The victory of Donald Trump in the United States presidential election has set far-right hearts beating faster from Moscow to Manhattan. Champaign corks popped in the Kremlin and the ultra-nationalist member of the Russian Duma, Vladimir Zhirinovsky was happy to accept comparisons with the president-elect.
In the United Kingdom, the UK Independence Party’s on-off-on-again leader, Nigel Farage was quick to link the June Brexit vote and Trump’s triumph with a win f or little people over the establishment elite.
In Australia, Queensland Secretary of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, Jim Savage predicted Trump’s win would “give more confidence to those previously too embarrassed to speak out. The ones opinion polls miss.”
So, are we on the verge of a new conservative dawn, the end of political correctness, the reviling of established leadership and the rise to power of the Geert Wilders and the Marine le Pens of this world?
Afraid not — it’s all been said before.
Not quite in the same way of course, but remember the anti-Vietnam War protests and before that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament? They were considered to be game-changers in their day: The voices of common people refusing to be silent in the face of nuclear-armed superpowers and an unjust war against a poor peasant nation.
These were movements that were going to remake the world and usher in a golden future of peace and harmony, but in the end it was the established governments that signed nuclear non-proliferation treaties and the elites that negotiated the end to the Vietnam War. Throw them a few bones and mass movements have a habit of petering out, leaving their leaders looking tired and irrelevant.
Today Trump rides high with his promise to “drain the Washington swamp”, but it is far more likely that he will find the swamp closing over his head after a few weeks there, just as every other president before him has found. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all claimed to be the outsider who would free the country of Washington’s shackles — but their administrations have come and gone and little has changed.
To take just one example: Trump’s proposal to build a wall across the border with Mexico — and to make Mexico pay for it. He knows that’s not going to happen so now he says he will tax the money that migrants send home to Mexico to foot the bill.
I would love to be a fly on the wall at the Internal Revenue Service when Trump’s representatives are told the cost of administering such a tax would be double, triple and more than the revenue it would raise — of the centres that would be set up in Canada, the Bahamas, perhaps even Moscow, where the money would be sent instead before being passed on to Mexico.
Populism is in vogue now as it has been at many times throughout history, but its fundamental flaw remains — simple answers to complex questions that remain stubbornly complex when the answers are applied.
Rail against globalisation, but globalisation is here, is staying here and will continue long after the voting is done and the silent majority has returned to its smart TVs and Ipads. Changes, if any, will be on the margins. The dogs bark for a while, but history marches on.
Democratic government is best practiced by pragmatic politicians supported by a professional bureaucracy. That might not go down well in Kansas or North Dakota — or Outback Queensland or South Shields — but it is something the New York billionaire will have to learn quickly if his administration is not to descend into chaos.