There’s nothing like a shock election result to force media sophisticates to eat their words. The triumph of the center-right Liberal-National Coalition government in Australia has caused plenty of verbal indigestion.
A few days ago, polls and betting markets pointed to a Labor victory. Journalists and intellectuals insisted that ordinary Aussies wanted government to fight climate change and soak the rich. Prime Minister Scott Morrison couldn’t possibly win. The 51-year-old evangelical coal-cuddler was the wrong man for his times.
But on Saturday the government, which has had three leaders in six years, tightened its hold on Parliament while a humiliated Labor Party lost crucial marginal seats in the eastern states of Queensland, Tasmania and New South Wales. The election will go down as the most dramatic failure of discernment in the history of Australian punditry. Sound familiar?
In 2016 U.S. pollsters had to deal with the “shy Trump” factor. People feared admitting they’d vote for the Republican nominee because he was socially unacceptable. The same dynamic was at work in Britain during the 2016 referendum on whether to leave the European Union. Polls pointed to a Remain victory, but millions of shy Brexiteers crept into the polling booths and voted Leave. By depicting its opponents as backward and deplorable, the left intimidated them into going underground, making it impossible to gauge their strength before an election.
Shy voters now shape Australian politics. During the past three years, television and social-media outlets created a climate of opinion in which it was politically incorrect to oppose identity politics, high taxes, wealth redistribution and costly climate-mitigation policies. In the privacy of the voting booth, “quiet Australians,” as Mr. Morrison calls them, decided that their interests lay in a low-tax and resource-rich market economy.
Mr. Morrison’s path to victory was about as narrow as Donald Trump’s road to the White House. But he was helped by his opponents’ lurch to the left. The Labor Party, which did much to deregulate the Australian economy in the 1980s, was now pledging high taxes on property investors, self-funded retirees and high-earning wealth creators.
In the name of reducing inequality, Labor wanted to raise government obstacles to the kind of risk-taking and hard work that allowed many Australians to climb the income ladder so rapidly. Since the mid-1980s, Australia has pursued market reforms that improve incentives to work and save. The result has been nearly three decades of sustainable economic growth—a record for longest uninterrupted economic expansion in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. On Saturday Labor learned that class warfare no longer appeals to the middle class, who aspire to become rich and who understand the perverse incentives of high taxes.
Much of the Evangelical Industrial Complex has been created to make Christianity relevant, acceptable, and attractive to our consumer culture. Author and missional expert, Michael Frost, says this is a mistake. Instead, we should be emphasizing our faith’s weirdness and call more Christians to be eccentric—literally “off center.” Also this week: Phil and Skye take on “The Good Place,” a TV show about heaven without God or religion, the UK’s Supreme Court rules in favor of a Christian baker, and (fake) butt news from a Hawaiian seal hospital.
President Trump so alarmed his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, during a discussion last January of the nuclear standoff with North Korea that an exasperated Mr. Mattis told colleagues “the president acted like — and had the understanding of — a ‘fifth or sixth grader.’”
At another moment, Mr. Trump’s aides became so worried about his judgment that Gary D. Cohn, then the chief economic adviser, took a letter from the president’s Oval Office desk authorizing the withdrawal of the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Mr. Trump, who had planned to sign the letter, never realized it was missing.
.. book by Bob Woodward that depicts the Trump White House as a byzantine, treacherous, often out-of-control operation — “crazytown,” in the words of the chief of staff, John F. Kelly — hostage to the whims of an impulsive, ill-informed and undisciplined president.
.. The White House, in a statement, dismissed “Fear” as “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.”
.. Mr. Woodward portrays Mr. Mattis as frequently derisive of the commander in chief, rattled by his judgment, and willing to slow-walk orders from him that he viewed as reckless.
.. Mr. Trump questioned Mr. Mattis about why the United States keeps a military presence on the Korean Peninsula. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mr. Mattis responded, according to Mr. Woodward.
.. In April 2017, after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria launched a chemical attack on his own people, Mr. Trump called Mr. Mattis and told him that he wanted the United States to assassinate Mr. Assad. “Let’s go in,” the president said, adding a string of expletives.
The defense secretary hung up and told one of his aides: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” At his direction, the Pentagon prepared options for an airstrike on Syrian military positions, which Mr. Trump later ordered.
.. another layer to a recurring theme in the Trump White House: frustrated aides who sometimes resort to extraordinary measures to thwart the president’s decisions — a phenomenon the author describes as “an administrative coup d’état.” In addition to Mr. Mattis and Mr. Cohn, he recounts the tribulations of Mr. Kelly and his predecessor, Reince Priebus, whose tensions with Mr. Trump have been reported elsewhere.
.. Mr. Cohn, Mr. Woodward said, told a colleague he had removed the letter about the Korea free trade agreement to protect national security. Later, when the president ordered a similar letter authorizing the departure of the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Cohn and other aides plotted how to prevent him from going ahead with a move they feared would be deeply destabilizing.
.. Last January, Mr. Woodward writes, Mr. Dowd staged a practice session in the White House residence to dramatize the pressures Mr. Trump would face in a session with Mr. Mueller. The president stumbled repeatedly, contradicting himself and lying, before he exploded in anger.
.. Mr. Woodward told Mr. Trump he interviewed many White House officials outside their offices, and gathered extensive documentation. “It’s a tough look at the world and the administration and you,” he told Mr. Trump.
“Right,” the president replied. “Well, I assume that means it’s going to be a negative book.”
Trump’s preoccupation with foreigners “taking advantage” of Americans could still usher in an Australian-style future.
.. Australia does not separate the children of “unauthorized arrivals” from their parents, but it does detain entire families in horrible conditions, sometimes for years.
.. The only way to deter people desperate enough to risk death on their journey to a new country is to threaten them with conditions worse than the ones they fled.
A United Nations report from 2017 cites isolation, overcrowding and limited access to basic services on Manus and Nauru, along with “allegations of sexual abuse by the service providers” and continuing reports of self-harm and suicide.
.. About 80 percent of the asylum seekers detained on Nauru and Manus are ultimately found to be refugees. But with no prospect of ever being allowed into Australia, hundreds decide to return to their countries of origin.
.. While a quarter of the population say policies are too tough, higher numbers usually say policies are too soft. Some Australians see refugees from predominantly Muslim war-torn countries as national security threats, and believe they must be dealt with as harshly as possible.
.. Politicians justify draconian measures with appeals to Australians’ sense of fairness and safety, and in turn they face an electorate that they fear would punish them if they did otherwise.
.. politicians warn that people smugglers are watching and waiting for a moment of weakness by Australia
.. Last month, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned that “the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion.”
.. If American public opinion turns toward accepting cruel deterrent measures, it will be political rhetoric that leads the way. Warnings by the Trump administration that criminals use children to exploit legal loopholes would sound familiar to Australians, whose government once claimed that asylum seekers threw children into the sea to force the navy to take them to Australia.
.. fictional dystopias to account for our asylum policies we often reach for Ursula Le Guin. Her short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” describes a peaceful and idyllic city-state whose happiness depends on the cruel imprisonment of a child in a basement. Everyone knows the child is there.
.. “Le Guin intended her story as a cautionary tale. How did we end up with two political parties using it as an instruction manual?”