THERE are some interesting books coming out in the USA about the tide which brought us the seismic shock of the American election which tomorrow delivers us President Donald Trump.
This tide is the same one that has given us Brexit and the rise of far right political parties in Western democracies.
It is possible, but highly unlikely, that the same tide will wash through Papua New Guinea in 2017.
The undertow that created this tide is a growing disenchantment with conventional politics and the growing inequalities between rich and poor.
In the wash of the tide are serious questions about the very nature of democracy.
The politicians, by their selfish behaviour and corruption, have been trashing democracy and now the collateral damage is so great it looks like they will be paying the price for it.
But getting back to the books.
One of the most interesting is JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance explains why so many disillusioned working class people voted for Donald Trump.
He makes it clear that those people, of whom he is one, didn’t vote for Trump because they liked or agreed with him. They voted for him to protest the system, the establishment and the status quo.
Vance is one of the few hillbillys who has managed to pull himself out of the quagmire of unemployment and poverty in America’s rust belts. He did this by fighting to get an education.
In discussing the problems manifest in these areas, he cites interesting research carried out in the US in 2011-12, the National Survey of Children’s Health.
This survey established a number of key adverse childhood experiences contributing to the parlous situation in those rust belt regions.
Adverse childhood experiences are potentially traumatic events that can have long lasting negative effects on health and well-being.
The most common adverse childhood experience reported is economic hardship. Also there are marriage breakups, abuse of alcohol and drugs, and exposure to violence.
These factors lead to problems such as obesity, alcoholism, crime, imprisonment, drug abuse, mental problems, suicide and a host of other negative behavioural and health outcomes in adulthood.
Children who are sworn at, insulted or humiliated by their parents, who feel their family doesn’t support them, who have parents who are separated or divorced, live with alcoholics and drug abusers or someone who is depressed, mentally unstable and suicidal, who are forced out of school early or never actually attend school and have seen loved ones physically abused are the ones headed towards dysfunctional adulthood.
All of these things are commonplace somewhat in Australia but moreso in Papua New Guinea. There are a lot of hillbillys in Papua New Guinea.
In Papua New Guinea some of these factors are culturally embedded.
If the adverse childhood experience factors established by the survey in the USA are equally applicable in Papua New Guinea, and I can’t imagine why they shouldn’t be, then is it no wonder that large parts of the population, especially in the cities, are dysfunctional or potentially so?
Bernie Sander’s Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, which I have commented on elsewhere, offers some solutions. Bernie is a left-leaning democratic socialist (as distinct from a communist) who gave Hillary Clinton, the Wall Street darling, a run for her money and, given the opportunity, might have beaten Trump.
Bernie’s not finished by a longshot. His book is a manifesto for change and has created a popular movement to push it along. It will be interesting to watch where it goes. Aspiring politicians in Papua New Guinea would do well to read it. But I forgot, they don’t like books do they?
Sanders and Vance come from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Sanders is a progressive and Vance is a conservative but together they offer analysis and solutions to the problems bedevilling modern democracy.
Politicians can’t change culture and tradition, at least not in the short term, but they can act to prevent many of the other adverse childhood experience factors like economic hardship, poor health and lack of education.
That they don’t is an indictment of their callous disregard for their people.