Like a lot of Australians I’ve been captivated over the last few months by the prospect of a Trump victory. It’s not just that he’s such a transparently vulgar, empty-headed twerp, but one can’t but be put off by his George Patton-like obsession, a belief that he alone knows how to sort out everything that has burdened humankind since it emerged from the primordial swamp.
While watching the second Presidential debate I was embarrassed for my American friends at the contrast between the gravity of the office being contested and the content and quality of the supposed ‘debate’. Given that sex scandals have had such a ubiquitous presence in this campaign – involving, at the top, Donald himself, then Bill Clinton’s past sins, then Roger Ailes and finally Julian Assange – it was fitting that the debate was held on the very university campus in St Louis where Masters and Johnson literally put into practice their theories about American sexuality. Their conclusion? It was a hotbed of prudery, ignorance and frustrated desire. Some would say, this election demonstrates that it still is.
Alas, seen ‘close up’ in high definition on a big screen, this observer was struck by just how thoroughly Trump lives up to his increasingly popular caricature put around by his bete noir, the ‘liberal media’.
As George Orwell noted, for the benefit of his left-wing Tribune readers in the late 1930s, just because London’s Daily Telegraph, a formidable Tory paper then as now, says something is true doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Orwell had by that stage a gut full of the British and French left-wing press with their pervasive mendacity in support of Stalin, which usually meant not reporting anything about Soviet criminality and even going silent on Nazi horrors during the period of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact (August 1939- June 1941).
Applying Orwell’s advice to our current situation, just because the Fairfax press and the ABC regularly skewer Trump doesn’t mean that this time they are wrong, as they have been wrong on so many issues in the past. Alas, the spectacle of otherwise intelligent ‘conservatives’ in this country indulging Trump’s stupidity is increasingly common.
This “enemy of my enemy” thinking is crazy, and I say that as someone who slogged away for most of the 1980s writing the country’s only media column critical of the left (as Quadrant’s “Watchman”). Just because Trump is also opposed to ‘political correctness’ is hardly a reason to give him a pass on everything else.
In a most no-holds-barred essay in last week’s Weekend Australia, that wise owl Paul Kelly set out the stakes: “Despite all flawed past prophecies it is surely impossible to view the ghastly freak show of the US presidential election without apprehension that we are witnessing the decline of a civilisation and the death of the virtues that made America great…[Trump’s] nomination and his campaign is the greatest failure of the Republicans and of American conservatism since World War 11. The crisis has been decades in the making.”
Incredibly, and receiving hardly any comment either here or in the States, two individuals originally from down under have played and are playing an absolutely central role in the unfolding of this unprecedented political drama.
There’s the iconic media mogul Rupert Murdoch, founder of Fox News, the network that has provided such a huge adrenalin boost to the Trumpian worldview as well as an on-again, off-again propaganda base for Trump. Rupert was also the patron and effective partner of the biggest name in right-wing media circles, Roger Ailes.
Lord of all he surveyed at Fox News since 1996, in June Ailes was unceremoniously sacked for treating more than one high-profile News Corp woman employee in, so to speak, the Trump fashion. He has since become an advisor to his old mate Trump, to whom he has been giving political advice for years (and an occasional presence on Fox News chat programs). To help him get over the shock of being dumped he received a compensation payout of $40m from Rupert.
Murdoch has since blamed Ailes, as reported in Newsweek, for “laying the groundwork” for Trump’s presidential bid.
The other Aussie in play is, of course, Julian Assange, now 45, an Internet pirate, restless resident of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for the last four years, wanted by Sweden for alleged illegal sexual naughtiness, unhappy ex-hippy fugitive turned geo-political hater and, through the power of global dissemination provided by Wikileaks, this once anarchic libertarian turned cyber insurgent is now, based on the best evidence, effectively working in league with the Kremlin in order to distort the outcome of probably the most consequential American election ever, all in favour of Trump.
He harbours a particular vendetta against Hillary given that she was Secretary of State when he dumped those many thousands of State Department documents, for which she called for his arrest and, Assange believes, asked at one point if he could be “taken out” in a drone strike. He’s now trying to “take out” Hillary big time.
Murdoch, of course, is a much cooler and sophisticated player than Assange or any of the competing top US media figures, and a million miles ahead of Trump.
So, to the surprise of many, in April this year one of his most favoured publications, The New York Post, endorsed the Donald noting that he carried “a vital message” and, despite his “downright coarseness”, was a champion of “political incorrectness”.
Long considered an amoral player in his choice of political causes – he has after all a global empire with very different constituencies – Rupert, who reputedly was always suspicious of Trump, was apparently lured more openly into the Donald’s lair by Donald’s son-in-law, Jared Kusher, a young property developer with the odd billion of his own and the husband of Donald’s favourite child, Ivanka, who is very close to her father and now a key member of his campaign.
Coincidentally, or not, Rupert’s then wife Wendy played cupid by inviting Ivanka onto Rupert’s yacht one weekend when Jared too was a guest. Jared is also a newspaper publisher (of The New York Observer, albeit small time stuff by Rupert’s standards) and he approached Rupert for advice and from that a close friendship arose. Jared in now a key campaign advisor on Trump’s team. Just to further complicate matters, Ivanka is (or was, now that the proverbial has hit the fan) a close friend of Bill and Hillary’s daughter, Chelsea.
But between those happy early days and August something happened to affect Rupert’s appreciation of Donald’s presidential attributes. For whatever reason, Rupert used a ‘surrogate’, a Murdoch loyalist (Andrea Peyser), to pen a front page editorial in The New York Post slamming Trump with fighting words: “Embracing the presidential aspirations of Donald Trump was, from the start, an exercise in magical thinking… Trump won’t back down from his lunacy and bigotry…”
This eleventh-hour turnaround might help Rupert’s reputational legacy but the fact remains that Rupert backed Roger Ailes to the hilt up to the time that Ailes’ rogering forays became too much, particularly for Rupert’s two sons James and Lachlan who never liked Ailes anyway. And if anyone set Donald on his way to the Whitehouse it’s Roger who ran Fox News, the nation’s most successful cable channel, with a veritable iron fist. Having very recently watched Fox News over an entire weekend, I can attest it is still pushing the Trump cause, as usual with all the charm and detachment of a Scientology staff meeting. Trump says he’s leading ‘a movement’; it might more accurately be called a cult.
On these programs, Trump’s every gaffe is forensically excused and his critics roasted on the pit. The accusers, mostly hard-looking blondes trying to exude a Barbie doll authenticity, are shepherded by two of the roughest card-carrying gang members on the block – Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. For Donald, they have clearly dedicated themselves to take no prisoners and at least sound as if they will join him in his gold-encrusted bunker when, one hopes, the great American electorate comes to its senses on November the eighth.
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