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July 13th 2018 print

Peter Smith

Blind, Resentful and Proud of It

Spend your career roosting comfortably in the nest of accepted wisdom and it can be more than a little hard to get one's mind about the left-field likes of Donald Trump. That he is delivering conservative agenda items in wholesale lots goes unremarked, as Paul Kelly's readers must surely be noticing

paul kellyThe Australian‘s Paul Kelly must see himself as a Never-Trumper down under. “Conservatives are bankrupt in their failure to evaluate the world Trump now seeks, the transactional confusion he foments and the flawed half-baked prescriptions he propounds,” he writes under the heading of “Seduction by Trump is a corruption of conservatism.” I don’t know whether I have fully grasped the import of Kelly’s puffed-up prose (fomenting “transactional confusion”), but I take it that he would like conservatives to dislike Trump more. Well, it ain’t going to happen while Trump is bringing home the conservative bacon. And he is bringing home the bacon. Kelly’s article is another tired dump on Trump. I will select some of his barbs to show how tendentious, contrived and inflated they are. Why do this? To play a small part in countering the conga line of elitist Trump haters.

Apparently, Trump threatens the moral and intellectual standing of conservatism. Conservatism is about conserving what is good about our traditions and heritage. If Trump is so threatening, it would be nice if Kelly were to take the trouble to explain exactly how. What is it about reducing taxes and regulations, trying to secure the border, moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or selecting two originalists to the Supreme Court that threatens conservative values? I am confused.

It seems that Trump is “is eroding the checks and balances of the US constitutional system.” What does this mean? What is Kelly getting at? Maybe he thinks Trump should have put forward a liberal activist to the Supreme Court instead of Brett Kavanaugh. Somebody dedicated to eroding the checks and balances my making law instead of interpreting law? I simply don’t know what he means.

“Trump has embarked on a trade conflict with China guaranteed to damage both countries,” writes Kelly. Really? According to the World Steel Association, US production of crude steel fell from 102 million tonnes in 2000 to 82 million tonnes in 2017. During the same period, Chinese production rose from 129 to 832 million tonnes. According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US had a merchandise trade deficit of $375 billion with China in 2017. What should the US do? Kowtow to China as it dumps its products and steals intellectual property? Should the US play nice and hope for the best?

The Chinese have to be confronted. They are not going to give an inch without pressure. Think of Trump. Think of Xi Jinping. Think of those around Xi. They are all probably Trump-like, ‘China first’ guys. We have only one on our side and he is continually undermined by the likes of Kelly.

Kelly bemoans Trump’s “hostility towards NATO.” US military spending is over to 3.5% of its huge GDP. Canada (what a joke) spends 1% of its GDP on defence and Germany only 1.2%. European countries in total spent less than 1.5 percent of their GDP on defence in 2017. Successive US administrations and presidents have complained ‘diplomatically’ about this. How successful has this diplomacy been? Think of a very small number. Trump isn’t hostile towards NATO. In fact, NATO would be stronger, if Germany et al stumped up more cash.

Apparently, Kelly is in sync with European alarm about the prospects of “Trump giving Putin a recognition he does not warrant.” Just maybe it is better to have Russia inside the tent; at least on some issues. How unfriendly would Kelly like Trump to be towards Putin? Kill a few more of his soldiers in Syria?

Trump apparently doesn’t see that “trade is never a zero-sum game because it offers reciprocal benefits and a sharing of prosperity.” This is an empty point. No one, including Trump, doubts the benefits of trade. At the same time, countries engage in prolonged and intensive negotiations on trade deals in order to protect and further their own interests. Gains from trade don’t just flow equitably between trading partners as a matter of course. Trump believes NAFTA, for example, has not sufficiently benefited American companies. He believes that US trade with China is lopsided. Now, you can argue on the merits of the cases but it is perfectly rational for him to take the position that he does. You can’t parody this Trump derangement syndrome, which views everything that he does in a poor light.

