Donald Trump: Person of the Year

Editor’s Note: This is my last column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Donald Trump is my Person of the Year. Who else has made a bigger splash in 2015?

Pundits say he plays on anxieties that exist among a certain voter demographic. He appears fearless in his attacks on political correctness. Bombastic is a term we hear to describe him.

But I say his most significant accomplishment has been in mastering a communication technique and ideology that has grown to achieve a critical mass of cultural significance: the double down. This is not to be confused with KFC’s Double Down – a beef burger between two pieces of fried chicken breast with cheese and bacon.

Doubling down takes many forms. It can mean making a false statement, and instead of admitting the mistake, vehemently insisting on the ‘truthiness’ of the statement in the first place. Alternatively, it might mean coming up with bad policy and then working tirelessly to try to justify it. It may be throwing good money after bad. In Trump’s case, it also means making outrageous or controversial statements and refusing to backtrack.

Doubling down means never having to say you’re sorry.

Trump is my Person of the Year not because he invented the double down or that he is the only person that does it, but because he has given it a living, breathing form. He is a meme with a comb-over and a personal jet.

Trump’s political success relies on the fact that many people only accept information that fits their existing worldview. Facts don’t matter. Research doesn’t matter. Trained experts don’t matter. As Ray Davies sang in 1981, “Give the people what they want.”

With the Balkanization of political parties worldwide and the rise of the highly effective climate change denier movement over the last decade, I’ve noticed an increasing trend in doubling down. Everyone does it, it’s just that Trump is the best, or at least most visible. The Trumpification of Western society has reached its watershed moment. It marks the end of apology.

Climate change deniers double down on the same pre-formulated arguments they find on the Internet. Trickle-down economists double down on this never proven economic theory. Even the Chronicle doubled down on misreporting the origin of events waste management in Whanganui.

I’ve noticed a subtle but consistent form of the double down that may best be described as unprofessionalism. In it’s simplest form it means not answering emails or returning phone calls, and then as a response, not responding to not responding. This is practiced across our community and it especially favoured by local government agencies and health system officials.

I’ve also noticed that double downs work both ways. Think of Shamubeel Eaqub or Duncan Garner. The fact that both men had facts on their side doesn’t matter.

If Garner became public enemy number one for counting the empty shops in Victoria Avenue, yours truly was a close second for working with him to highlight a good news story in our community during his visit. You might think having the top journalist in New Zealand highlight a Whanganui success story to a national audience would have been celebrated. Instead I was criticized in the pages of the Chronicle.

I, myself, may be accused by readers of doubling down, but from my perspective there is a big difference between doubling down on facts or the best available research and doubling down on general opinions. But if in the court of public opinion – or the Letters Page – the two hold equal weight, there is no way to advance a robust argument. It’s a no win situation, and one I’m no longer interested in.

The issues that concern me – healthy housing, community resilience and wealth inequality – get little to no traction in our community. There is no organisation, group, business or government department that takes a serious holistic approach to any of these. I’ve reached out to almost all of them over the last five years and the most common response is – you guessed it – no response.

Sadly, although our local government is in a position to address these issues it chooses not to. I have heard wide-ranging concern from informed members of our community about the so-called “Leading Edge” document, especially the Environment section. I share their concern. As a professional in the environmental field for nearly 30 years I have read thousands of books, papers and documents on the topic. Compared to everything I have read, it is among the worst – much closer to tail end than leading edge.

But I should not complain. After all, we live in a democracy and no candidate running for council at the last election chose to use the words “environment” or “sustainability.” “Give the people what they want.”

Although exceptionally weak on the environment, the Leading Edge is extremely useful for allowing council committees and officers to double down on rejecting holistic solution-oriented projects that promote community health and resilience as they have in the past with five simple words, “It’s not in the plan.” Trumped again!

After 192 consecutive weeks, this is my last column. So long, and thanks for all the fish.