Why we we’re trumped

The new US pres­i­dent wants to make Amer­ica great again, but he’s go­ing to need some magic of an un­earthly kind. Words Mur­ray Grim­wood

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents -

I’ve been watch­ing the me­dia since the Trump elec­tion. Firstly, they as­sumed it wouldn’t hap­pen, then they tried to work out why it had. They’ve yet to ask the right ques­tions.

Could it be that they are us­ing an in­valid form of mea­sure­ment that is pass­ing its use-by date? I would sug­gest so. It’s pretty sim­ple and if you read this col­umn reg­u­larly, you’ll have heard it be­fore.

You start with 1000 ba­nanas. You eat one a day, then two, then four, and if you keep bet­ting on that process (a) con­tin­u­ing at any given level or (b) con­tin­u­ing to grow into the fu­ture, then at some stage you are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed. Hun­gry even.

If I’ve got it right we passed the 500-ba­nana mark a decade back. If you’ll ex­cuse the change of sim­ile, we’ve since tried the three-card monte, printed up a few ex­tra aces, and are now go­ing for the Trump card while hold­ing a mis­ère hand.

This is noth­ing to do with mega­lo­ma­nia or misog­yny, al­though it has thrown up a thor­oughly en­ter­tain­ing ex­am­ple of both. It is about more bet­ting slips avow­ing ‘this slip is le­gal ten­der for the right to buy a ba­nana’ be­ing held than there are ba­nanas left. An in­creas­ing num­ber of folk are un­able to ob­tain any slips at all.

The clas­sic story of dis­en­fran­chised First World peo­ple vot­ing for some­one be­cause he of­fered hope is the same as that of Ger­many in the 1920s. Both coun­tries were sad­dled with debts that could not be re­paid and they both chose to be­lieve their coun­try could be great again.

Be­lieve. It’s such a dif­fer­ent word from ‘as­cer­tain’. As­sume. It’s such a dif­fer­ent word from ‘in­ves­ti­gate’. Yet be­lieve and as­sume is what the me­dia has done, and what most of the world has done. Peo­ple still be­lieve and as­sume that if we keep amass­ing bet­ting slips we will keep on get­ting ba­nanas.

I read an editorial re­cently which went as far as say­ing:

“Some­where along the way, the magic dust that pro­duced a pro­longed pe­riod of growth and im­proved liv­ing stan­dards has lost its po­tency.” Source: The Lis­tener, Jan­uary 7, 2017 Magic dust? Spare me. Trump is merely a symp­tom, not the disease it­self. To waste time ex­am­in­ing, de­cry­ing or protest­ing his per­sonal faults is to miss the point. What he her­alds is a new par­a­digm un­fold­ing, and un­fold­ing rapidly. Even if he – and we – re­moved ev­ery le­gal lim­i­ta­tion stand­ing in the way of en­ergy re­source ex­trac­tion, it wouldn’t be enough to re-start global growth. Sim­ply put, when you’re at the 500 ba­nana point, you al­ready have enough in­fra­struc­ture – re­finer­ies, pipe­lines, tankers and tanks in the case of oil – to deal with the re­main­ing 500. There is no pre­sentable busi­ness case for build­ing more.

Trump will also know, or will have been ad­vised by the likes of his Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son (the for­mer CEO of oil giant Exxonmo­bil), that there will never again be a sur­feit of ba­nanas.

The usual po­lit­i­cal step in such a sit­u­a­tion is to de­flect your con­stituent angst in the di­rec­tion of some­one else. Mex­ico, im­mi­grants, Mus­lims, terrorists.

But dis­en­fran­chised Amer­i­cans can’t af­ford the stuff cheaply made else­where even now. They cer­tainly aren’t go­ing to be able to af­ford Amer­i­can-made stuff with its much higher costs (in­clud­ing fair wages) and they’ll be no bet­ter off if they ac­cept Third World wages them­selves.

What has hap­pened is that the world’s ‘busi­ness model’ is no longer vi­able, a fact mir­rored in huge, in­creas­ing and un­re­payable debts.

We need to solve the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem. In­di­vid­u­ally, we can do our bit by in­sist­ing that our me­dia dis­cuss these top­ics, rather than re­gur­gi­tat­ing the non­sense that we can grow our ba­nana con­sump­tion for­ever. Then we can vote for – once we’ve se­lected them – a new breed of politi­cians, ones who grasp the true mean­ing of sus­tain­abil­ity and can clear­sight­edly leg­is­late for it.

They won’t be peo­ple like Trump. They won’t be like the Clin­tons ei­ther. In the mean­time, we can lead by per­sonal ex­am­ple and re­duc­ing our con­sump­tion is a great place to start. That would re­sult in a new form of me­dia, one much less re­liant on in­come from ba­nana ad­ver­tis­ing. One with a new busi­ness model.

But it seems for now I have to de­fer to pro­fes­sional in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism. Ap­par­ently it was magic dust all along. Maybe that ex­plains the elec­tion of a Pres­i­dent so clearly away with the fairies. n

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