Henry Ergas on Trump, Uhlmann and G20
Henry Ergas writing in the Saturday Australian puts his perspective on the left’s relentless attack on Donald Trump via Chris Uhlmann and the publicly funded ABC, and omissions from MSM.
According to ABC journalist Chris Uhlmann, whose scathing attack on Donald Trump went viral last week, the US President missed the opportunity at the G20 summit to provide the leadership the West needs.
Source: News Corp
G20: you can’t fool all of the people all of the time
In reality, it was Uhlmann who missed the opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of Trump’s opponents at the summit and highlight the damage their claptrap does to public confidence in government. To say that isn’t to give Trump a big tick. On the contrary, there was plenty to dislike in his stance, most obviously on international trade. But that wasn’t where the pushback came.
Rather, the sticking point was Trump’s insistence on inserting a reference in the joint statement to helping other countries “access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently”.
The Europeans were outraged, with one EU official telling The Wall Street Journal that merely mentioning “these kind of energy sources is not something we like”.
Of course, abhorring sin is one thing, abstaining from it another. Even putting aside natural gas, whose use is skyrocketing, humanity’s reliance on coal — yes, that four-letter word — shows no more sign of disappearing than its passion for fornication.
For example, a new survey by Urgewald, an environmental group based in Berlin, identifies about 1600 coal plants that are planned or under construction in 62 countries, increasing global coal-fired power capacity by 43 per cent.
The bulk of those plants are in the G20 countries, with China, India and Japan leading the pack. The firms building the plants and supplying their key components are also almost entirely based in the G20 countries, including leading companies such as India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (now the largest builder of coal-fired plant worldwide), China’s State Power Investment Corporation, Japan’s Marubeni and Germany’s Siemens. And where the plants are being built in poorer countries, the projects are typically supported by generous taxpayer-funded export assistance in the form of concessional loans and outright grants.
That coal-fired generation is growing is unsurprising: according to estimates by the International Energy Agency, its costs are still 20 per cent to 30 per cent below those of natural gas and nuclear, and are even lower compared with intermittent sources such as solar and wind (which require costly backup generation, and expensive transmission networks, to provide reliable power).
The result is that even countries such as Egypt, Pakistan and Malawi, which now have no coal plants, are investing in large-scale coal generation, thus reshaping the long-term politics of climate change negotiations.
The G20 should therefore have seen Trump’s recommendation that developing countries be encouraged to design and operate fossil-fuel capacity “more cleanly and efficiently” as obvious common sense.
But the leaders who lined up against Trump preferred to put their collective heads firmly in the sand, as ostriches — a creature whose brain, as a ratio to body mass, is 17 times smaller than a chicken’s — are reputed to do, as if what they refused to look at would surely go away.
That may seem par for the course. After all, as the outcomes (or lack of outcomes) from the vast commitments made at the Brisbane summit painfully showed, no one takes the G20 communique seriously, least of all those who sign it. Seeing the leaders lined up for the group portrait at that meeting’s end, it was difficult not to think of the soothsayers Cicero ridiculed 2000 years ago who, knowing how many innocents they had fooled, winked when they came across each other in the street.
However, as Hannah Arendt reminded us, the seers and sophists Cicero derided were satisfied with a fleeting victory at the expense of truth; what makes their contemporary counterparts so dangerous is that they seek a more lasting victory at the expense of reality.
Yet denying reality is never costless. Yes, the mass of euphemisms, question-begging assertions and sheer cloudy vagueness each G20 summit generates may seem just another dose of what Kurt Vonnegut called foma — “harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls”.
But as meaningless rhetoric descends into cant, and what was once a charade degenerates into a fraud, even the simplest souls realise they are being played for mugs. It is then that they turn to people like Trump, who may be no more sincere than the other G20 leaders but at least has the ring of authenticity: he too may not mean what he says but, unlike his adversaries, he is what he claims to be.
Little wonder the just-released Edelman Trust Barometer paints a picture for the US that differs starkly from that for the other advanced economies.
In the US, Edelman finds, public trust in government has rebounded since last year’s election and, despite Trump’s mishaps, now exceeds that in any European country other than The Netherlands; as for France, Germany and Australia, public confidence in government has continued to shrivel, reaching levels that are a fifth to a half below those in the US.
Collapsing public trust ought to shock political leaders into changing their tune. But if there is a lesson from history, it is that those who set out to fool others end up fooling only themselves: “With pious fraud as with a bad action,” Thomas Jefferson warned, “falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all good dispositions.”
Illusionists so habituated to self-deception that they have lost any sense of incongruity, the G20 leaders are trapped in the nonsense they continue to spout — nonsense Trump, in an all too rare display of leadership, rightly challenged. Uhlmann, who is as able as they come, knows that. The pity is that he chose not to say it.