We’re less than two weeks into the Trump presidency, and already the world feels like it’s slipping into a black hole of racism and despair. But now’s no time to give up, says Joshua Drummond. Here’s part two of our series on how you can make a positive difference, right here in Aotearoa.
Like many Kiwis, I’ve been first horrified, then sickened, by the rapid developments in the United States since Donald Trump was inaugurated as President. Let’s call it what it is: a rapid slide into a uniquely American brand of fascism. While what’s happening in the US has been awful, the worst thing by far is watching the queue of quislings and sycophants, in our country and others, who are abandoning previous statements and principles out of a desire to surf the fascist wave.
In the UK we have Prime Minister Teresa May abandoning what principles she might have been said to have, even hypothetically, and crawl to both Trump and Turkey’s Erdogan with a begging bowl in the wake of Brexit. Closer to home, we’ve had Bill English’s cowardly non-condemnation of what amounts to a travel ban on Muslims from seven Muslim-majority countries.
We’ve also seen Jordan Williams of the “Taxpayers Union” (an organisation whose sole activity is operating a press-release factory) put out a press release lambasting New Zealand’s entirely above-board international aid contributions to the Clinton Health Access Initiative, a former arm of the Clinton Foundation that provides life-saving anti-malarial and HIV/AIDS treatment to 12 million people. Why was this bad? Let’s let Jordan Williams do the talking:
“Mr Williams added it not only looks bad to New Zealanders, it’ll also surely annoy the incoming Trump administration.
“If you were forming a plan to make New Zealand unpopular among the incoming administration you couldn’t formulate a better plan than giving money to the Clinton Foundation”.
So we should stop giving our aid money to an organisation that spends it on helping vulnerable people because it might annoy Trump. Worse, our Ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser – one of the chief cheerleaders of the TPPA – spent his time at a party in Washington boasting about having obtained Trump’s phone number, and crowing about the end of “PC culture.”
We can see the end of PC culture in action at the time of writing: as refugees are detained at the gates of the United States; at the immigration ban targeting many Muslim countries (except, notably, the ones which generated the 9/11 terrorists), as Executive Orders are signed that will see the American taxpayers foot the bill for a multi-billion dollar Great Wall across their southern border, as indigenous rights are trampled in the name of more needless oil pipelines, and in the many other fascistic decrees and statements that spout daily from the man in the Oval Office and his team.
So how can we resist it, here at the ends of the earth? Here are a few ideas. These are just ones I’ve either come up with myself, looked up, or that people have suggested. I’d like to make this a living article and add any good ideas people come up with, so if you have one, fire it through to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Don’t put up with appeasement
We live in a small nation at the bottom of the world that seems, especially at times like this, to be comfortingly far from the centres of power and upheaval. Our new Prime Minister is Boring Bill English! Thank God! “It could be so much worse,” we think, and pat ourselves on the back. “If I was in the US I’d resist, of course, but over here all I can really do is read 9000 word thinkpieces on Medium and send the occasional irate tweet.”
This isn’t enough. English’s failure to condemn Trump’s travel ban reflects poorly on all of us. You can’t focus-group this shit, Bill: it’s black and white. Worse, our elected leaders, at this moment, will be hunched in boardrooms trying to figure out a way to condemn the future actions of Trump in a way that’ll wishy-wash with the hugely anti-Trump general populace while appeasing the monster across the Pacific.
So the first thing we should do is signal to our leaders that appeasement won’t be tolerated. Most New Zealanders hate Trump and everything he stands for. If our leaders find their own principles lacking, then they should at least be led by the electorate. If they take action – or in English’s case, inaction – to appease Trump, write to them and let them know it’s unacceptable. Most MPs have their own offices, so feel free to visit them and tell them in person. It’s their job to represent you. Meanwhile, Tim Groser’s pathetic display in Washington should be protested as loudly as possible. It’s his job to represent us as a nation in the US, not to praise the fascist assault on cultural norms and decencies that he dismisses as “PC culture”. If he’s not going to do his job properly, he shouldn’t have it.
2. Call to more than double the refugee quota
Of all the discriminated-against and marginalised groups in the world, refugees have it the roughest. After being ripped from their homes by war and violence, they find themselves kicked around as political footballs by leaders who see them as a useful distraction and scapegoat for all that’s wrong with their own nations. We can do better than this. New Zealand has ample room and facilities to take many more refugees than it currently does. Doubling the quota would be a good start. Quintupling it, to a mere 5000 a year, would be even better. This number is a drop in the bucket compared both to the sheer number of refugees in need of help and New Zealand’s 4 million citizens. We can take them easily. We should start now.
3. Shut down those who seek to bring Trumpism home
Certain factions on the New Zealand right, right now, are silently orgasming at the developments in the US. The more outspoken ones, like Winston Peters and Brian Tamaki, are already covertly or overtly praising him. Soon they, and others like them, will be ever more openly championing Trump and his policies, in the hope that what happened there can be repeated here. If you see it, speak out against it. If they hold rallies or meetings, show up to counter-rallies. Protest.
