progress. Posturing, not policy.’ Luntz wrote in Time. He has dubbed this phenomenon theAmerican Anger Agenda’.

Yet there’s one candidate emerging not only unscathed, but celebrated as a weapon for voters to punish politicians with: Donald Trump.

The Trump train

Benjamin Isakhan, Associate Professor of Politics and Policy at Deakin University, who has previously explored the subject of Trump and Australia in depth, has some root causes of Trump’s appeal.

Firstly, there is an unprecedented global refugee crisis. The world is currently experiencing the largest crisis of people seeking asylum since WWII. The problem, according to Prof. Isakhan, is the failure of the current political spectrum to have an open conversation about the immigration crisis. With no clear solutions offered, immigration becomes the focal point for the social, cultural and economic anxieties of people, in particular the working class, the world over.

While immigration may not directly address woes, the cultural and economic hardships faced by working class people are very real. Trump’s simple, vengeful campaign speaks directly to people who feel like strangers in their own country.

Please explain?

In Australia, the recent election of Pauline Hanson can be seen as a result of Australia’s own ‘anger agenda’. Her calls for a royal commission into Islam and climate science reflect an attitude that reflects the disenfranchisement of many of Australia’s working class.

It’s likely that a Trump presidency would empower Hanson’s brand of anti-politics. These kinds of agendas have so far put divisive political rhetoric and multiculturalism on a collision course. In the recent Brexit referendum, far right groups like the UK Independence Party were able to dictate political discourse through stoking fears of mass uncontrolled immigration. This rhetoric had violent effect, with UK police reporting a five-fold rise in race-hate associated crimes since the referendum.

'With no clear solutions offered, immigration becomes the focal point for the social, cultural and economic anxieties of people, in particular the working class, the world over'

Associate Professor Benjamin Isakhan,
Deakin University

Security and insecurity

Trump claims he’ll ‘cut the head off ISIS’ and has threatened to go after the families of terrorists. He is a strong proponent of torture and other illegal means of warfare.

Australia, having signed the ANZUS agreement with the US traditionally follows America into war. However with Trump’s messages now being used by ISIS to recruit new members, and his clear indication of willingness to break international laws, a Trump-led conflict would be unlike anything Australia has experienced. Serious consideration of Australia’s alliance would be required due to the security and ethical implications of being tied up in Trump’s war.

A changing climate

Trump’s climate scepticism is reckless. He once tweeted that: ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.’ Prof. Isakhan claims Trump’s position is dangerous because America has historically been seen as a world leader on this issue. If Trump’s policies cause the US to wind back their efforts, the rest of the world might follow suit.

Much of Australia is on the frontline of climate impacts. Many islands around Australia look set to lose their homes to climate change in the next 50 years. With rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events occurring, Australia would suffer enormously from a failure to address global warming.

Decline in dollars

Trump’s open confrontation with China would threaten to put Australia in a compromising situation with our economic alliances.

Australia already has free trade deals with China and the US. However, increasing conflict in the South China Sea would not only threaten the security of the trade route with China, but would perhaps force Australia to pick a side in the conflict. Trump has threatened to economically punish the countries he feels are ‘ripping off the American worker’. It’s hard to imagine how Australia might remain neutral in an increased conflict between Trump and China.

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Benjamin Isakhan
Benjamin Isakhan

Associate Professor of Politics and Policy, Deakin University
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