According to Kelly, Trump is a mercantilist. “His mind belongs to an earlier age when power equated with domestic assets [?] and wealth came from export revenue.” Tell that to Xi. And, by the way, wealth does come from export revenue. Ask Scott Morrison (and Xi). A country can’t go on, and on, exporting materially less than it imports. Something gives – usually the exchange rate and people get poorer. Meanwhile, bad trade deals can result in families and communities being dispossessed and thrown onto the scrapheap. These families and communities matter to Trump. How much do they matter to Never-Trumpers?

Tut-tut! Trump criticised Trudeau. As usual Trump reacted. He didn’t start the spat. Trudeau threw the first verbal punch. According to Kelly he wouldn’t have responded in a similar way to Putin. Oh yes, he would. Kelly simply doesn’t “get” Trump and therefore shouldn’t write about him as though he did. He is out of his depth. Trump is in Europe right now berating Germany for signing a natural gas deal with Russia and increasing that country’s dependency. This kind of thing isn’t done in polite diplomatic circles. But Trump is a disrupter. He says it plainly as he sees it. And he sees it from an America-first perspective, which is what he was hired to do by American voters. If only our leaders had such clarity and resolve.

Kelly charges that “Trump dislikes US alliances and fancies his ability to cut deals with the autocrats in Russia, China and North Korea … His celebrity summit with Kim Jong-un at the expense of pledges to South Korea offers as spectacular warning.” First, I must have missed the South Korean dismay at having pledges dishonoured. What pledges? Kelly doesn’t enlighten us. As for meeting with Russia, China and North Korea and trying to find a way forward, what is the alternative? If, in the end result, North Korea is persuaded to get rid of its nuclear arms it will be a triumph for the world. Twenty years down the track, nothing else has worked. And if it doesn’t work was it still not worth a try? The fact is whatever Trump does is wrong according to Trump haters.

I can’t cover all of what Kelly wrote. Take my word for it, none of the rest contains any acknowledgement of Trump’s successes. Black unemployment at its lowest recorded level. That’s not nearly as important as being nice to Mr Trudeau.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [34]

  1. padraic says:

    I like Paul Kelly’s contributions normally, but this one was a real eye glazer. He acknowledges all the good things that Trump has done and then dumps on him in the best swamp fashion. My only conclusion was that he was having a bad day and it could be construed that he does not appreciate Trump’s diplomatic skills. What Trump seems to be doing is to get rid of all the traditional huffing and puffing between nations and get them to settle down into a peaceful world order where nations respect each other through reciprocity and their governments focus on looking after their populations. The “progressives” seem not to realise that if the governments of those basket case countries feeding illegal migration actually did something for their people, you would not have this “refugee” pressure. Good luck to him.

    • ianl says:

      > “My only conclusion was that he was having a bad day and it could be construed that he does not appreciate Trump’s diplomatic skills”

      Or perhaps it is simply the same wounded conceit shown by most of the MSM when Trump is the subject: “He takes no notice of us. Just how dare he … who does he think he is ?” … and so on.

      In my view, that aspect is about the most delightfully entertaining of the Trump disruptions. Other aspects are obviously weightier, such as pointing out to Merkel that increasing Germany’s energy dependence on Russian gas is a stupid risk, but the MSM aspect is truly entertaining.

  2. LBLoveday says:

    I read the article this morning and decided to put Kelly in with POV & Savva – no longer to be read.

    I’m glad to see that PS, with far more claims to Economics expertise than I, also seems to have little, or no (as in my case) idea what “transactional confusion” means. I did Google it, in quotes to get the exact phrase and even with repeats from the same sources and a few times picking up “transactional, confusion”, only 216 references were located (cf ” zero-sum game” with 1,860,000). Yet Kelly presumably expects readers from many different backgrounds to know what he is on about.

    Here’s someone’s explanation: “transactional confusion is created by any system of divided ownership in human labor”. But I still have no idea what Kelly is getting at.

    And an example of its use on a dating site (access is barred from where I am (porn?) so this is from the Google display) “voluble Sarge agitator, his vitalists evangelize the transactional confusion”, which makes as much sense to me as Kelly’s usage.

