It's easy to play the anti-establishment and change cards or go on the attack. But the real challenge for our politicians and journalists is to allow voters to hear balance

Whether we like it or not, Donald Trump is now president of the United States. We have no choice but to deal with that fact, and with him. But it's hard to find any New Zealanders who have much good to say about him.

After Obama, who, whether you agree with him or not, always came across as gracious and considerate, Trump seems a singularly unattractive personality. Rambunctious, egotistical, self absorbed, abusive, you name it.

Regardless of ideology, I can’t see that type of personality appealing in this country. The fascinating question this begs though, is not about Donald Trump, but how come so many people in America voted for him. What is going on in their lives and brains that they see this man as the solution to their problems? The issues driving the Trump vote have been analysed aplenty and that analysis will no doubt continue. It’s worth taking stock, however, to see if there are any parallels between what is going on there and if the same things are happening here. Two thoughts come to mind.

In America, the Democratic alternative to Trump,  Hillary Clinton, was seen by many as a seriously flawed candidate. Part of that was that she was seen as the “establishment” candidate in an environment where anti-establishmentcandidates thrived. This “establishment/anti-establishment” distinction is very artificial. American politicians seeking office like to sell themselves as anti-establishment when they start out; Barack Obama did in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2000.

For Obama, it worked in 2008 because he was new; now he has been there two terms he cannot use that line any more. Same person, but because he has served for eight years he is now “establishment”.

Being a “change” candidate, as Obama also was, is the other platform guaranteed to appeal to superficiality. Change will be good or bad depending on what it really means – change for it own sake is purposeless. We should be debating what they will do.

Taking the anti-establishment line is dead easy in America. The US is a huge country; Washington is very distant for most and very easily vilified. New Zealand is too small for that feeling to build the same way here, but essentially this anti-establishment notion is drawing on the all too common anti-politician feeling that many here and in other Western countries nurture.

We need to be more balanced. I spent five terms in Parliament; most New Zealand politicians (not all, but most) are workaholics who do their best in what are often very difficult circumstances. We should never defend them automatically – when a politician takes a position or behaves in a way we do not agree with we should say so. Being judgemental about individual politicians is totally called for, but we should resist the superficial and unjustified blanket vilification of all politicians we hear all too often.

Hillary Clinton made it worse for herself in the American election.To her critics she had spent near a lifetime – far too long in Little Rock, New York and Washington DC enriching herself at the public trough. Her husband was an ex-president. The huge fees she earned from her off the record speeches to Wall Street investment banks; the continual salacious dribble from Wikileaks (apparently hacked emails released by the Russians); and the scandals that arose from her use of her private server while at the Department of State coupled with the FBI on-again off-again investigation painted a very unflattering picture of her modus operandi.

There is a bit too much money flying around in American politics; mixing money and power creates too many temptations for corruption. Mercifully, our politics are remarkably clean. Let’s keep it that way.

The Trumpians were not just aggressive against so called “professional politicians, the beltway and Washington DC and all it stands for. They went over the top attacking the media. At his rallies, and now as president, Donald Trump has described the media as amongst the most dishonest people on earth. We regularly see those various occupations surveys that unsurprisingly/predictably have doctors, nurses, rescue workers and that ilk at the top in public esteem. Inevitably not just politicians, but also used car salesmen (sales persons), real estate agents and journalists are around the bottom (not far above paedophiles!).

That low esteem makes the media an easy target to beat up on. But we need to keep this in proportion too. Don’t judge by the few. Like politicians, most journalists do their best, albeit they have different styles and appeal to different sectors. MediaWatch each Sunday on RNZ critiques and frequently calls a particular journalist out for getting it wrong. 

The media has a role in addressing these esteem issues. Last Tuesday on Checkpoint, the new Opportunities Party’s Gareth Morgan told John Campbell that the reason he called Winston Peters an Uncle Tom was that he needed to say something like that to grab media attention for the debate he was trying to draw out on the Treaty issue. Campbell clearly saw the weakness therewe should be able to get attention for important issues without any need to resort to such base hooks. The whole thing didn’t work for Morgan anyway – Peters made mincemeat of him on it but it should not obscure the real point.

Being moderate and sensible is not a sin such views should be given a profile in their own right. The media should not play into the hands of the controversialist simply because they say extreme (and sometimes idiotic) things.

