WAY over here in our little corner of the world, it’s easy to underestimate the enormous struggle taking place among the global movers and shakers. And at the heart of it is the American president Donald J Trump.
It is a battle not just for the relatively peaceful and productive world we’ve enjoyed since World War II, but for the notion of objective truth itself. And if the Trumpian forces prevail, we know exactly what kind of world we will leave to our kids. George Orwell has shown us what awaits in his remarkably prescient novel, “1984”. It is a place where our in-built sense of logic has been overwhelmed by Big Brother – “war is peace, freedom is slavery [and] ignorance is strength”.
“The New York Times” is at the vanguard, firing verbal missiles against the Oval Office while Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News reckons Trump can do no wrong. “Times” columnist Tom Friedman recently recalled Trump’s “3001 false or misleading claims” in his first 466 days in office. “He lies so blatantly and so often and that there’s no time in between for them to be revealed and corrected,” he said.
“He is creating an alternative reality that many people buy into because it emanates from the Oval Office.”
I really don’t think that Trump is setting out on some grand conspiracy to become Big Brother; he’s far too fickle-brained for that. But by his every word and action he is giving succour to the forces of tyranny over the democracy and the scientific method that our forebears fought so hard to establish as the foundation of the human experience.
Dictatorship is alive and well in Russia; and is on the rise in parts of Europe – notably Turkey, Poland and Hungary. Asia is a miscellany – from the tyranny of North Korea and Cambodia, the military regimes of Thailand and Myanmar to the vigorous democracies of Indonesia and Japan.
China is a special case – it has always been ruled by emperors and Xi Jinping is merely the latest in the Communist Dynasty. But another Englishman, Lord Acton raised a warning light in his aphorism: “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Whether Xi will prove an exception to the rule it yet to be revealed, but I wouldn’t bet my house on it.
Trump’s America is the battleground; and the great fear of our defence planners is that this unstable leader of the Western World is retreating from the Asia-Pacific, leaving us prey to an ever more aggressive China. This is despite his grandstanding summit with North Korea’s real Big Brother which they properly see as a sideshow that will probably end badly.
My own view is that this is not necessarily a bad thing. In recent decades, America’s military adventurism has dragged us into the deadly chaos of Afghanistan and Iraq and made us a target for Islamic terrorists. And the idea of following the scarily unpredictable Trump into any armed conflict fills me with horror.
Far better, it would seem, to develop common cause with our neighbours – principally Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, NZ and perhaps even Japan – to provide a balancing force to the growing might of China. And once the balance was established, an era of peace and trading prosperity could secure an agreeable future for all concerned.
But that means we’d have to put aside more than 200 years of the kind of racism that gave us the White Australia Policy for almost half of them. I wonder if we’ve yet reached that stage of maturity as an Asia-Pacific nation?