Monday 18 January 2021

Trump's Surprisingly Large Army Of New Zealand Supporters.

The Sincerest Form Of Flattery: As anybody with the intestinal fortitude to brave the commentary threads of local news-sites, large and small, will attest, the number of Trump-supporting New Zealanders is really quite astounding. 

IT’S SO DIFFICULT to resist the temptation to be smug. From the distant perspective of New Zealand, the United States is fast becoming incomprehensible. We greet the information that there are now more US troops in Washington DC than there are in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria combined with a dumfounded shake of the head. As we witness National Guardsmen and women securing the streets of the United States capital city against car bombs and IEDs, we struggle to accept that the terrorists against whom these extraordinary measures are directed are not from foreign parts – they’re home-grown.

“Thank God we live in New Zealand!”, has become a common refrain wherever people gather to discuss the images of insurrection and political violence filling our screens. As if the God of Nations has given us some sort of free-pass through the unending vicissitudes of history.

As if …

Bryan Gould who, had the dice rolled differently, might have ended up leading the British Labour Party, has an interesting tale to tell about the political tensions simmering just beneath the surface of New Zealand. Astonishingly, this Oxford graduate and former Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University had a column submitted to his local newspaper rejected. In Gould’s own words:

“In a recent column I wrote for local newspapers, I ventured to suggest that Donald Trump – in addition to being a liar and a cheat, and sexist and racist – was a fascist in the making and would probably try, if he were to lose the election, to defy the democratic will of the people. The column was deemed to be too extreme by my editor who declined to publish it on the ground that it would offend some of his Trump-supporting readers who might write letters to him to complain. So much for a free and courageous press! Our failure to agree on the issue led to my no longer writing my column for his paper.”

Now Gould is very far from being the first person to have his editor reject a contribution. Editorial discretion and press freedom cannot be separated without abandoning both principles. What is remarkable about Gould’s account, however, is the editor’s reference to his “Trump-supporting readers” and their potential to make sufficient epistolary mischief to give him pause.

Now, granted, all this happened well before what CNN delights in calling “The Trump Insurrection”. This event has, presumably, reduced the number of Gould’s editor’s Trump-supporting readers considerably. Nevertheless, as anybody with the intestinal fortitude to brave the commentary threads of local news-sites, large and small, will attest, the number of Trump-supporting New Zealanders is really quite astounding. There are certainly enough of them to raise the question: If a truly Trumpian figure were to emerge from our own political environment, would he or she attract a level of support comparable to the original?

The question isn’t quite as hypothetical as it might at first appear. In the general election of 2005, the Don Brash-led National Party came within 46,000 votes of winning a plurality of the Party Vote. With the support of Act and NZ First, Brash could very easily have become prime minister. And what a prime minister he would have been! The National leader and his party were committed to returning the Treaty of Waitangi to history’s glass case. The Maori seats were marked down for abolition, and all race-based references were to be expunged from the statute books. In the parlance of present-day “progressives”, Brash’s would have been a “ neo-colonialist”, “white supremacist” government.

Not to put too fine a point upon it, all hell would have broken loose.

It does not require too large a slice of the Devil’s imagination to envisage Brash and his allies being left with little alternative but to mobilise their “silent majority” of supporters against the fury his policies had unleashed in the streets. Protest action that resulted in serious property damage or, even worse, to loss of life, would have left him with even fewer choices. Calling-in the military to support the civil power would likely have become necessary quite quickly – with all-too-predictable results. A snap election, called to provide ex-post-facto validation for the emergency powers taken by the government to quell the unrest (as happened following the 1951 Waterfront Dispute) would, almost certainly, have delivered National a stunning victory. New Zealanders would have struggled to recognise the angry mess their country had become.

It didn’t happen, of course, because, as happened recently in Georgia’s run-off Senate elections, people of colour resident in a handful of crucial suburbs came through at the eleventh hour with enough votes to save the day. South Auckland’s Maori and Pasifika voters give Labour’s Helen Clark the leverage she needed to persuade Winston Peters to keep the National Party off the Treasury Benches. (Even though NZ First had actively campaigned on an anti-Treaty manifesto no less radical than Brash’s.)

The other thing that happened over the course of the three years following the 2005 election was exactly what all moderate Republicans must be praying for in the post-Trump era. A young, charismatic and, most importantly, moderate leader of the dominant centre-right party emerged to challenge the incumbent centre-left government.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of John Key’s decade-long reign of moderate conservatism to the political and cultural evolution of contemporary New Zealand. It protected National from the creeping madness which has slowly but surely overtaken the centre-right parties of the USA, UK and Australia. In the fifteen years that have elapsed since Don Brash set his lance against the elites’ decolonisation project, the implacable grind of human mortality has eliminated a huge chunk of the electoral support for Brash’s “Iwi/Kiwi” dichotomy of 2005.

