Donnie And Mal: Two Sides Of The Same Stupid/Idle Rich Coin

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US president Donald Trum


25 July 2017 | | New Matilda

“If you read one story on how we ended up with stupid, rich white men running the world, then make it this one, by Sean Hosking.

Well, something had to give and Jeremy Corbyn’s success at the British election might be just the first sign of that something is happening, writes Sean Hosking.

For the last 40 years fat cats on the make, under the ‘neutral’ imprimatur of the ‘free market’, have effectively laid siege to the public realm, pilfering its assets, undermining its institutions, exploiting its workers and degrading its natural resources.

What is left are societies on the brink of breakdown, where clueless politicians robotically recite redundant ideological dogma, a shrinking middle class hocks its standards and hopes in order to remain solvent, the young nihilistically withdraw to the consolations of social media and virtual worlds, and gangs of lunatic political extremists surge in from the periphery like characters in a Mad Max movie, preying on the angry and disenfranchised.

On top of the whole teetering edifice sit eight individuals who now control wealth equivalent to that of half the world’s population.

In the midst all this, it’s perhaps fitting that in the United States and Australia two super wealthy beneficiaries of the neo-liberal ‘smash and grab’ era have pushed aside their political acolytes, rolled up their sleeves and, in our hour of need, heroically assumed executive control.

US president, Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore, Flickr).
US president, Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore, Flickr).

Donald Trump has consistently sought to differentiate himself from the ‘elite political class’ by reference to his status as a ‘very very (very) successful businessman’ whose capacity to make winning deals has made him eminently qualified to lead the free world. Citing the size of his bank balance, his penis, his tower, his…you name it, Trump has fashioned himself as the ultimate political outsider, a creature of the market and ipso facto the real world, whose wealth is the ultimate testimony to his superior intellect and acumen.

Closer to home our own wealthy businessman Prime Minister, having presumably long ago given up on developing a coherent unified political vision has seized on the Trumpian zeitgeist to offer his own political raison d’etre (of sorts), referring to the strong affinity between himself and the great man, and their mutual status as “very successful business men” and practical “dealmakers” who have “come late to politics”. Such men of achievement, he has suggested, were uniquely qualified for the business of results-oriented government.

Having gained significant public support on these grounds, what might therefore have constituted an opportunity to showcase their much vaunted superior ‘real world’ capacities has instead turned into a political pantomime of ineptitude that has done significant damage to that most sacrosanct of right wing shibboleths: that individual wealth and personal merit go hand-in-hand.

Exhibiting degrees of dysfunction several magnitudes beyond what was previously deemed politically survivable, Trump swings randomly from high farce to dystopian nightmare, driving the country evermore away from a serviceable relationship with reality and toward that flat-line moment when the distinction between truth and falsehood becomes undecipherable.

While in Australia the political decline has not been so spectacular, we appear to be caught in a national malaise as we wake up to the fact that the very successful businessman, innovator and visionary we thought we were getting as Prime Minister has turned out to be an idle blatherer with an uncanny knack for screwing things up (the republic, the NBN, climate policy, the budget, energy policy, double dissolution elections).

A screencap from Channel 10's The Project, showing an awkward encounter for the Prime Minister on a train to western Sydney.
A screencap from Channel 10’s The Project, showing an awkward encounter for the Prime Minister on a train to western Sydney.

In light of this, it’s worth considering why at this stage, in our inexorable march to civilizational decline, we have turned to two representatives of the wealthy, elite class to extricate us from a crisis created in large part by their own greed and profligacy, and why the result has been so spectacularly bad.

A large part of the answer I would argue lies in recent changes in public perceptions of the wealthy and in particular the disappearance from public view of that perennial deadbeat relative of the much heralded meritorious rich – the stupid/idle rich.

Historically the stupid/idle rich were typically the inheritors of large fortunes. Anaesthetised by privilege and/or stupefied by a lack of stimulation, graft and lower facial features, they were distinguished by their abject unfitness for any kind of constructive or practical human endeavour.

Most commonly they were the aristocrats, nobles, peers, patricians, heirs and toffs derided for living lives of ignorant indulgence, moral decadence and bumbling incompetence: from the French Royal court playing parlour games at Versailles as the revolutionary masses gathered outside, to the British ‘tofficer’ in the first world war casually sending young waves of soldiers to their death over port and cigars, to the gallery of buffoons and aimless egotists who showed up in the popular fiction of writers such as Dickens, Fitzgerald, Wodehouse.

In more contemporary form they often show up as international playboys, doyens of the charity party circuit, generous patrons of the political right and nonentities famous for their shopping sprees, bitter marriage break ups and multiple drink driving convictions.

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