Trump's populist movement: Game of Thrones now reality TV

By Tom Burton

November 10, 2016

Game of Thrones has come to life. The hugely popular television series depicts the tribes of another era on the march and forever in conflict with each other. Kings decapitated, queens stripped bare, cities overtaken by religious fanatics, wild horsemen slaughtering whole villages.

Fast forward to this week’s stunning presidential election and we have the (mostly) white-anglo tribes of small town America rising in revolt against the establishment elite — Washington, Wall Street and big media. We saw similar with Brexit, and in Australia with the winter election, with massive numbers voting against the two-party hegemony.

“This anxiety is particularly heartfelt in the dominant Anglo-American countries that for the better part of 300 years have ruled the globe.”

The primary causes have been well documented: the central driver being a deep anxiety the prevailing order is not fairly delivering the gains of global economic liberalism; the obvious yawning gaps between the educated, monied and political elite, and the people/punters/battlers who deeply feel they have to fight every day just to house, feed and school themselves and their families — however they define themselves; and in my view a deep angst in the so-called “West” that the big Asian, Islamic and Russian tribes are empowered and wanting a bigger piece of the action.

This anxiety is particularly heartfelt in the dominant Anglo-American countries that for the better part of 300 years have ruled the globe. The Trump battle cry to “Make America great again,” plays straight into that narrative. 

Another big contributor worth calling out is the power citizens now have to communicate and organise directly with each other and their own. The smartphone symbolises this power and is now the modern citizen’s tool of choice for bypassing traditional media channels and established institutions to demand direct action. Angry the system is not delivering to them, groups ranging from gays, evangelicals and victims of family violence, have taken power to themselves. This empowerment has been happening for over a decade — Trump’s blue collar movement was preceded by Obama’s hope and change coalition of minorities.

The political dynamic is not likely to change anytime soon and we are going to continue to see a long period of fragmented political parties and groups fighting for control. Recall the powerful city states of renaissance Italy and I believe that is the model that will emerge, as the national centralised model of the last 200 years begins to break down.

And the economic dislocation is only going to increase. In my view we are only in early days of a profound revolution that is being driven by technology. We are on the verge of a step change automation era that will see powerful cognitive systems and algorithms, super fast networks and the internet of things make the current sense of change seem like a tea party.

“Recall the powerful city states of renaissance Italy and I believe that is the model that will emerge…”

For government the take-away is of course profound. Creating a vision and strategy to adapt and hopefully prosper from these changes will be critical. Equally critical is to deliver. Deliver in the day-to-day. Transport systems that work. Education that trains and empowers opportunity. Healthcare that is accessible and affordable.

In Australia we have a public system that, to date, has broadly delivered, but is now really struggling to adapt to this new order. Built around traditional Westminster principles for a world that demands a very different operating model, the challenge is to adapt the model to one that empowers communities to build their place that works in this new world. Not one that lumbers along, Pentagon like, locked in deep statutory silos, pretending the model is effective.

And if government is going to be relevant and productive it needs to be much more effective at collaborating with the parts of the country that are not government.

This is not an ideological observation. The community’s many problems — be they domestic violence, obesity or educational opportunity — are very obviously issues that demand collaboration with stakeholders interests that should be part of any solution. Think family violence and then consider alcohol companies, gambling interests, media and football codes that all contribute to this chronic problem. It is blindingly clear that if government can leverage these interests it will come to a much more effective and sustainable solution.

If there is a simple message for public officials from this years tumultuous political events,  it is that people just want things to work.

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