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.