Racist nostalgia for the carefully camouflaged white supremacist New Zealand that endured from the end of the Land Wars in the mid-1860s until the defeat of Rob Muldoon in the mid-1980s still exists, of course, and four years of Trump’s shameless racism have given his Kiwi admirers’ renewed hopes of a National Party committed to making (white) New Zealand great again.

Their hopes are unlikely to be realised. A frankly white supremacist government in power – even if it had only ruled New Zealand for three or four years – could not have failed to extend its electoral base well into younger demographic cohorts. But Brash’s failure and Key’s success have limited significantly the political space available for Trumpism in New Zealand.

They’re here, of course, but not in the numbers needed to generate a politically decisive right-wing populist pulse. Gould’s editor really had no need to worry. The Baby Boomer voting bloc grew up with Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Hell! A fair number of them wore HART badges and exchanged blows with “Rob’s Mob” on the streets. When the owners of the Steinlager brand start celebrating anti-nuclear protesters as heroes, then you’d have to say that Trumpism’s chances of doing to New Zealand what it has so tragically done to the United States are pretty slim.

Even so, it never pays to give smugness too much room at the table. While there’s precious little scope for right-wing populism gaining significant political purchase here in Aotearoa-New Zealand, the prospects for left-wing populism are looking surprisingly good. What’s more, if this government doesn’t deign to put in an appearance sometime very soon, then that left-wing pulse is only likely to grow stronger.

It might pay to strengthen Parliament’s front doors – you never know these days who’s going to come a-calling.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 18 January 2021.


Tom Hunter said...

Having made two successive posts on the danger of a New Zealand Trumpism - and I'm glad to see that in this post you've dismissed the rather silly fears you raised in the previous one - I'll be interested to see if you can wrote a post that takes this comment...

While there’s precious little scope for right-wing populism gaining significant political purchase here in Aotearoa-New Zealand, the prospects for left-wing populism are looking surprisingly good.

... and explain the differences you see between Right-Wing and Left-Wing populism, aside from the racism which you naturally will highlight as an "of course" observation.

The reason it might be interesting is that Trump's 2016 win, and the reason for the huge increase in his vote numbers in 2020, lay precisely in his appeal to traditional US Left-Wing concepts like Social Security, Medicare and protecting American workers wages a via tariffs and so forth. In short, Trump combined both Left and Right-Wing populism, and you are correct in thinking that if the Adern government does not come through, especially for the Millennials in terms of income and especially housing, then there may indeed be a rich harvest of votes for a Trumpism appeal.

John Hurley said...

I support Trump. He's like the Mafia guy who is the only one who will come and help the people.
Of course the issue is "who are the people"? Joe Biden's view is quite wide and this is pretty much the view of the NZ establishment (bless their cotton socks)

Identity is subjective. Does anyone really celebrate diversity, especially when all you have is your neighbors?

Tom Hunter said...

I also had to chuckle about this statement from Chris, which rather implies that some insurrections are better than others...
It might pay to strengthen Parliament’s front doors – you never know these days who’s going to come a-calling.

... compared to this from The Message From Messenger Park:

It’s precisely this widening gulf between those with actual experience of things like guns, chainsaws and drilling machines, and those who regulate their use, that accounts for the angry crowd at Greymouth’s Messenger Park. In the rarefied atmosphere where decisions to shut down whole industries are made, hands-on experience is not only rare – it’s despised. What do workers know about anything?

I also appreciated Sanctuary's response on that post, which was effectively the apocryphal Marie Antoinette response.

Mike Grimshaw said...

Yes, there are those baby boomers who were supporters of progressive causes, but many were not and are not. Provincial NZ has many boomer Trump supporters- and there is a growing number of younger white males who are Trumpites and other forms of alt-righters.
We also need to remember what Fergie McCormick of 'Rugby Men for Rob' stated in the 1975 election: "Rob Muldoon is a bit of dictator but NZ needs to be run firmly". Michael Basset said "this statement caught the public mood."
Now Basset, Brasch and Hide have their own blog in which they set out their right-wing populist views which is very interesting timing.

John Drinnan said...

Waikato Times censorship of Bryan Gould is odd - even if he is too free with the word fascism. But as CT indicates, he won't be the first of last journalistto has his coppy rejected by an editor. Much of the column though, promotes the idea that NZ is like a mirror image of the US, and could have drifted into a race war. It even makes the allusion that Austalia has made the same transition as the US. Trump's ascendancy was due to attacks on poor and working class - yes whites - which was a demographic abandoned by the Democratic Party since r Clinton, and illustrated by Hillary's attacks on deplorables. Evidence that Trump represented white supremacists is popular among BLM true believers and identaerians, but does not easily stack up given the increase in Trump's black and hispanic vote. Clearly Trump was a screw up - but it's surprising to see Bowalley drifting into identity politics wonderland

greywarbler said...