    • Lewis P Buckingham says:

      What I think he means is that there is no clear rule in financial and therefore trade transactions between countries
      when one member suddenly changes them, causing confusion.
      In this case the bone is pointed at Trump.
      However this begs the question, because Trump is railing against the present trade system where it maintains a known, agreed, tariff,
      which is transparent, while other costs are added which are not.
      It reminds me of the experience a friend of mine had in sending optical typesetting spare parts to a French dependency in the South Pacific.
      The consignment if sent directly was fraught with custom inspection fees,storage,port fees, excessive transport costs and licence type fees.Storage would be charged until all the important checks had been made, which took time.
      Being a native Francophone he would ring the publisher and advise the package was on the way and he wanted expedited clearance.
      It would be at the printing press 24 hours after landing.
      Trumps problem with China is that they do not honor patents, while insisting technology must transfer to their ownership and control if manufacturing goes there.
      If they don’t obtain it that way, then there are other options.
      https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/australasia/article/2115001/hackers-use-china-chopper-tool-steal-australia-f-35-stealth
      He recently beat China to a gas deal with Pakistan.
      France is getting hers from North Africa.
      Australia has plenty to burn. But not for us consumers.
      The Europeans really need a shake up.
      Almost half of Europe’s gas comes from Russia.
      https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/ukraine-crisis-putin-will-cut-gas-to-europe-unless-russia-is-paid-by-the-end-of-the-week-10071475.html
      Russia can bump up the price and when not paid, cut the gas off.
      Trump may be looking after the USA, the roadmap, however, leads through strengthening his allies.
      Even if they dont want it.
      His next bet would be to sign a free trade agreement with the UK before Brexit.
      Now that would put the cat among the pigeons.

    • Jody says:

      This means your reading leaves you exposed to the charge of “confirmation bias”. A pity. As Jordan Peterson says, “if we only read what we know we never get to learn anything”.

      • LBLoveday says:

        I’m a risk-taker par excellence and I’ll risk being so charged. There will be plenty of better expressed articles about what I don’t know that I will read, but without the gobbledygook language – there are so few waking hours in a day and I have so many necessary, and, or, useful tasks to do each day (and they seem to take longer with each passing year!) without trying to fathom the seemingly unfathomable (if PS can’t, that’s good enough for me to give up).

        I still don’t know what Kelly meant by (inter alia) “transactional confusion” and have no use for someone who uses abstruse technical terms (if that’s what it is) in such articles.

        PS, just 208 Google references today, including this article by PS.

        • Jody says:

          Doesn’t he mean that as a ‘transactional politician’ President Trump is confusing the people because they don’t understand the nature of ‘the transaction’ and what consequences follow from this.

          • LBLoveday says:

            Don’t know. Simply have not got a clue.

            Just printed out 45 pages of articles to read while sitting beach-front, drinking beer and sipping red wine, and as I went to throw out my previous pile, I decided to revisit Kelly’s article and note what so irked me.

            In haste it’s after beer o’clock and “typos” will not be corrected.

            Trump’s power is on the ascendant, creating a mood of intoxication, unpredictability and danger.

            Who’s intoxicated, or feeling intoxicated? Where is that mood present?

            posing as a “man on horseback” figure of destiny

            I presume Kelly’s referring to the book, or at least the spin-off use of the term to refer to people like the main character of the book – a Bolivian dictator who tries to create an empire. What empire is Trump trying to create?

            Trump has embarked on a trade conflict with China guaranteed to damage both nations

            Opinion expressed as fact – it is not guaranteed to do that.

            his trade war may expose China’s fragile underbelly, but it will weaken the US globally and offer nothing but illusory short-term gains for the US along with lots of losses.

            Opinion expressed as fact – it is not certain that will happen.

            but his views mean only an America weaker than it should be

            Opinion expressed as fact – it is not certain that would happen.

            Conservatives who sign up to the Trumpian agenda have lost their judgment and their better selves. They should beware, the price they pay will be fearsome.