Our last election was somewhat hijacked by Kim Dotcom and his ilk. Let’s this year concentrate more attention on the parties that have a real chance of being part of a government. Their actions and policies will effect us. A working democracy needs an effective free press and good analysis of what is going on.

That should be the target. 

Comments (11)

by Megan Pledger on January 27, 2017
Megan Pledger

We don't have to deal with him and it's better that we don't.   From the example of how Trump treats his fellow American means we should have every expectation of worse treatment ... and why set ourselves up for that.  

Our goal should be to encourage a stable European Union and encourage a stable Asia and work out mutually beneficial trade deals with them.   

And if we have to deal with him then pander to his ego but proscrastinate for as long as possible until he is gone.




by Charlie on January 28, 2017

It is a fact that in the US presidential election, the vast majority of media outlets backed the Democrats to the hilt. They didn't just report, they were attack dogs working for Hillary. We now know the real 'fake news' is in the mainstream media, not some kind of right wing conspiracy.

And voters saw that, recognised it for what it was and voted accordingly. (Polls in the USA today show that only 6% of voters trust the mainstream media.)

Here in NZ we saw a flavour of the same thing in the last election. The media did their damnest to undermine National and failed.

We had the media *literally* in bed with the leader of the oppostion and this infamous quote goes down in history as the confirmation of what we always believed:

Katie Bradford: "No matter what we talk about, no matter what we do, the polls don't seem to be shifting at all"

This is hard evidence of a media conspiracy to affect the outcome of the election.

So Wyatt, don't give me that little ol' New Zealand routine: In 2017 once again we must guard against the left wing media from using propaganda to manipulate the election.



by Katharine Moody on January 28, 2017
Katharine Moody

Ta for the mention of the Checkpoint interview with Gareth. Listened to it and as I suspected, it was a cheap shot/attention grabbing mechanism. Let's see if Gareth has the class of Muhammed Ali now and apologises. Doubt it. And to use the venue he did for such purposes to me shows he has no understanding of tikanga - which makes it doubly embarrassing for him. Thinking back, Kim Dotcom had far more respect for NZ institutions - a delight to listen to when interviewed. Never came across as think he was going to be 'our saviour'. Like everyone that goes into politics, I'm sure Gareth's intentions are good, but he's off to a bad start.

by Murray Grimwood on January 28, 2017
Murray Grimwood

So much for 'charlie' - right wing propagandist.

I'd like to see an investigative media asking all politicians the hard questions.

Start by asking what Bush, Chaney and Tillerson have in common and why that industry is essential to the modern world. Then ask how long the modern world has - had - to go. Then ask whether Trump has a chance of turning the tide (despite the hype, the US imports 9 million barrels per day, half it's daily consumption) to which the answer is NO.

Then ask our prospective politicians how they are going to adapt  - lead in?  - a post-growth world.

Bit the media will continue to dodge the question, aided and abetted by the Charlies of this world. Obviously therefore, we crash. Hopefully someone insightful steps in to pick up the pieces, they'll have to do it outside of democracy though - the smart are being increasingly out-bred.

by Katharine Moody on January 28, 2017
Katharine Moody

Murray, I reckon the freshwater crisis is more imminent;


by Alan Johnstone on January 29, 2017
Alan Johnstone

"But it's hard to find any New Zealanders who have much good to say about him"

I suspect that's depends on who you speak to, it's very easy to get stuck in self validating group think. In fact this is one the reasons he won.

There are a lot of New Zealanders that are largely simpatico with Trumps message, the 10% that vote New Zealand First are a easy starting point

by MJ on January 30, 2017

Interestingly, though a number of individual journalists feature on our most trusted people near the top of the list, depending on what kind of TV hosts are included as journalists:

 whereas politicians don't feature until 56, with a retired one and active politicians not featuring until 86 on the list. Sorry, I couldn't find a more recent list in a 2 second google.

This suggests the esteem issues the profession holds are a little more complex and that we trust some as much as Sir Graham Henry and some much more than Flight of the Conchords.

The attack on the media is a familiar one for populists- Winston himself has run it a lot. A new enemy is needed now the 'devil' of the campaign is not available. 

