Populism is on the march. So we all read on the news.
I am not going to repeat here what it has been written by many other professional commentators before. But the common theme is that both Trump and Hanson are ‘anti-establishment’ not part of the ‘political elite’.
One thing I discerned is that while there is a hard rock of islamophobes/xenophobes and general bigots among those who have voted for Trump and Hanson, many who have voted for them are not necessarily so. They have voted as an expression of feeling left out, of the political class not listening to them. When you have something like Trump or Hanson that are perceived to be not part of that establishment the vote becomes more an expression of rebellion rather because they are attracted by the policies of those candidates.
While protesting and ‘resistance’ are all well and good, these actions will not motivate people to switch their votes.
What is needed here is to detach those who are not bigots or xenophobes away from those who are and return these ‘alt-right’ candidates to the margins where they belong.
How to do this? It’s hard, time consuming, and it is a long process, but it has been done before.
If we take an USA example the Obama campaigns were successful because they involved grassroot activities from people who were persistent. James Ridgeway wrote back in 2008:
Thousands of people sit together in campaign offices, union headquarters and living rooms calling up people they have never met. Thousands more troop through apartment buildings and walk the streets of suburban neighborhoods knocking on the doors of total strangers. Their numbers increase at night, when their own working days are over. Their targets are most likely to be homes, and mobile phone minutes are free. This kind of activity takes place across the US every four years – but never before on this scale. By all estimates, Barack Obama’s campaign is running the largest political field operation in history…..
This kind of campaigning is exhausting, inefficient, time-consuming and expensive. It also works better than anything else does.
I also read an article (that I can’t find) that this people momentum was squandered after Obama took power. The job was done. Obama was president and everything was going to be alright. We have seen with Trump this didn’t happen. Voters became more and more disenchanted. What won the election for Trump was that many voters didn’t turn out to vote.
In Australia there is also this sense of disenchantment that seems to push voters towards populist candidates. The bigger danger is that voters’ disenchantment may lead to disregard mainstream media and getting ‘information’ from fake news sources.
But again Hansonism can be beaten if energy is put in to involve people. I’ve seen this in the 1982 Victorian election where the ALP won government after 30 years of Liberal rule. The ALP years before organised forums and meetings where interested people, community groups and organisations would be able to discuss and propose ideas. And some became part of the ALP platform (the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act was an example).
This gave the government a great sense of connection and engaged the electorate. Of course, like in the Obama case, once in office this lost momentum. But that is another story.
While the Greens do have a network of communities, a party like the ALP, with its Union membership could cast the net wider and even reach and involve those who are not necessarily ‘Labor’ people. This would engage the community and make it feel part of the political process, reduce the effectiveness of biased fake news.
This is not as easy as a social media campaign as it involves organising and actively engaging people (although social media can help) and it is a long process.
But if we want to stem the rise of populism it may be the only pathway ahead.