            Opinion expressed as fact – it is not certain that they will pay any, let alone a fearsome price; it’s not even certain that Trump’s agenda (why would anyone write “the Trumpian agenda” when “Trump’s agenda” is plain English, and shorter?) will be implemented.

            They forget what Trump’s alternative and incoherent “big picture” means for America and the world.

            In my opinion Trump’s “big picture” is very clear – “MAGA” – but Kelly does not even tell what, in his opinion, it is, let alone what, in his opinion, it “means for America and the world”. And if it’s an alternative, what is/are the other(s)? How arrogant to claim they “forget” – likely they did not forget; maybe they don’t agree with Kelly, maybe they think it augurs well for America and the world.

          • en passant says:

            Jody,
            If you have to pose your explanation as a question (without a ‘?’) doesn’t this mean you also have no idea what Kelly meant?

    • oldsailor says:

      I had the same difficulty with “confusional transactions” or whatever. I think it might mean much the same as Kevni Krudd’s stroke of linguistic genius….”programmatic specificity”.

    • oldsailor says:

      “Here’s someone’s explanation: “transactional confusion is created by any system of divided ownership in human labor”.”

      Seems to me to be talking about difficulties with the slave trade. Perhaps a caravan from the interior is late, or HM ships Fox and Terpsichore have got in amongst the dhows.

  3. Bran Dee says:

    I have long thought Paul Kelly is overrated and thank you PS for delineating it.
    Both PK and MT are so deliberate in their presentation but often it is a disguise for ‘bull’.

    • Len says:

      Whatever Paul Kelly founded his reputation on, it long ago evaporated. When he was appearing regularly as a guest on the ABC’s Insiders program several years ago his approach was increasingly (and deliberately?) to sound Delphic. I reached the inescapable conclusion that he was absorbed with the sound of his own voice. His articles in the Australian before I terminated my subscription left me with the same impression. If you can’t express your message clearly and concisely you have no right to consider yourself a commentator. Kelly’s conceit is that he thinks he still has something worthwhile to say and we are eager to hear it.

  4. whitelaughter says:

    Those invested with Trump Derangement Syndrome are no longer in the Overton Window. Forget about them.

  5. Jody says:

    I find Paul Kelly to be prescient and an honest and perceptive observer. Ignore what he has to say at your peril; he won’t always be right about everything (eg. Trump, Rudd) but what he has to say about Trump is based on an excellent career as a political insider, the author of books and largely non-partisan in his approach. It would worry me if somebody wanted to throw the baby out with the bathwater with Paul Kelly; the run the risk of being caught short.

    • en passant says:

      Jody,
      To find Paul Kelly ‘prescient’, ‘honest’ & ‘perceptive’ – but often just wrong and ‘Delphic’ indicates you have not slaughtered and read the entrails of enough chickens. Try adding more bats*** and frog wings to your next political analysis brew …

    • Paul Kelly is as non partisan as any one can be if they are married to a former ALP federal minister.

      • LBLoveday says:

        Kelly was, long, long ago, married to such a woman, but he and Margaret Leckie celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary next month.

        • LBLoveday says:

          Woke up in a sweat when I recalled what I wrote – I went back a decade; they will have been married 35 years.

          • Jody says:

            What an insult suggesting a respected journalist is joined at the hip with his wife with regard to political views. What did she make of his crushing comments about Labor under Rudd and Gillard? What of his comments on Bill Shorten and modern Labor, of which he has been less than kind. But you’d have to read what he writes to get any of that, instead of listening to others or reading the headlines. You’ll soon be at war with everybody as Trump’s fortunes decline!! Man up and accept diversity of opinion; after all, it’s the only way to really learn anything instead of ‘confirmation bias’.

          • LBLoveday says:

            Jody wrote: “What an insult suggesting a respected journalist is joined at the hip with his wife with regard to political views. What did she make of his crushing comments about Labor under Rudd and Gillard? What of his comments on Bill Shorten and modern Labor, of which he has been less than kind”.

