Life is full of perverse, cruel irony. That sentence is a case in point.
Alex Turnbull is no radical.
It would be nearly inconceivable for him to be a left-wing radical: before resigning his seat in Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull, Alex’s father and former Goldman Sachs partner, was Australia’s richest politician. Alex (against my rule, I’ll refer to him and his father by their first names, for brevity) is a hedge-fund manager based on Singapore.
I know little about Alex’s ideas on economic policy, social and cultural issues, and I only know he supports action against climate change. Until now he flew under my radar, so to speak. His father was, of course, as neoliberal as the vast majority of the bien-pensant. That places Malcolm squarely within the mainstream.
Malcolm was a promoter of last year’s Same Sex Marriage Postal Survey and a supporter, albeit a timid one, of the Yes side, which eventually won (61.6% Yes, 38.4% No, national figures). That result led to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017, extending the right to marry to same sex couples, being passed in Parliament. That earned Malcolm some cookie points among the liberally-minded public (in the vaguely ideological sense of the word liberal), although did not endear him to the decidedly conservative sections of his own party, the Liberal-National Coalition (LNC). On this subject, too, Malcolm fits well with the mainstream.
Back in 2009, then federal opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull supported a carbon emissions trading scheme, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (an initiative of the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd, at the time PM). As with SSM, that earned him credibility with the mainstream, although it marked him as a “socialist” before the coal mining industry-funded conservative fringe of this party (one could say that episode marks the birth of the “insurgency” which eventually succeeded last month). As a consequence of that internal opposition, Malcolm gradually drifted away from climate change action, without entirely abandoning it
It seems reasonable to conclude that Malcolm isn’t a right-wing extremist, either. And one could extend that assessment, at least provisionally, to Alex.
It’s important to make that point, because I believe many in the Left (in Australia or abroad), without being fully supportive, could sympathise with father and son, a duo in many ways similar to themselves. It’s the kind of men they could comfortably share tea in a Victorian manor room and exchange pleasantries, if not a Platonic dialogue for mutual edification.
And yet, the title of this post are Alex Turnbull’s words. Yes, he was actually urging Liberal voters not to vote for his father’s (presumably his own) party. He was doing precisely what the Republican establishment have been condemned for not doing with Donald Trump.
Turnbull Jr. isn’t speaking in the name of the alt-right. Whatever personal reasons he may also have, he’s speaking in the name of classical liberalism and climate change action and against those he calls “crazies” (“insurgents” and “wreckers”, in his father’s words: the LNC extremely conservative faction).
Alex was urging that, even if it costs the Liberal Party and the LNC’s 1-seat majority in the House of Representatives, even if that leads to a loss of power. Even if it leads (God forbid!) to an opposition victory.
Hopefully, many Liberal voters think as he does.
I’m sure many on the Left, particularly the American “Left”, would applaud Alex’s courage and urge Liberal voters to heed him. They may feel disappointed by his father’s more cautious stance (he refused to campaign for the Wentworth candidate, but did not come out openly against him), but those more charitable among them may even find in their hearts some understanding for his more delicate position.
The cruel and perverse irony I spoke about earlier should now be evident to some readers. Others may need some explaining. They are my intended readership.
Those same “leftists” who would likely applaud Alex Turnbull’s courage (and did sternly condemn the Republican establishment’s cowardice) are also at the forefront of “the vote for the Democratic Party come what may”. No matter if the party does not represent you anymore; no matter if it never did; no matter how you feel about it. It’s the lesser evil. Anathema and eternal damnation upon heretics saying otherwise.
That phenomenon is not strictly limited to the US. You find the same thing in Australia or in Britain and I would be surprised there weren’t all sorts of local variations all over the world. Understanding that phenomenon is, therefore, fundamentally important and indeed vitally urgent, not only for the Left, but for humanity’s survival. We won’t survive if there is no radical change: exactly what these people oppose, in deed if not in words.
I’ll advance here my thoughts on that matter, for what they are worth, based on my own personal experience. A warning to readers: my evaluation is as frank as it is negative and pessimistic. If readers lack the stomach, they are well advised to leave now.
I dislike the “idiocy” multi-purpose explanation: by explaining all, it ends up explaining nothing. On top, it reeks of self-promotion (the “smarter” critics, by implication, should replace the “idiots”). Besides, those people aren’t idiots by any measure. In fact, I’d say many are extremely intelligent.
It’s not ignorance either, although the case here is less clear. In general they have their fields of expertise and there some of them may have something useful to say. The problem is that they tend to overestimate their own competence and believe it universal.
(Incidentally, together, those two observations imply one cannot ignore what they have to say; but one must put up with lots of irrelevancies, sometimes bordering on eccentricity -- if you stumble upon them, you’ll have no difficulty understanding this -- and take even what goes beyond that with handfuls of salt. The occasional glimmer of insight may justify the effort, but one pays a price for it: the cost/benefit analysis is unclear.)
They aren’t blind: it’s not that they cannot see the words one writes; they aren’t dumb: it's not that their minds cannot grasp the ideas they transmit. It’s that they refuse to engage with them. Their way out is to pretend misunderstanding, to feign indignation, empty pompous rhetoric, often offensive. To resort to faux emotional distress -- as I’ve seen an adult, who claims to be an intellectual, do -- is not merely dishonest, it’s pathetic and grotesque.
Behind that attitude, I think, there’s a kind of arrogant cowardice masquerading as pragmatism, a petty bourgeois stubborn sense of entitlement, self-importance and intellectual and moral superiority. These people are incredibly good at self-justification, which -- allied to their endless moralising -- makes them, at worse, appear as hypocrites and concern trolls, or useful idiots, at best. Nothing illustrates that better than Alex Turnbull’s example.
Maybe I’m too negative. I’m not infallible, like Peter’s successors. Readers are not my children, they don’t have to do as I say. So, as always, I advice them to exercise critical thinking if faced by this breed of “leftists” (sadly, including at least one “Marxist”). If you do and pay attention -- trust me -- you will know them.
Perhaps someone more skilled, diplomatic and patient than me could be more successful in establishing a constructive dialogue with them. I tried. I can’t do it anymore, and so I won’t. Unless readers fit the bill more closely than me, I would strongly discourage any active dialogue. To me they are -- regrettably -- as much the enemy as capitalists and their avowed servants. Personally, I have more respect for a guy like Turnbull Jr. To say something different would be a lie.
In a twisted way, they are a more insidious enemy: they genuinely believe themselves leftists and that everything they offer is unquestionably true; and that is how they represent themselves to the wider public. Their education, too, lends them credibility. You can see how that combination can hurt you and the real Left and how it can mislead the unwary, yes?
If I’m right, and I sincerely hope -- for the good of humanity -- reality will prove me wrong, one day their children and grand-children may curse their names. If that day comes, they will have deserved that.