Truth behind the world’s most powerful leaders
There is a convention in sporting contests to play in the spirit of the game, to play the ball rather than the man.
Attempts to win outside of this convention — even if they are technically within the rules — tend to backfire violently on the plotter.
A rather infamous example of this occurred during a certain cricket match in 1981, in which Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor to bowl the final ball underarm so New Zealand couldn’t possibly hit a six and tie the match.
Australia technically won the game but also brought a shame upon the national side that has still never been forgotten.
Likewise, even in the morally grey game of politics, such actions tend to tar the victors more than the vanquished.
Malcolm Fraser terminated the Whitlam government by first blocking supply in the Senate and then convincing the Governor-General to withdraw the Prime Minister’s commission.
You therefore have to wonder what Australia’s political progenitors in the UK and US are thinking as they try to depose their current Prime Minister and President with similar parlour room tricks.
It is probably no exaggeration to say that neither the United States nor the United Kingdom have seen such disruptive and devil-may-care men at the head of their governments since their revolutionary days.
Donald Trump is a man who seems to know no rules — which is presumably why he keeps breaking them — and Boris Johnson is like a modern day Cromwell, holding both the Crown and the parliament to ransom with a sort of Messianic zeal.
Yet, the great populist uprisings in these two nations — the seats of the two most powerful empires of the 20th century — have also proven just how resilient their political systems are.
Despite the sometimes true and sometimes truculent claims of Trump and Johnson riding roughshod over democracy, the truth is the institutional reins on their power have frustrated them at almost every turn.
In Johnson’s case the courts frustrated his parliamentary plans, the parliament frustrated his Brexit plans and Fleet Street is combing through his dinner plans.
And of course both are currently beset almost daily by street marches, online abuse and calls for their immediate deposition.
In other words, the system works. Far from democracy being under threat from such unapologetically headstrong and populist leaders, their power has been checked and their policies have been contested and opposed in every conceivable forum.
Democracy has never been more vibrant and fierce.
But the annoying thing about democracy is that no matter how many safeguards it has the people’s will must ultimately prevail. Otherwise, well, it’s not really a democracy.
In Ancient Greece, where the whole mess started, everything from state budgets to declarations of war — literally death and taxes — was decided by a simple vote.
Basically, everyone in Athens would just rock up to the town square and if enough people chucked their hands in the air, then it was swords and spears at 20 paces.
Strangely, this tended to produce somewhat erratic foreign and economic policy. So when the Romans adopted the concept, they rigged it to make sure all the right people were in charge and if anyone opposed them then nothing much could happen at all.
Eventually even they gave up on it and for the best part of two millennia, the West mostly just forgot about the whole damn thing until the Age of Enlightenment came along and various forms of representative democracy started springing up again.
The most notable exception was a soggy island just to the north of France, where a royal ransom note called the Magna Carta gave a bunch of bolshy barons ideas about rights and representation and this trickled down into the lovably quaint Westminster system.
Then, 800 years later, the Conservative party decided it was time to go back to doing it Greek style. For the most base party political reasons, they outsourced the most complex and existential strategic and economic decision the country had faced this century to a simple yes/no vote of the people.
And, unsurprisingly for a bunch of masterminds who thought that this was a good idea in the first place, they did not get the result they expected.
It turned out the political establishment was so hopelessly out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people that they got absolutely trounced, pantsed, blindsided, bent over the bonnet and otherwise contorted in ways that would put a German porn star to shame.
And so the Brexit decision was put to the people and the people decided. It might have been a dumb idea and it might have been a dumb decision but it was a democratic decision and that is all that matters.
As my mum’s friend Don said when he spontaneously decided to euthanise our dog because he found a park just outside the vet’s: “Well, we’re here now.”
This is why the British political establishment is in crisis at the moment. They allowed something to happen that they never thought could happen and now it has to happen. They waived the usual checks on raw people power when they held the vote in the first place and now they’re trying to retrospectively block it using whatever parliamentary or judicial tricks they can find. That is what riding roughshod over democracy really looks like.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Trump is bypassing all congressional, judicial and even military constraints using only his iPhone. Indeed, he appears to have inadvertently declared war on Turkey via Twitter. At least he makes you feel alive.
Even given his often insanely erratic behaviour — and his idiotically impulsive move to abandon the Kurds in Syria may be his deadliest decision yet — it is difficult to see what the Democrats trying to impeach him actually hope to accomplish.
Firstly, it won’t work. The Democrats might be able to start the impeachment process in the House of Representatives but they need a two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove him from office and they don’t even have a majority at all.
The last time this was attempted, the Senate refused to convict Bill Clinton in 1999 even when the Republicans had a 55-45 majority. The closest they ever got was 50 votes and Clinton went on to achieve his highest approval rating ever.
Assuming the Democrats are not literally unable to count, the strategy appears to be to publicly shame Trump. This brings us to what I call the “Grab Them By The Pussy” test.
In case anyone has forgotten, Trump was caught on tape actually saying these words and was elected president a month later. If the other side really thinks that a phone call to the Ukrainian president will bring him down they should sack the coach, the captain and the water boy.
This is the endlessly repeating error in the lunar left’s program to depose Trump and Johnson: The mythology that they were mysteriously parachuted into power by sinister forces that can be expunged by some neat magic trick when in fact, both of them rode in on a wave of mass discontent among everyday people.
And for every kilojoule of energy they expend fighting them, it is a kilojoule lost in winning over the millions of disillusioned people who swept them to power.
As long as the left’s luminaries are obsessed with the leaders they don’t like instead of the voters they lost, they will never win. Even if they knock off their nemeses, the rage will remain and the rogues will be replaced.
The good news is that there is another quieter revolution happening here at home. The slow and careful soul-searching of the Australian Labor Party as it seeks to reconnect with the working people it lost at the last election.
No cheap tricks, no quick fixes, just long hard work.
Because hard work is what it takes to win the game fair and square.
Joe Hildebrand co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Network Ten. Continue the conversation | @Joe_Hildebrand