There is much to be said of the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America, Brexit, and the 2016 Australian federal election, but it’s important that we consider these lessons, learn as a movement, and hold true to our fundamental beliefs and principles.
In June of last year, when Trump announced that he would stand for the Republican Presidential nomination, like most supporters of the GOP, I dismissed it as the kind of stunt to be expected from a show-man like Trump. Inexperienced and out of place in a field of experienced public servants, he didn’t seem to stand a chance. But his platform was simple: an emphasis on patriotism coupled with a disdain for political correctness and media bias, a commitment to show boldness on illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism, outrage at the decades-long offshoring of American jobs and an iconic pledge, how- ever vague, to ‘Make America Great Again!’
His opponents in the primary campaign unwisely saw the simplistic and – at times – controversial elements of the Trump platform as weaknesses, a mistake repeated by Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s victory is a fundamental disturbance of the status quo in American politics. He was opposed by everyone, except the American people. And despite the post-election anger pointing, for those Americans who exercised their democratic right to be labelled ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, ‘bigoted’, or as a collective ‘deplorable’ shows how he managed to win. Not united by gender, race, education, or geography, his supporters had only one thing in common: they had been ignored by the political establishment for decades and were ready to fight back.
Much has been made of comparing Trump’s ‘surprise’ victory with the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership earlier this year.
There are strong parallels to be drawn: the Leave movement, much like Trump’s support base, was largely comprised of ordinary people from outside of the media, political, and financial establishment. Though demographically diverse, the Leave sentiment was strongest outside of Britain’s cities, which favoured Remain; likewise, Trump rallied rural and semi-rural American voters against the urban Democrat core.
Trump, Brexit, and the rise of ‘new right’ alternatives in Europe, while distinct and individually reflective of the political minutiae in their respective countries, are nonetheless symptomatic of a consistent international phenomenon. The surfacing of the silent majority, long abandoned by mainstream politics and media, finally finding its voice and demanding change. But this isn’t new.
In 1942, in ‘The Forgotten People’, Sir Robert Menzies described the people he represented in parliament as:
“... salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on. These are, in the political and economic sense, the middle class. They are for the most part unorganised and un-self-conscious. They are envied by those whose benefits are largely obtained by taxing them. They are not rich enough to have individual power. They are taken for granted by each political party in turn. They are not sufficiently lacking in individualism to be organised for what these days we call ‘pressure politics’. And yet, as I have said, they are the backbone of the nation.”
Menzies founded our Party in an era in which Australia could well have drifted toward a union dominated quasi-communist regime. He saw the state evolving in such a way that the silent majority would supply an increasing share of the nation’s wealth, but receive a decreasing share of its benefits. He provided them with a voice, so that they were forgotten no longer, and the Liberal Party prospered as a result.
Despite its strong beginning, the extent to which the Liberal Party has accurately represented the interests of the forgotten people has fluctuated over time.
John Howard became our second longest serving Prime Minister due in large part to the ‘Howard Battlers’. Tony Abbott came to power by virtue of ‘Tony’s Tradies’ – working class, largely socially conservative citizens who believed in the principle of reward for effort and that the interests of the majority of ordinary Australians should supersede the niche inclinations of the progressive inner-city élite.
As Menzies made clear more than 70 years ago, the Liberal Party is the natural home for the forgotten people. Ensuring that this continues to be the case is as simple as sticking to our core values and resisting the temptation to pander to the politically correct left on issues that matter most to ordinary Australians. Failure to do so will see our Party consigned to the scrapheap of history while the forgotten people and a new champion – every Liberal has the responsibility to ensure that this doesn’t eventuate.
As Young Liberals, we are the torch bearers for the values on which our Party was founded. We can and must do a great deal more to advocate both within the party and publicly, or face a similar peril to parties abroad. A key example of this is the fact that despite the Liberal Party being in office at a Federal level now for three years, we have not seen any movement whatsoever on some key policies that are anathema to our values: first and foremost, the Student Services and Amenities Fee.
If anything, the lesson to be drawn from events overseas is that we must be much more robust in advancing our cause.
Aiden Depiazzi is the Federal Secretary of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia and the President of the Western Australian Young Liberal Movement.