4. Find the Trump fans you know and talk to them
Although most of Trump’s actions horrify what is probably a large majority of New Zealanders, there will be those who support his actions. You probably know a few of these people yourself. “So what?” you might say. “This is New Zealand, not America, and it’s not like they could vote for him.” But that ignores the problem. Sure, your Kiwi mates who thought Trump was just the shake-up America needed didn’t directly help him into power, but the instant a similar demagogue shows up here trying to pull off the same trick, they’ll fall at their feet. If you know people who support Trump’s agenda, it’s on you to change their minds. Use facts. Use credible sources. These things are anathema to the fascist agenda, which is why the Trump administration finds it necessary to create alternative facts. If your mum posts a bullshit Facebook meme talking about all the people Crooked Hillary killed or how Trump’s Muslim ban is saving lives (I made that last one up, but seriously, it probably already exists) then give her a ring and talk to her. Trump happened to America. It’s on us to make sure he doesn’t happen here.
5. Protect minorities and support refugees
When a person in power speaks out against minorities, it empowers those who hate them. You can signal your support of tolerance and diversity through direct support. Whatever your religion, or lack thereof, you can send a letter to, or visit, your local mosque or temple or synagogue. Let them know that you stand against intolerance and that you’re here to support them. You can also make an extra effort to help refugees and asylum seekers, and find out how you can offer practical, on-the-ground support. The Red Cross works with new refugee families, and there’s more information on how you can help at this excellent Spinoff article.
6. Call for courageous, moral-compass-led journalism
As Paul Brislen points out, the advent of Trump is a chance for journalism to rediscover its soul and purpose. News sources are rapidly developing new income streams as it becomes increasingly obvious that you can’t run a business on clickbait. Subscriptions and other payment options are becoming increasingly common. So pay up for one! The New York Times, the Guardian and the Washington Post all offer subscription options. Closer to home, the Spinoff is looking at augmenting its sponsorship income with a paid app, and individual journalists are finding methods of direct support. Even the much-maligned Stuff is putting money and time into supporting investigative journalism, and it’s your job to reward this. When you see junk journalism, don’t share it, even if you hate it. Share – or better, pay for – something good instead.
And watch out for outlets that position themselves as “alternative media” but that actually exist in order to propagate alternative facts. Brietbart stands for white nationalism; RT is a mouthpiece for Vladimir Putin and his despotic regime.
And the next time you see a Trump-appeasing press release from the Taxpayer’s Union masquerading as a news story, because you can bet there’ll be more, fire off a complaint to the editor. Demand real journalism. I still think, in an age of disinformation and fake news, that the truth can set us free – so let’s support those who tell it.
7. Do what you can, then do something else
This advice is for me as much as anyone else, but I can only assume lots of other people are having the same problem. I spent the Saturday of Auckland Anniversary weekend glued to news sites and my Twitter feed, poring over the latest hideous developments. Then, anxious and tired of the self-inflicted deluge, I wrote this article.
So. Do all the stuff you can do. Help refugees, support quality journalism, talk to your friends. Watch out for people trying to pull off anything similar here. Action helps. Worrying won’t. As best you can, evict Trump from your precious mental space and live your life. It’s Waitangi Day soon! Get outside, exercise, make art, reflect on our unique Treaty (and listen to the voices of people who are most affected by it.) Have a barbecue with friends! For all our problems, we live in a privileged nation. Let’s accept this gift and make good use of it.
Reader Submission: Get institutions you’re a member of to speak out
If you’re a member of an institution with local or international clout – for example, a university – you can encourage them to add their voices to the chorus of condemnation.
Siobahn Lehnhard of Auckland writes:
“If you are a current or previous student of a New Zealand University, you can email the Vice Chancellor of that uni and urge them to make a public statement about the Executive Order shenanigans, similar to that put out by Victoria University.
For example I have written emails to the Vice Chancellors of Massey University (where I am an alumnus) and University of Auckland (where I am a current student).
“Re: Statement on the recent Executive Order aka “Muslim Ban”
I’m sure you’re no doubt aware of the recent EO made by President Trump. I am a current postgraduate student at the University of Auckland. I think it is imperative that the leaders of our institutions here in New Zealand are visible and vocal in rejecting the bigoted and Islamophobic rhetoric coming out of the current administration in the United States.
Victoria University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford has made a statement which is clearly visible on Vic’s Facebook page. When can we expect a similar statement from the University of Auckland? If a similar statement has already been made, can it be made more prominent?
Thank you for your attention to this matter.”
List of Vice-Chancellors:
Jan Thomas, Massey, J.B.Thomas@massey.ac.nz
Stuart McCutcheon, University of Auckland, email@example.com
Harlene Hayne, University of Otago, firstname.lastname@example.org
Derek McCormack, AUT, email@example.com
Rod Carr, University of Canterbury, firstname.lastname@example.org
Neil Quigley, University of Waikato, email@example.com
Reader submission: Remember the past
Pauline Nidd writes:
I am 72 years old, born in 1944. I grew up in England and emigrated to New Zealand when I was 25. I grew up hearing from my parents, my father in particular, about Hitler and World War Two.
I loved history at school. We didn’t study modern history but I read about the rise of Hitler and saw newsreels at the pictures (movies) of the rallies addressed by Hitler and the adoring crowds who listened and cheered. I have seen the same things on television during the US Presidential election; Trump telling the people what they wanted to hear.
What can we do to stop the rolling tide of fascism from invading New Zealand? Tell everyone we meet who says Trump isn’t so bad, give the guy a chance, to read about Germany in the thirties. We all need to educate ourselves about the past because if we don’t learn from the past we are surely going to repeat it.
The Society section is sponsored by AUT. As a contemporary university we’re focused on providing exceptional learning experiences, developing impactful research and forging strong industry partnerships. Start your university journey with us today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.