(First published in the Manawatu Standard, the Nelson Mail and Stuff.co.nz., March 6.)
Donald Trump. George Pell. Benjamin Netanyahu.
On the face of things, three men with not a lot in common other than that they are all white males who are (or were until recently, in Pell’s case) in positions of power.
That alone, of course, is enough to condemn them in a world where white male privilege has been identified – excuse me while I take my tongue out of my cheek – as the root cause of all oppression and suffering.
But these men share the additional distinction of being the three world figures most loathed by the Left-leaning elites that dominate the public conversation. North Korea's despotic Kim Jong Un? Venezuela’s lethally incompetent Maduro? Syria’s genocidal al-Assad? Not even in the race.
Let’s take Trump first. Last week his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The media hung on every word and would have been bitterly disappointed that Cohen failed to confirm suspicions that Trump had colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Never mind; the media eagerly lapped up Cohen’s other damning assertions about Trump’s character, apparently forgetting that only months ago the same Michael Cohen had been portrayed in the same media as a man who couldn’t lie straight in bed.
Is Trump a crook? On the balance of the evidence, the answer is almost certainly yes. His every action and statement suggests he’s a man with the integrity of a cockroach. Yet there’s something disturbing about the way once-reputable news organisations have abandoned all pretence of balance and objectivity in the way they report him.
I listen most days to America’s National Public Radio. I'm a great fan except for one thing: it’s obsessed with Trump and spends endless hours analysing his iniquities.
You would never guess, listening to NPR or reading the Washington Post, that Trump currently has an approval rating of 44 per cent – hardly stratospheric, but no disgrace either. Ronald Reagan, generally considered one of the most popular occupants of the White House, enjoyed only 40 per cent approval at the same point in his presidency.
As puzzling as it may seem to us, many Americans like what Trump’s doing. The US economy has surged during his presidency and unemployment is the lowest it has been for decades, but this is either ignored or played down in most of the media.
There’s something not right here. The American media are supposed to reflect the mood of the nation, but they invite the accusation that they are elitist and out of touch. Many Americans no longer feel they can trust their newspapers and broadcasting organisations – a fact Trump is happy to exploit.
Now, Cardinal Pell. Did he sexually molest two choir boys in the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne? A jury decided he did, but at an earlier trial on the same charges, a different jury had voted 10-2 to acquit him. He was convicted the second time after a retrial. Other charges against him had previously been dismissed.
The Australian media decided early in the piece that Pell was a molester. He wasn’t helped by the fact that he’s an ecclesiastical conservative, which wouldn’t have endeared him to the liberal media, and neither did he do himself any favours by conveying the impression of being cold, aloof and unsympathetic to the victims of abuse.
The case is being appealed, but in the meantime it’s reasonable to ask whether a fair and impartial verdict was possible against a backdrop of public outrage – entirely justified – over the epidemic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
The trial took place amid such a climate of public revulsion and media condemnation that it’s hard to imagine jurors not being influenced. The appeal judges will have the last word on whether Pell is guilty, but no one can rule out the possibility that he has been made a scapegoat for grotesque perversions perpetrated by others.
Finally, Netanyahu. The tough Israeli prime minister is facing corruption charges and most commentators can barely conceal their delight.
You can see why he’s not liked. More than once, I’ve seen Netanyahu coolly demolish smug, condescending TV interviewers who thought they could skewer him over Palestine.
Granted, Netanyahu is probably not a nice man, but effective leaders are often imperfect human beings. The sainted John F Kennedy, to take an obvious example, was an alley cat and a voracious sexual predator. Winston Churchill saved Britain from Nazism but he was coldly ruthless when it suited him.
Netanyahu may be a crook, for all I know, but I suspect that if I were an Israeli, surrounded by hostile forces wanting to kill me, I would be reassured by having him as prime minister.