News Dennis Atkins: After watching the US election, Australia really is the lucky country … for now
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Dennis Atkins: After watching the US election, Australia really is the lucky country … for now

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Australians like the United States of America but take pride in the fact we are markedly different in a few vital ways.

Our gun laws curb mass ownership of deadly weapons, we have universal health care and a welfare safety net that keeps millions out of abject poverty.

This week we also took quiet pride in our national, uniform set of electoral laws as we looked at the brain-deadening miasma of US state and county-based voting rules and administration which did so much to push a riven electorate into becoming a chaotic mess.

We can add to this list the way we practice our democracy.

After a hyper-partisan campaign during which Donald Trump trashed the integrity of the voting system, the result which defied the wishes of the incumbent has been traduced and undermined by the loser.

Civil unrest and worse has been not just unchecked but encouraged by zealots, mainly on the Republican side.

Contrast this with the fact Australia was the butt of jokes during the past decade for being the “coup capital of the democratic world”.

Yes, we had six changes of prime minister during that period, with only one transfer happening at the ballot box.

The rest occurred during closed doors with party room challenges.

However, none of these leadership switches provoked protests on the streets. While they all added to the general disillusionment with the political process – something already underway – no-one built unscalable fences around the Lodge, and businesses in metropolitan centres didn’t feel the need to board up their windows.

Americans boarded-up shop fronts due to potential unrest. Photo: Getty

While all of this gives us a democratic and civic dividend worth cherishing and celebrating, we shouldn’t be blind to the creeping influence of some less savoury trends and tendencies that are on steroids in modern America.

Scott Morrison, who publicly has kept a diplomatic silence on the antics of the Republican Party and its leader during this still unravelling democratic fail, is the most Trumpian political figure Australia has seen.

Morrison has never seen a cultural war he doesn’t want to wage, fights total political war on as many fronts as he can manage and has swallowed the Marshall McLuhan thesis – the medium is the message.

Morrison echoes Trump in deploying rhetorically-charged immigration policies that demonise and imprison thousands of dispossessed and tormented asylum seekers and recognised refugees.

The Prime Minister thinks nothing of bald-face denial of reality – whether it’s the simple matter of cutting $1.2 billion from aged care funding in his first budget as Treasurer or a small matter such as his office dodging questions about a Christmas holiday in Hawaii.

The Trumpian lies are frequent and outrageous.

During the last federal election, Morrison’s campaign managers were happy to let fake news about a Labor death tax run in mostly subterranean social media posts run.

There was one piece of official endorsement of this particular lie in a media release headed “Death taxes – you don’t say, Bill!” issued by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in January 2019.

This death tax lie – which did damage Labor federally last year – was reprised on steroids during the recent Queensland election by serial disrupter and Liberal ally Clive Palmer but fell flat.

Clive Palmer rolled out the faux death tax ads to little effect in the recent Queensland election. Photo: UAP

Morrison has created a carefully fashioned persona with every prop available – from the Cronulla Sharks scarf to the daggy dad caps and his Bunnings DIY backyard escapades.

It gives him some distance from the kind of over-the-top character in the White House but it is from the same political playbook.

While Morrison happily enjoys his Trumpian mini-me reputation, his opponents in national politics are prone to the kind of failures that caused Joe Biden and the Democrats to underperform in some subgroups in key races, causing early anxiety in the presidential contest and prompting failure in the bid to win control of the Senate.

PM Scott Morrison drinking a beer and cheering on the Cronulla Sharks.

Despite his sometimes heart-stopping path to victory – and the fact his campaign won the most popular votes ever – Joe Biden’s candidature was as fragile as the resilience of the 77-year-old contender.

This leadership deficit had an impact on winning some from middle America but two other aspects of the way the Democrats went about pitching for the White House proved to be biggest speed bumps on that road to victory.

Economic policies were open to attack and sowed the seeds of concern among working families, especially non-college educated cohorts in the rust belt states.

The gap between the men who worked with their hands in manufacturing and the enlightened climate change warriors on the Democratic Party left is wider than it’s ever been.

Also, the kind of identity politics that has bedevilled progressives in the US for more than two decades was in overdrive as fringe groups took to the streets to riot and loot.

They might have been responding to systemic racism and economic inequality but the failure of Democratic leaders – including Biden – to condemn these actions forcefully gave another fear switch for Trump to flick. He managed to scare enough suburban Americans to shave a few points off Democratic totals in key states.

In Australia, federal Labor still can’t bridge the divide between the inner city environmentalists and those in the resources and manufacturing sectors in places like Central Queensland.

A tentative truce on gas is something but a long way from everything.

Also, Labor continues to find it too easy to slip into strife over identity-based issues. There’s a big difference between defending matters of cultural importance and going to war on points that have little reference to those people Morrison dubs “quiet Australians”.

The ugly way the Democrats had to go about winning a contest that should never have been in doubt should give Labor in Australia serious pause for concern, especially with an opponent as formidable as the one they face with Scott Morrison.

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