As the world waits in anticipation to find out who will claim victory in the 2020 United States election, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that the reelection of Republican Donald Trump could be “deeply problematic” for European, Western and Asian democracies.
Trump’s popularity, which polls failed to identify in 2016 and again in 2020, speaks to “an America which is now divided into two fundamentally warring tribes”, Rudd said.
“A house divided among itself cannot stand. And I really worry about the future of democracy, the damage which could be done to the brand of democracy globally if this goes radically wrong in the day ahead. Which matters for us in Australia, it really does, because if authoritarians around the world get a sense that the brand has been damaged, it makes it a lot easier for the alternative view to prevail,” he told a Crikey Talks webinar on Wednesday evening.
For someone like Trump to retain masses of supporters despite being incompetent, Rudd argued that there has to be an “underlying reality” for the marketing message — which Rupert Murdoch has helped deliver — to be effective. In America, that underlying reality is the growing demographic of people in regional, rural and some parts of urban America who have become economically marginalised due to either their wages stagnating or their job prospects disappearing.
“I think the second factor is that when far right demagogues identify the existence of this demographic, they see an opportunity to recruit people from the traditional left and centre left over to the populist right and the far right,” Rudd said.
“And their message has got two elements to it, which is: the fact that you are doing badly economically and financially, is because of ‘them’. And the ‘them’ usually equals foreigners at home or abroad, or ‘them’ equals finance, because these twin evils have created this local set of circumstances which you are suffering from.”
After linking those personal circumstances with the ‘them’, the far right then mobilises the fear, anxiety, and hatred against the people who the demagogues have identified as “being the causes of the assault on themselves personally and on their sense of cultural identity and continuity”. This is despite far right demagogues not actually solving any of these problems for the people who identify with them, Rudd noted.
“And what is stunning about the continuing phenomenon in the United States four years later — and plus the entire pandemic which has affected massively these marginalised communities more than inner urban communities — is that the power of the polemic continues to have effect,” he said.
International implications of a Trump win
The international implications of a Trump win will be “deeply problematic” for European, Western and Asian democracies, as well as for the future of the liberal international order, Rudd warned, as the victory would be viewed as “a poster child” for the success of demagoguery.
“But secondly, internationally, what it means is that because Trump is instinctively a protectionist, protectionism rather than being an exercise in, let’s call it Trumpian exceptionalism, will be increasingly regarded as the global economic norm. And where that goes is, frankly, a retardation of global economic growth,” he said.
“So much of global growth has occurred in the last 30 or 40 years because we’ve progressively liberalised the global economy. It’s produced an enormous growth dividend for a whole bunch of people. And so we’ve now reached the high watermark of, let’s call it peak globalisation, peak free trade, and that’s fine, I understand the politics of that, but the economics of it will be, frankly, declining living standards across the world, leaving pandemics to one side.”
The third implication is that the world will see a “purely defined narrative of evil juxtaposed against the Trumpian view of virtue” unfold between the United States and China, which could lead to “a new ideological Cold War”.