            I’ll try, try again! Paul and Ros Kelly divorced in 1982, 36 years ago, 32 years before “Triumph and Demise” was published and 25 years before Shorten became a MP. The next year, 1983, 35 years ago, Paul Kelly married Margaret Rose Louise Kelly (nee Leckie) to whom he is still married.

            Paul Kelly’s wife, Margaret Kelly, is an academic lawyer with no publicly expressed political views that I am aware of, so how would I, or anyone other than the two and maybe their two children, other relatives and close friends, know what she made of his “crushing comments”?

            And who cares what his ex-wife, Ros Kelly, who also remarried 35 years ago, would think of his comments, if she even knows of them? I doubt she would give the proverbial “two hoots”, and similarly I presume Paul Kelly would have no interest in her opinion were she to have one. I have no idea whether she would even have read “Triumph and Demise” or any of his 10 or so books published since their divorce or his articles on Shorten and modern Labor.

        • Jody says:

          God forbid that two people in the one household can hold two different political opinions and one of them write about the depredations of the Labor Party in “Triumph and Demise”. We’ll have to do something about that!!!

          • LBLoveday says:

            “Triumph and Demise” was published in 2014, 32 years after his divorce from Ros Kelly, which came quickly on the heels of her election to Parliament.
            I don’t know the political opinions of his now wife of 35 years, Margaret Rose Louise Kelly (nee Leckie); the little I do know is she is a lawyer, has academic tenure at Macquarie Law School, and did her PhD dissertation on “King and Crown: And Examination of the Legal Foundations of the British King”, but I’d not jump to any conclusion about her leanings being markedly different to her husband’s.

        • LBLoveday says:

          What a contrast to Akerman’s article today, concluding with:

          “Cometh the hour, cometh the man. And the best man for the hour is Trump”.

          I’ve always liked Akerman, bolstered by him (along with Devine and Albrechtsen) often responding to personal emails.

  6. Mohsen says:

    “As usual Trump reacted. He didn’t start the spat.” It’s true; as far as I know every time that Trump has been aggressive toward someone, he has been reacting; reacting to whatever aggression, accusation thrown directly or by innuendoes at him and his country.

    He despises and is critical of Germany for two reasons: One is that “they have taken advantage if us and our stupid leaders”, and the second is (from during his campaign and from especially the first meeting with Angela Merkel and his presidency) that he hates and despises Merkel as he hates and despises Obama: He sees then both treasonous. He will not forgive Merkel for allowing over one million Syrian and African refugees in Germany and Europe! (My understanding!)

  7. Doubting Thomas says:

    I tend to take Paul Kelly with a grain of salt having regard to his well-known Labor sympathies. But I think that on the whole he is still right up there with the best with only Sheridan as serious competition. Fairfax has nobody even close.

  8. Mohsen says:

    “Transactional confusion” aside, I have difficulty with “. . . are bankrupt in their failure to evaluate. . . .”
    Is it the same as, “in failing to evaluate . . . conservatives are bankrupt”, meaning that they haven’t failed?!
    I think there is something or are somethings incorrect with it either semantically, syntactically, or idiomatically; or even all of them!

    Also, that the conservatives agree with and approve Trump’s decisions and actions shows they have indeed made evaluations, i.e. they have evaluated them (wisely, rightly or otherwise!) which renders the assertion by Paul Kelly meaningless!

    Moreover, what is foolish with his assertion is that Paul Kelly comfortably presupposes that the conservatives are in agreement with him that Trump is now seeking some kind of world, that he is fomenting a certain transactional confusion, and that he is propounding flawed half-baked prescriptions; and then based on that Paul Kelly takes to task the conservatives for failing to evaluate
    the world Trump now seeks. . . .

  9. Davidovich says:

    An excellent expose of Paul Kelly’s puffery, thank you Peter Smith.

    May I suggest to other commenters that they desist from engaging with the entity calling itself Jody as they will only find that entity repeats tendentious rubbish which mars the other thoughtful comments about articles in this excellent publication.

    • LBLoveday says:

      Tick.

      Having marked thus positively, I recount being asked by a Legal Aid lawyer in the FCA “May I ask you….?”, and my answering “Yes you may”. And ask he did!