Three reads for a wet weekend – including a long read on the orange elephant in the room of 2020

Inside Story, The Conversation and the New York Review of Books. All part of the mainstream media, but regularly carrying well-written, substantial think pieces, riffing off current events, but always with current relevance.

Inside Story has a piece by Norman Abjorensen, reminding us that the nascent federal intervention in Victorian Labor has a precedent in the action led by Gough Whitlam against troglodyte ‘left’ Victorian power-brokers in 1970. Abjorensen gives us a concise summary of what went down then and concludes with a comparison with today:

[Premier Dan] Andrews’s prompt and deservedly brutal response to branch-stacking revelations this week had all the hallmarks of a professional hit. It remains to be seen how the party will emerge from the process he has initiated. But if 1970 is any guide, there will be changes, and they will be far-reaching.

In The Conversation, James C. Murphy looks further back into Australian political history, to consider the legacy of Robert Gordon Menzies. (It’s one of a series of explainers on Australian politics.) Murphy gives a brief outline of an extended period of Australian life and offers this summary of the Menzian legacy:

Menzies’s legacy, then, is not so much his particular beliefs or policies, nor in the model of leadership he provides as Australia’s longest serving prime minister. Rather, his lasting contributions were the rhetorical and organisational structures he built. While the former have faded into obscurity, the notion of “the forgotten people” and the Liberal-National Coalition remain as important now as they were when Menzies retired from office in 1966.

Then, there is Fintan O’Toole in the NYRB, a much longer piece on a much more important subject: how on earth did Americans elect Donald Trump and what on earth is Trump doing while in the job? There are any number of meaty quotes and ‘aha!’ moments in this piece but two will suffice. O’Toole is always worth spending time with and we need to keep up with what is happening in Trumpworld.

A central feature of Trump’s practice of malign minimalism is the erasure of American history. It is not just that his own ignorance (exposed, for example, in his suggestion in February 2017 that Frederick Douglass was still alive) seems almost total. It is that Trump is obsessed with a pseudo-history in which the past exists only as prelude to his own greatness and to the unique evil of his enemies …

Any vaguely conscious American can understand George Floyd’s death not just as an event that happened but as something happening again and again. In Trumpworld, however, any acknowledgment of historical patterns can express itself only as a burlesque. Thus, in explaining Trump’s authorization of a violent attack on peaceful, law-abiding protesters outside the White House on Lafayette Square to clear the way for his Bible-toting photo opportunity at St. John’s Church, his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, suggested that history was indeed repeating itself across time:

Through all of time, we’ve seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for our nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination. Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage and it sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people.

David Stephens

19 June 2020

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