John Drinnan you want to focus on one aspect of Trumpism. I think that limiting your assessment of his appeal to one particular group alone is a mistake. His appeal was varied. Here is Jonathan Pie spieling his doings and undoings - perhaps he can get to the bottom of the pit where Trump resides?

The Barron said...

I write with hours left of the Trump Presidency. I think it is worth giving a brief reality check on the so called patriots who invade the Capital building. Many of them must have felt the flesh and breaking bones of their supporter as she was trampled to death under their feet. A number of them urinated and defecated throughout the Capital building. Seeing a grown man with his pants down shitting in a public space does not automatically lead to the conclusion of patriotic hero, more the maturity of a standard three kid who has broken into the school offices on a weekend. One person claimed 'white rights' by falsely appropriating indigenous headgear. Others had runes tattooed upon them, presumably because they had not realized Scandinavians had progressed to writing.
Unfortunately, many were armed, were preventing democratic processes and calling for the deaths of publicly elected officials and endangered public servants working for the Government.
Could something similar happen in New Zealand? Freedom camper shitting in the wilderness dominates talk back, in the corridors of power may be frowned on.

John Hurley said...

Here is Dick interviewing Jacinda Chris

John Hurley said...

There must have been some movement from the Labour side. Helen Clark says we have too many tourists or (was it) she may have slammed the tourist industry itself? Jacinda Ardern said we can't keep relying on immigration and buying and selling houses. Covid is like musical chairs and ultimately governments have to face fiscal fall out of a shrunken economy. Never once has Paul Spoonley (57 media interviews 2019) mentioned a connection between migrants and the tourism industry. If anything is a threat to your identity it is being unable to park outside your own museum due to a host of bus drivers from China. The thrust of efforts by RNZ and TVNZ and corporates is presenting images of diverse peoples against iconic backdrops. This is the aim of cosmopolitan society. But did anyone ask the people? One half may not care about the other half and one half tends to be better off. Diversity for them is a part time thing, they are secure in their bohemian enclaves while they head overseas and diversity files their toe nails. Nationalism was discarded as it is considered racist as natio means to be born. But why should that be something we should have to reject. The trajectory of my people is quite different from that of Chinese or Polynesians. I feel an affinity for Europe and Europeans but that doesn't mean I reject other groups. That's a position supported by social science (and was BT's point). The point here is a deliberate effort to create cosmopolitan societies in developed, white countries and an incumbent set of lies and part-truths. Cosmopolitanism is flawed because love has to be specific. A kid is homesick for Dunsandel even though Baja California is much nicer.
Post Trump elites seem to think they have won and it is a bit worrying how far they think they can go by censorship. Spoonley talks of a volume of on-line speech being unmoderated. Speech is now objectified as good and bad rather than something that needs to be unlocked with a key. Not that it may be easy to reason with people given reason serves intuition. But the odd extremists aside ResearchNZ said that we are divided (half and half) over "diversity". We also mistrust the media (except for buying toasters). The problem is that while the dummies may not be able to wax lyrical behind a pen they have intuitions which are amazing at recognizing pattern. When intuition and perception is different to the power of the media, despite what "experts" say, they just won't be on board. But how far will Labour go indoctrinating children in schools. I recall when I outgrew and resented teachers.

John Hurley said...

those who dismiss anti-immigrant sentiment as mere racism have missed several important aspects of moral psychology related to the general human need to live in a stable and coherent moral order

. . . fading existential pressures [i.e., threats and challenges to survival] open people’s minds, making them prioritize freedom over security, autonomy over authority, diversity over uniformity, and creativity over discipline. By the same token, persistent existential pressures keep people’s minds closed, in which case they emphasize the opposite priorities

. . . the existentially relieved state of mind is the source of tolerance and solidarity beyond one’s in-group; the existentially stressed state of mind is the source of discrimination and hostility against out-groups

Guerilla Surgeon said...

John Hurley. I read the whole of that article I don't know if you did, but it doesn't seem to support your argument – whatever it is which is a little unclear as usual. Mind you, it's also full of misapprehensions.

Nick J said...

Barron, dont know if you listen to podcasts that tell opposite views to our own, but they can be very instructional. This one details the events of the day at the Capitol by a member of the protest march. It gave me some food for thought and challenged my side of the echo chamber.
Check out this Podcast: A Mom and Small Business Owner, On How She Ended Up at the Capitol January 6, and Fighting Against COVID Lockdown | Ep. 58