In 1990, Paul Keating, as Treasurer in the Hawke government, famously described the 1990s recession in Australia as “the recession we had to have” to correct a series of excesses through the 1980’s. Keating challenged Bob Hawke for the leadership of the Labor Party in 1991 and became Prime Minister of Australia.
This week the American people, via a slim minority, voted Donald Trump into the Presidency of the United States.
It is the shock they (and we) had to have.
What happened is that a nation of educated folk just put a narcissistic isolationist with little respect for anyone but himself and no experience of public office into the highest position in the land. Is this man really the best person from among the 322 million or so options?
You would have to think not. There had to be someone better, although not the democratic candidate apparently.
So what is going on?
There are a large number of people who now have no faith in the system of government to improve their lot. Median income in the US is now $30,525 up just $1,113 since 2000, less than 4% in over a decade. Average wages for those without a college degree in the US have declined over the same period and the number without a job has increased. Meantime median house prices have doubled to $304,800.
A xenophobic return to the old days was a message people wanted to hear.
There are some bigger picture numbers too. A growing disparity in wealth due as much to concentration into the few wealthy as to the loss of earnings among workers. A high risk of GFC 2.0 despite the national debt ballooning to $19.8 trillion raised ostensibly to stave off such a catastrophe. A law making establishment that is out of touch.
Check out the US national debt clock
But these individual and economic symptoms are best seen through the lens of what brought them about. Slavish adherence to the market and its fixation with growth, neo-liberalism it’s called.
Ironically Trump is going to be the messenger that demonstrates this slavish adherence is untenable. Because he will not be able to deliver on most of his promises. Given the debt, wealth concentration and stagnant growth, the system cannot afford his tax cuts, wall construction or restricted trade.
Imagine halving corporate tax when the country carries more debt than its GDP.
If he insists on keeping his promises the fragile economy collapses. If he relents, the people are let down (again). Either way, there is a jolt to the system. An opportunity is created for genuine progressive change.
There is a reason this feels like much more than trying to find a silver lining in a dark misogynistic cloud.
On the night before the US election I attended a public function in Sydney under the 100 Resilience Cities program. The theme was ‘Is Sydney ready? Working together for a resilient city’ and even a confirmed skeptic like myself would have to say, yes.
Because for the first time it became clear to me what resilience is. It is the ability of people to connect with each other across the barriers we all erect to find common ground and support. Throughout the evening there was evidence of people doing this more and more. Just the recognition that resilience is all about people is huge.
And this is the real change that can truly help those who voted for the orange guy. Where people actually talk to each other, find things they agree on, accept the things they cannot agree on, and build things together.
It will happen.
Donald is the shock we need to make it so.