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We Need To Stop Asking 'What's In It For Me' And Start Asking 'What's In It For Us'

"I'm alright, Jack."

10/05/2016 12:41 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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America's electoral race has, up until now, been largely a "haha only in America!" side bar to dinner conversations. But Trump's ousting of his closest rival, Ted Cruz, and consequent unobstructed path to the Republican Party nomination is a sign that his quest for the White House is anything but a joke.

While his many detractors rightly point out his propensity to lie, insult and propose outrageous ideas, his supporters remain undeterred. Like the Pied Piper, he has carved a path through middle America playing a seductive tune of protectionism, nationalism and nostalgia for a time when America ruled the free world. It's music to the ears of the disaffected -- the American dreamers who feel they're living a nightmare. He wants to pull the drawbridge up, lock the gates and prioritise the needs of 'true Americans' over those of needy, lecherous countries and people who demand its sanctuary.

The strange thing is, I'm half a world away and can recite those policy platforms (using the term loosely) and his overarching vision -- "Make America great again" -- without so much as a Google search. What he says resonates, even if the logic of it doesn't.

Back in the land of Oz, we're suffering from a severe case of conviction deficiency. We're less than three months from an election we have known has been coming for the past three years, yet I have no idea what the narrative is -- what we're trying to fix or create, where we're going and how we'll get there.

When Turnbull shoved the ineffective Abbott out of the seat with a "Give it here, you're making a bloody mess of it" rebuke, we sat a little straighter in our seats, excited by what vision a man of one would have for our country. It started so well and with the promise of some big, but fair, decisions ahead. Then suddenly, the table that had "everything on it" was cleared. It was no longer a buffet of desirable and less desirable Big Things, but a serving of the most bland minestrone soup, with a bit of this and bit of that, but nothing much of anything particularly.

We're left chasing the too-few croutons in the bowl around with our spoon, and when we do find one, it's soggy. A beige budget delivered with an even more beige tagline of 'jobs and growth'. No vision, just outcomes. Whatevs. I'm not going to provide a running commentary™.

There's a reason why John Howard's gun control legislation gets trotted out as an example of transformative leadership. A reason why we long for the era of Hawke and Keating -- who set up the foundation of our banking system and a diplomatic and economic bridge to Asia. In recent years, the big moments have been capitulations -- on climate change, decisions about marriage equality and badly needed tax reform. Gonski, Henry, Shergold -- names that should be synonymous with bold new frontiers in education, tax and climate change respectively, now play like the soundtrack of lost opportunity.

Just as historians may one day look back on the current US political era and analyse how and why a person such as Trump has risen on the burning pyre of the Great American Dream, Australians may ask ourselves how and why we lost our nerve. Why our leaders lack the fortitude to make the tough calls now, to better our society in the future. Why we are okay with increasing taxes on cigarettes as a deterrent for smoking, yet baulk at a tax that deters businesses from using dirty coal. Why we want to protect the planet for our children's children but not if it means our power bills go up. Why we want our kids to be able to buy a home, but don't want the value of ours to drop to allow that to happen. Why the first thing we do after a budget is ask, "What's in it for me?" instead of "What's in it for us?".

Why has a man such as Trump succeeded in capturing the mood of a large number of Americans? The same reason why Turnbull -- The Next Big Thing in Australian politics -- has lost some of his sheen: us. Americans are rallying for change, while Australians are doing our very best to resist it. Because Scott Morrison didn't come up with one, I'll suggest a 'vision' that captures the Australian mood right now -- "I'm alright, Jack." Good for Australia? Yeah, no.

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