Farewell lib­erty

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWS -

THERE was a time when the West would have loudly backed the mil­lions of Hong Kongers who have taken to the streets in re­cent months to protest against the Com­mu­nist Party of China’s in­cur­sions on their rights.

There was a time when the West fought the good fight for En­light­en­ment val­ues of lib­erty, equal­ity and rea­son, and for the right of all peo­ple, wher­ever they live, to freely pur­sue their own hap­pi­ness, with­out op­pres­sion and re­straint, as long as it does not im­pinge on the rights of oth­ers.

It was a sim­pler, per­haps more naive, time when the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent was widely and pompously re­ferred to as the leader of the free world. It was a time of lu­nar land­ings, of striv­ing, as­pir­ing and dar­ing to dream. Those days are gone.

The val­ues of Western democ­ra­cies such as Aus­tralia, Bri­tain, France and the US have been hi­jacked by big busi­ness for whom the over­rid­ing pri­or­ity is profit.

This multi­na­tional lobby has bought in­flu­ence in po­lit­i­cal par­ties, courted me­dia favour and re­cruited strate­gists from a shady world of pub­lic re­la­tions that is in­hab­ited by ex-journos and pub­lic ser­vants who know a thing or two about pol­i­cy­mak­ing and pub­lic opin­ion.

The lobby has used this global net­work of per­sua­sion to sow its pro­pa­ganda in pop­u­lar cul­ture in the West, em­bed­ding its agenda in “com­mon­sense” ideas such as that if big busi­ness is do­ing OK, we all are; and if big busi­ness makes money, it trick­les down to us; and if ex­ports and trade are up, our na­tion is do­ing well; and that the sin­gu­lar pri­or­ity in pol­i­tics is “the econ­omy, Stupid”.

There are grains of truth in all these cor­po­rate wives’ tales, that’s their al­lure, but none are defini­tively or em­pir­i­cally true.

I am not sug­gest­ing big busi­ness is bad, or that it can­not ben­e­fit so­ci­ety, but rather that its com­mand over our democ­ra­cies is ex­ces­sive, and that cit­i­zens’ well­be­ing de­pends on much more than the cor­po­rate lobby’s nar­row self-serv­ing agenda.

Take for ex­am­ple the planet’s wealth­i­est na­tion where the cor­po­rate lobby’s pop mythol­ogy reigns supreme.

Mil­lions of un­em­ployed, un­der­em­ployed or un­der­paid Amer­i­cans can­not af­ford to live in their own so­ci­ety, and are left on the scrap heap with lit­tle wel­fare or health­care or hope. Alien­ated young men go on mur­der­ous shoot­ing sprees. Mil­i­tary weapons pre­vail on sub­ur­ban streets. Civil un­rest is on the boil.

Amer­ica is in an ugly mess that many an­a­lysts in­ter­pret as the death throes of a 20th cen­tury su­per­power whose as­cen­dancy at the top of the world or­der is floun­der­ing.

But Amer­i­can big busi­ness is go­ing gang­busters. There have never been more, or wealth­ier, billionair­es, nor a big­ger gap be­tween rich and poor. The cor­po­rate lobby is laugh­ing all the way to the bank and its mouth­piece, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the ul­ti­mate shrewd and gar­ish per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the most manic of the cor­po­rate lobby’s ide­ol­ogy, holds the reins.

Will Trump speak against China in sup­port of Hong Kongers? Not likely. China is the planet’s most lu­cra­tive new mar­ket, with hun­dreds of mil­lions of as­pir­ing mid­dle­class con­sumers in the mak­ing. The cor­po­rate lobby wants ac­cess to this bounty.

China can do what it wants as far as Trump is con­cerned. The last thing he needs is to up­set Bei­jing while the White House sews up a trade deal. He re­port­edly told Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping he will stay quiet about Hong Kong dur­ing the trade talks. He ap­par­ently told Chi­nese en­voy Liu He much the same in the Oval Of­fice last month.

That’s why a Bill sup­port­ing Hong Kongers’ rights and democ­racy has been stalled in the US senate for months.

Aus­tralia is no bet­ter. We say lit­tle pub­licly about Hong Kong, mean­while Trade Min­is­ter Si­mon Birm­ing­ham was in China this week seal­ing a deal known as the re­gional com­pre­hen­sive eco­nomic part­ner­ship. The Min­is­ter took 200 Aus­tralian com­pa­nies with him, but their agree­ment is kept se­cret from the pub­lic.

Com­pare Trump and Aus­tralia’s stand on Hong Kong with John F. Kennedy’s in­au­gu­ral ad­dress as Pres­i­dent.

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans … un­will­ing to wit­ness or per­mit the slow un­do­ing of those hu­man rights to which this na­tion has al­ways been com­mit­ted, and to which we are com­mit­ted today at home and around the world,” Kennedy said in 1961.

“Let ev­ery na­tion know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any bur­den, meet any hard­ship, sup­port any friend, op­pose any foe to as­sure the sur­vival and suc­cess of lib­erty.”

Com­pare Trump’s with­drawal from the United Na­tions Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change with what JFK said 59 years ago in that same in­spir­ing first ad­dress.

“To that world assem­bly of sov­er­eign states, the United Na­tions, our last best hope in an age where the in­stru­ments of war have far out­paced the in­stru­ments of peace, we re­new our pledge of sup­port — to pre­vent it from be­com­ing merely a fo­rum for in­vec­tive, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to en­large the area in which its writ may run.”

How the mighty have fallen and the prin­ci­pled have caved. How the striv­ing has fal­tered and the dream has dulled.

We now live in a world where the term “as­pi­ra­tion” is held hostage by the cor­po­rate lobby to be thrust in front of a video cam­era like a tor­tured prisoner with hol­lows for eyes to say, “I want more”.

Once we as­pired to lib­er­ate the peo­ple of the world.

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