Joe Hildebrand: With Trump, Brexit, Paris riots & the state of Aussie politics, the West is falling and it’s our fault. Picture: Supplied
Joe Hildebrand: With Trump, Brexit, Paris riots & the state of Aussie politics, the West is falling and it’s our fault. Picture: Supplied

Who’s to blame for global crisis?


THE United Kingdom, a nation that once ruled over a quarter of the world's population in an empire so vast the sun never set upon it, is now so utterly impotent it cannot even manage to stay in or leave the European Union.

France, once the greatest power in Europe, the standard bearer for liberty, equality and brotherhood, is literally burning. Rioters run the streets and the two major parties have been cast aside for a new so-called centrist movement that is now even more despised.

In the United States, the sole remaining Western superpower, the Republicans cannot control their worst presidential candidates and the Democrats cannot even find a good one. And at a time when it needs to be expanding its international influence to counterbalance the growth of a newly energised and authoritarian China, it is instead shrinking into itself.

And in Australia, for what it's worth, politicians have so shredded and desecrated our democratic institutions that a growing number of people no longer even believe in democracy itself.

Yes, the West is falling and there's only one group of people to blame: Ourselves.

It is the fault of the hard left, whose loudest voices are so consumed with identity politics and bourgeois inner-city obsessions that they have completely lost touch with the mainstream working class it once claimed to represent. A left that has so tightened its ideological grip on academia that it has effectively recast neo-Nazis as champions of free speech.

It is the fault of the hard right, which all too often resorts to simplistic kneejerk solutions to complex structural problems. Which thinks slashing immigration will create jobs instead of killing them or give pensioners more money instead of less. Which tars all Muslims with the black brush of terrorism. And whose latest star candidate, Mark Latham, has railed against every government of every stripe while at the same time collecting a fat government pension over the whole course of his lifetime just for being a failed opposition leader.

And it is also the fault of the centre-left/centre-right political class, which took power for granted for so long that it forgot the people upon whom that power actually rested. And then when the people turned on them they turned not just on each other but also on themselves, trashing the prime ministership and the parliament in the process and causing a mass electoral exodus to the political extremes.

It is at about this point in the argument that the blinkered ideologues on all sides will protest and demand specific examples, as if merely being alive in the last decade wasn't enough.

And yet the problem is not that there are too few examples but that there are too many. Even the whole internet can barely contain them. But here are just a couple.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday. European Union leaders have offered Theresa May sympathy but no promises. Picture: Alastair Grant
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday. European Union leaders have offered Theresa May sympathy but no promises. Picture: Alastair Grant

In the UK, we had a moderate Conservative government so stupid and yet so smug that it outsourced an incredibly complex structure upon which the very survival of the UK depended to a simple yes/no referendum. It was then so incompetent at communicating with its citizens that it lost the very vote it commissioned.

Elements of the hard right (Nigel Farage) and the hard left (Jeremy Corbyn) combined to destroy the UK's relationship with its closest and most vital neighbour and trading partner - the former by running hard and the latter by running dead. Now the country is crippled with no hope of salvation because, for the hard right, no Brexit will ever be hard enough and the left wants the country to keep voting until it produces the result they demand.

In France, the oh-so-sophisticated Emmanuel Macron's oh-so-cool tax on fuel sparked massive riots, which torched cars, smashed up shopfronts and shut down Paris. Macron was of course trying to tackle climate change, but the quest to limit carbon emissions in a decade or two cuts little mustard for a family that is just trying to survive week to week. And it sure as hell doesn't help when tradies, truckies and cabbies are being lectured to by a former investment banker who went on to become a pro-business economic minister in a socialist government and now literally lives in a palace.

So much for that so-called centrist. And yet now he is being attacked not just by struggling workers and pensioners but by right-wing climate change deniers revelling in the irony and left-wing students revelling in the chance to throw rocks at cops. And amid all this, some of these thugs disgracefully vandalised the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most beautiful structures in the world.

Where, then, can one's sympathies possibly lie?

And as for America, well where does one start?

I am certainly no fan of Donald Trump - indeed, as a proud half-American I publicly declared my support for Hillary Clinton - but the only thing more hysterical than Trump's antics is the left's hysterical reaction to them.

And it is also a mark of shame on the Clinton campaign and the Democratic party machine that they somehow managed to win the popular vote by almost three million people yet spectacularly fail to win over the handful of working class people in Middle America that could have won them the 2016 election.

It is almost mathematically impossible for this to happen and yet the Hillary campaign was so hopelessly out of touch with ordinary people and so obsessed with her own sense of destiny that they managed to achieve it.

The scale of this failure cannot be overstated and yet the Democratic Party appears to have learnt nothing from it. If they were just 1 per cent as concerned with miners and steelworkers as they were with Donald Trump's tweets they would win the next presidential election in a landslide.

As it stands now they couldn't even win the Senate.

Meanwhile in little old Australia, as we trash our liberal democratic legacy, not a single university in the country can be found to even house a fully funded institute devoted to the study of Western civilisation. Among the newly straitened ideological orthodoxy that all too often poses as academia the West isn't just falling: It was pushed.

Now I am certainly no slave to Western ideology, if only because the whole point of Western liberal democracy is that it is not an ideology - it is merely a framework. A framework that allows people to choose their own governments, be judged fairly by their peers and have their individual freedoms respected and protected. A framework that allows nations to oscillate between capitalism and socialism if they so choose but only when they so choose. A framework that doesn't just tolerate dissent but celebrates it. A framework that isn't imposed from the top down but has evolved organically over centuries and millennia in republics and constitutional monarchies alike, from Sweden to Switzerland, from the United Kingdom to the United States.

No dictated orthodoxy, just peoples across the world independently choosing the freedom to choose. A framework that is based not on a single idea but the contest of ideas.

Ironically it was these common democratic values and freedoms that led to the European Union in the first place and also what empowered the UK to leave it.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left), watched by Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. Picture: Dan Peled
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left), watched by Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. Picture: Dan Peled

So yeah, it rarely works perfectly - perhaps it never works perfectly - but it certainly works better than any other system that has ever existed in the history of humankind. As Winston Churchill famously observed, democracy is the worst form of government in the world - apart from all the others.

Communism, fascism, theocracy, autocracy: There is a reason why there are millions of asylum seekers fleeing these regimes to come to the West and only one asylum seeker in the Ecuadorean embassy.

And so I don't buy the rubbish that the West is evil, but it is broken. And it's being broken just as much by the extremist forces that claim to defend it as it is the ones who condemn it.

If people truly love Western values - which in truth are human values - such as freedom, democracy and fairness, then we should be sharing them, not sheltering them. We should be a beacon, not an ivory tower. And we should celebrate them, not be ashamed of them.

The West works best when it is a safe harbour, not a fortress. When its values are exported not walled up. The right needs to realise that.

And the West works best when ideas are debated, not denounced. When speech is free and frank, not criminalised and condemned. The left needs to realise that.

And the elite political and business class who are the greatest beneficiaries of the West need to start making the West work for everyone else or they will continue to end up in royal commission witness boxes and prime ministerial pine boxes.

The West is falling but it can still be caught and saved.

We just have to use our hands.

- Joe Hildebrand co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Network Ten and is editor-at-large for Continue the conversation @Joe_Hildebrand

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