The media is one of many of the new axis of evil for Trump and co. 

by Tim Watkin on January 31, 2017
Tim Watkin

Charlie, I thought from other threads you'd moderated your views. At the very least I thought you'd have stopped this fake news nonsense when you saw the paid-for fakery of the guy you were extolling as an "investigative journalist".

You're still creating the perception that if someone doesn't reflect your views, they are biased, rather than looking across a body of work or accepting that, whatever you think of them, an independent media should ask hard questions of all.

It's such an obvious nonsense to speak of the media as a single entity that thinks alike. Do you imagine us meeting in a clubhouse and nutting out a liberal agenda? Are you really saying that Bradford, Hosking (either), Espiner, Gower, Smith, Mau and Currie – for a random selection – all think alike?

I feel compelled to defend Katie in particular. Do you even know the context of that comment? Whenever she said it, I think it would be clear that a) it was unscripted and so people aren't entirely precise with their language and b) she was talking generally about the resilience of National's poll numbers despite all sorts of trying issues. For you to be right that she's a blatant left-wing plant, you have to bring the entire TVNZ management into the conspiracy. Please.

by Peggy Klimenko on January 31, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Wyatt: "...Trump seems a singularly unattractive personality. Rambunctious, egotistical, self absorbed, abusive, you name it."

During the Republican primary, we in this family were discussing the apparently inexorable rise of Donald Trump. Our view was then - and is now - that aspects of his persona resonate with how many Americans see themselves. Despite - or even perhaps because of - his being a billionaire, he is seen as being one of them, in a way that the elites - as represented by many senior Republican politicians, the Clintons, Obama - cannot ever be. We thought that if the Republican convention had attempted to pass him over in favour of someone who was more like them, they'd have risked the destruction of the Republican party. Fortunately for the party, common sense prevailed.

There's been a distinct note of sneering and condescension in both media reportage and pundit commentary, toward Trump and his voters. Big mistake: I don't doubt that those voters noticed. It would simply have reinforced their antagonism toward the establishment and confirmed Trump as the candidate of choice.

"it's hard to find any New Zealanders who have much good to say about him."

New Zealanders' views of Trump have been mediated by the reportage which, from the very beginning, was relentlessly anti-Trump, to the point that some of us began to think that we were being propagandised. Nobody could possibly be so bad! So I and others went looking elsewhere for commentary. What we found in the alternative commentary, including blogs, suggested that, contrary to what the polls and the msm were saying, there was a real possibility that Trump would win. And so it proved.

"...apparently hacked emails released by the Russians..."

That furphy is best put into the dustbin where it belongs. Clinton didn't need any e-mail leaks to white-ant her chances of winning; voters neither liked nor trusted her. Moreover, her campaign team evidently lacked the competence to understand that the electoral college votes were critical to victory; the Trump campaign ran rings aound them.

As you point out, whatever the rest of us think about it, Trump is now President. It remains to be seen what kind of a fist he'll make of the job. I'm hopeful that his desire to reset relations with Russia comes to fruition; this is greatly to be preferred to Clinton, who was apparently determined to drag us all down the hellhole to war in that part of the world. And that would surely have been madness.

by Katharine Moody on February 01, 2017
Katharine Moody

When Starbucks, Facebook, Google and the rest of a merry band of int'l tax dodgers lined up against him - I thought great - they must feel threatened! 

by Peggy Klimenko on February 03, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Charlie: "Here in NZ we saw a flavour of the same thing in the last election. The media did their damnest to undermine National and failed."

Ha! I was among many who thought the exact opposite: that the media didn't give the Nats anything like the roasting they should've got over the dirty politics thing.

We were overseas during part of the 2014 election campaign. Nicky Hager's book "Dirty Politics" was released just before we left. When we returned a couple of weeks before the election, I'd expected the issues raised in that book still to be in the headlines; I was stunned to discover that they weren't, and that the ugly revelations hadn't dented the polls for the Nats at all.

I heard - or read - that comment from Katie Bradford to which you refer. In fairness to her, what I recall she was talking about was the failure of bad news (such as the dirty politics revelations) to shift the polls, even though the media was reporting all that bad news. I took her meaning to be just that, rather than a reference to any media conspiracy to influence the outcome of the election.

Had there indeed been any such conspiracy, it was spectacularly unsuccessful, wasn't it!

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