Trump, Hillary, Bernie: What New Zealand Should Actually Care About

In 2000 I chose to leave the US and move to a tiny country with a tradition of fairness, collectivism, and egalitarianism, however imperfect. I knew my new country didn't waste a huge amount of resources on the military, that there was a universal public health system, that guns were not readily available, that the primary education system was very good, that there was no death penalty, and that it was a stunningly beautiful place. Especially since I was the mother of a young son, that was enough to sell me.

It has been very hard to wrench myself free from America's apron strings--and I doubt I will ever fully succeed. I married a Kiwi in 2015 and he jokes that sometimes I still sound as if I stepped off the plane yesterday. Yet I have dug in. I knew I would never consider this place home if going back was an option, so I have never contemplated returning to the US. My early years here I had to attend to some health issues and I was my son's primary caregiver. After I divorced, I had a few lean years just keeping our heads above water. In 2011, I met my new husband and was able to start a business with a friend. Today I run my own business, have taken Kiwi citizenship, and volunteer much time to progressive politics. Why?

Because to my chagrin, each day the New Zealand I took refuge in becomes more and more corrupted by American and British neoliberalism and militarism. Believe it or not, today in clean, green, peaceful New Zealand:

  • the level of inequality (the wealth gap) is one of the worst in the OECD and worsening
  • 10% of Kiwis are alcoholic and we have a dearth of addiction specialists despite runaway immigration
  • home ownership is at its lowest level in 60 years and an estimated 1% of Kiwis are actually homeless
  • education and healthcare are severely underfunded
  • revenue-generating assets continue to be sold while rightwing politicians running for this year's local elections will drone on about cutting rates (property taxes) and the ruling party seems poised to offer a tax cut next year as an election year bribe
  • prisons and other essential services are being privatised
  • many of our rivers are filthy and native species under threat
  • we have been implicated in the Panama Papers for providing tax shelters for foreign individuals and corporations evading their responsibilities, tarnishing our heretofore sterling reputation

    And there is plenty more.

    But I want to talk about the shocking news announced this week, that the government intends to spend $20 billion on defence. We are a nation of not even 4.5 million people and the entire total budget this year is not even $80 billion.

    Additionally we're going to host another weapons conference later this year, which will coincide with welcoming an American navy ship to our nuclear free Auckland harbour. We already have troops in Iraq providing training to the Iraqi Defense Force. The Prime Minister has promised that is a two year mission only; no one on the ground seems to believe that can be true. We're part of the Five Eyes spying network, and hence complicit in any military act undertaken by the US, UK, Canada and/or Australia anyway. At the same time, shamefully, we haven't lifted our refugee quota since 1987.

    Meanwhile, all this year, the ongoing political circus in America has drawn insufferable punditry, predicting, and pontificating, much of it parroting the American mainstream media narrative, which contributed to Trump's inevitability by giving his campaign the oxygen of free and bountiful publicity. Although Kiwis are horrified Trump could be elected, they persist in rubber-necking at the spectacle, sending both Patrick Gower and later Heather du Plessis-Allen stateside to gather comedic fodder, for example. It is no better on the other side of the aisle, where Bernie Sander's astonishing anti-establishmentarian crusade has been both ignored and belittled in the fever to coronate Hillary Clinton.

    I am a Bernie or Bust voter. I see in the policies he is advocating the only hope for the peaceful salvation of my deeply and dangerously dysfunctional homeland. Despite the pessimism that enabled me to turn my back on America, his candidacy still excited the idealist in me and gave me unprecedented hope for the family and friends I left behind. As Mark Ruffalo articulated it, Bernie makes us feel, "that all of my ideals as a young person can actually grow up with me." I also hoped that if America would start taking care of its own--via universal health care, fairer taxation, curbs on corporate greed, elimination of crippling student debt, environmental protections with teeth--that perhaps America would eventually start to show a bit more compassion to the world at large.

    Like Bernie, I had a childhood of playing outdoors all day. Since it was the 1970s and I had progressive parents, when indoors I remember listening to the "Free to Be You and Me" LP record, which we frequently borrowed from the public library. Quaint and dated as it now seems, I took it as gospel. Tracey Ullman once marvelled that unlike the British, who fret about rising above their station, many American parents encourage their children, boys and girls, with exhortations of "you're special, pumpkin, you can be anything you want to be." American women my age and younger, though we experience our share of sexism--many of us were empowered to directly challenge and thereby start to overcome it. Many of our heroes were men, but Sally Ride and Geraldine Ferraro came to fame in our youth as well. Many of us can also recite a long list of women of Hillary's generation who managed to gain positions of power and then failed to welcome, mentor, or hire us when we came of age. To be so slighted by our alleged sisters confused and embittered us more than similar failings from men, which we knew we could still expect and were more prepared for. Through my adult life, the relentless neoliberal reforms of the Clinton years have ground away, literally imprisoning, or hardly better, sending to war, a vast swath of the underclass whose solid blue collar jobs had vanished. The rich/poor gap keeps growing unabated.

    So like Naomi Klein, I am grieving this week. I have indulged in pointless and dispiriting arguments with second wave feminists so desperate for a symbolic victory that they are wilfully blind to what the substance of another Clinton presidency will mean.

    My message for New Zealand is this: no matter who the American president is, he or she will not stop the juggernaut of American invasions, drone bombings, spying, resource plundering, environmental destruction, economic domination, and political disruption. As John Pilger points out, America's terrifying and escalating belligerence is either whitewashed or more often simply not a topic for discussion over there, even in the midst of Presidential campaigns.

    So the question for New Zealand is this: will we continue to be complicit? Passchendaele and Gallipoli should have taught us forever that small countries like ours are nothing more than cannon fodder for the exploits of the mighty, and the United States has even less reason to give a damn about New Zealand than the United Kingdom ever did.

    Small though we are, we must find our own way, as we have in the past. We must defend our sovereignty against the TPPA and its ilk. We must provide, first and foremost, for the basic needs of our own. We must again be an example and a voice for fairness and collectivism, a small beacon of hope in the South Pacific. We should seek to coexist with the world's great powers and avoid hitching our star to any of them, particularly the most brutal one of them all.

  • CheekyGames

    An American expat living in Auckland since 2000, Julia Schiller is a graduate of Washington University in St Louis, a former ESOL teacher, a Labour Party volunteer, and a self-employed entrepreneur.