Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Making America’s Bed With Donald Trump

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, October 15, 2020

In this critique by an Australian directed at Australians, a former Australian government official warns about the toxic mess which the American President Donald J. Trump has created in the United States surrounding the voting process in the 50 states.

In an oblique way, it could be considered an enumeration of reasons why American voters should NOT vote for, nor support the man, nor his re-election to office. Again, it is merely a statement of fact about voting-related incidents in, and sad facts about the U.S.A. as it relates to voting, and serves as a warning to Australians to NOT make the same mistakes, and to stay AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE from such.

Face it, folks… Trump has NOT made America “great again.” But of course, the slogan “make America great again” was bad, and fatally flawed to begin with – just like his presidency – because a thing cannot be made again unless it is unmade to begin with. It’s kinda’ like your bed. It’s either made, or not, and to make it again (if it is made already) requires unmaking it.

The US electoral system is not a pretty sight. Australia should take heed.

by Philip Citowicki

As the US presidential election on 3 November draws near, many around the world watch on with concern and denounce the erosion of democracy and democratic values from afar.

For Australia, it should act as a poignant reminder to consider the health of our own system, where mistrust in politicians and the political system features glaringly in public sentiment.

The global flag-bearer of democracy, the US, has been engulfed in a wave of disputes regarding gerrymandering, voter purges from electoral rolls, and ugly voter suppression campaigns. Voter turnout has seldom nudged the 60% mark, which ranks among the lowest of major democratic countries in the world. [emphasis added -ed.]

In Australia, we have watched US president Donald Trump unleash a torrent of abuse through his rallies, press conferences and social media accounts. On many occasions he has signalled that he may refuse to accept the result of the election if he falls short. The toxicity of the campaign and voter suppression is epitomised through his frequent undermining of the integrity of mail-in voting.

In Pennsylvania, a battleground state Trump won by less than 1%, the president’s campaign sought to block the use of voter drop boxes for mail-in votes through a lawsuit – arguing without evidence that it encouraged fraud. The lawsuit was recently dismissed, as were similar challenges in Nevada, New Jersey and Montana. Hypocritically, Trump has supported mail-in voting in the Republican-held battleground state of Florida.

Through social media platforms, we have witnessed political fringe movements wield outsized influence to unduly shape the narratives of both the left and right sides of politics. Trump has frequently and consistently admonished those who raised their concerns about foreign actors who inflame these movements and sow division among US citizens.

The strength of Australia’s democratic institutions is predicated on giving up some of the perceived “freedoms” that many in the US cannot imagine foregoing, particularly the fact that voting is compulsory in Australia. [emphasis added -ed.]

Simple things that encourage participation in Australia do not translate into US politics. We vote on Saturdays, compared with Tuesday in the US. Our pre-polling options are easily accessible, and our electoral boundaries are drawn by the independent Australian Electoral Commission.

However, we too are seeing our political debate become increasingly tainted through the surge in technological interconnectivity and endless opportunities to consume and engage in political commentary.

The political discourse on emotive issues, particularly refugee politics and climate change, is intensified through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This in turn helps fuel major misrepresentations of the political zeitgeist. The echo-chambers and disproportionately loud voices on social media prove to be an inaccurate barometer of true public sentiment and expose political commentators to warped perceptions.

Only last year, Bill Shorten lost what was thought to be the unlosable election after being seemingly in the driver’s seat for many years.

While we fixate on budget deficits, we often look past the fact that politicians suffer from an atrocious trust deficit. In Australia, we have long ranked politicians as the least trustworthy profession.

The opaque world of party politics has been frequently shamed, recently through allegations of political branch-stacking exercises. Proper accountability is rare.

With alarm bells ringing, we should look to how we can strengthen and protect our democratic system.

But we should give more thought to extending our federal political term from three years to four. The three-year term is the shortest in Australia and one of the shortest in the western world. It offers little time for constructive policy discussion and implementations before it is overridden by the need to pursue re-election. In New Zealand, both the current prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and rival Judith Collins have openly backed such a move there.

Extending political terms should also work alongside giving greater emphasis to committee processes, which are often seen by government as an obstacle to implementing their desired quick-fix policies, rather than an integral tool for thoughtful policymaking.

More thought should also be given to capping private donations and eroding the influence of the factional dealmakers that operate in the shadows of all political parties. The political scientist Karl-Heinz Nassmacher warned that “the more perfect rules designed, the more perfect evasion will be” – a reminder that some will always seek to push the boundaries.

Australia’s democratic system remains comparatively robust. We must not take this for granted and always look to what we can do to preserve it.

• Philip Citowicki was an adviser to former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop and a former political aide to Australia’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom

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