I guess like me you’ve been more than a little shocked at the Republican “insurrection” in the United States. But for me it has been a double shock. Not only am I shocked, but I’m shocked that I’m shocked.
US politics has been strongly heading in this direction for quite some time. So it should have been easily foreseeable, but I was heavily discounting the possibility that it would actually occur.
What we saw at the Capitol on January 6 was an opposite, but not even close to equal, reaction to left-wing trends that have accelerated over the last 12 years ago, starting around the time of the election of Barack Obama.
These trends are:
- An increasing tendency for governments and courts to ignore well-established conventions and change the law in extra-democratic ways rather than wait for the legislature to act
- The rampaging of cultural studies, post-modernism, relativism, intersectionalism and now cancel culture through the institutions
- Intimidation of whole populations via often violent demonstrations
- Deterioration of the media into mainly left-wing echo chambers coupled with the rise of hyper-partisan social media
- NGO and corporate political activism
- A refusal to accept that in a Democracy your side sometimes loses, but you have to accept the decision.
The common theme in all these themes is to use power, rather than persuasion, to get what you want.
While we have seen left-wing mobs supporting all of the above, what we saw last Thursday our time was a right-wing mob deciding that if it works so well for the left, then it might work for them.
That it didn’t, says something about popular culture as well as the different nature of left and right –conservatives are distinctly less-inclined to violence.
But one should be careful not to exaggerate how terrible the event was.
The crowd was enormous. Click and watch the cameras pan the crowd. The speech was long and rambling, but not inflammatory by the standards of any Western politicians I can think of.
He didn’t urge people to break into the Capitol, he told them to walk peacefully down. 300,000 walking past the seat of government would be a powerful, conventional demonstration of popular support, particularly given that DC is in the middle of a record cold snap. Demonstrations outside Australia’s parliament houses are a regular occurrence.
You may not believe me, so either take five hours to watch the entire speech, or skim the transcript. Once you’ve done that ask yourself whether it was any more inflammatory than, say, Gough Whitlam’s speech on the steps of parliament house where he said “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor-General’”, before branding PM Malcolm Fraser “Kerr’s Cur”.
The intention of both speeches was the same – to put pressure on elected officials and the voting public by a show of popular support – except I think there was more of an undercurrent of violence in Whitlam’s speech than Trump’s.
Of course no one was directly injured immediately after Whitlam’s speech, but 21 years later in 1996 some participants in a trade union-led demonstration invaded parliament house and ransacked the parliamentary gift store before being stopped, but only after smashing windows and injuring police.
So Australia has precedents. Is it possible these behaviours could transfer here, like so much other American fashion?
Possibly not. We don’t have a history and culture as violent as the US. The country was formed in a war of independence followed less than a hundred years later by a civil war. Until after the civil war the economics of large parts of the country were underpinned by slavery, a system where an often minority population holds a majority population down by force. And while much of the country was rested from the indigenous population through settlement, there were also a series of Indian Wars that didn’t end until the early 20th Century.
The use of force is not historically, in the US, a monopoly of the state in the same way it is here, with their original army a militia, and protection and punishment on the frontier often a matter of improvisation so that even today the vigilante, whether the Magnificent Seven, or Batman, are heroic figures.
America does violence more expansively and reflexively than we do.
And the states had seen a summer of demonstrations by Antifa and BLM activists which destroyed homes, businesses, property and lives, and in which Democratic politicians were either complicit or captive. For example, the Mayor of DC had BLM painted on avenues; in Oregon activists were allowed the run of the inner city, and moves made to defund the police, and Kamala Harris and staff made donations to bail funds.
There are also factors specific to this incident which we are unlikely to see here. The US electoral system is shambolic, and ours, with some small wrinkles, a model of transparency and probity. There are certainly no issues with counting the votes. It is done by hand by independent government employees under close observation by political party scrutineers.
The US electoral system is run by the states, but also by the political parties and until the 2020 election it was widely accepted that there was widespread corruption. Now it has magically vanished.
LBJ was thought to have won his first Senate election by fraud and there was probably fraud in the election of JFK, although it was never proven in a court of law.
What I find stunning is the vehemence with which the Democrats, mainstream media, and Big Tech deny and censor any claims that there was any evidence of vote tampering in this election.
In fact, there is voluminous documentation including affidavits, statistical analysis and even some video evidence appended to various law suits lodged by Trump, NGOs and in one case 18 states led by Texas.
Any senior journalist, politician or observer who says there is no evidence of ballot rigging would have to be in on the game.
The pivotal question, even if fraud is proved, is whether the tampering can be proven to have occurred in such volumes as to change the course of the election. Again, the reaction of the Democrats suggests that it might have been that large. Why else fight against auditing the process?
Besides, most people in the US would know the Democrats have form in disinformation having spent the first three years of the Trump presidency trying to impeach him on the basis of the Steele dossier that they knew to be fantasy and paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
What’s more there is widespread acceptance amongst Americans that the election was “rigged” with Rasmussen reporting 68% of Republicans, 13% of Democrats and 33% of Independents believed it was.
So the DC Rally was primed, and “Stopping the Steal” is what they wanted to do. So I don’t think it could happen here for the foreseeable future.
But other aspects, based on the underlying elements I outlined at the top do have counterparts here.
For over 12 years now media and left-wing political and academic elites have been telling people that the American dream is a nightmare, that “white” Americans are irredeemably racist and sexist, that their collective history is a disgrace and built on oppression, and that they have no right to even express an opinion to the contrary on those or any other issues because to do so confirms all of the above.
This culminated this week in the decision by Twitter and Facebook to suspend the accounts of users for alleging there was electoral fraud, even banning Trump from Twitter. And when former Senator Ron Paul wrote a piece objecting, he was banned too! This is absurd and very troubling. A head of state has a right to be heard, and Twitter seems to accept that by hosting the Ayatollah of Iran and Nicholas Maduro on Twitter, not to mention the Chinese Communist Party, all of whom rank well-ahead of Trump in the monster stakes.
Amazon has also given notice to Parler, a free speech forum, that it will no longer host its platform on its servers because it disapproves of their free speech position. (Perhaps coincidentally on the day they found out that Dems would chair all the congressional committees that oversee them).
At the same time the congressional Democrats and others have been calling for people who have worked for the Trump administration to be effectively banned from public life and employment, and for broadcasters to be punished for relaying Fox News content.
While those views aren’t mainstream here yet, they could easily be. We have the Greens, whose utterances, are of a similar vein, and Kristina Kenneally, a former premier and now a prominent ALP frontbencher, who tried to shut down CPAC Australia, a conservative talkfest, because she disapproved of some of its speakers.
Then we have Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd who are jointly running a petition to have an inquiry into the Murdoch media. They have plenty of supporters for this on Twitter, and have gathered just over 500,000 signatures..
The times remind me of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort has returned, but no one will believe it, there is a sense of gathering doom and dread, except that in our world, the name that must not be spoken is Trump, and he is on the way out, not the way in.
Perhaps if Rowling had her time over again she might realise that the real risk of fascism is from the left, not from the right.
So what is to be done? “Too much” would be one answer. But one thing is sure, it can’t be fought by a whack-a-mole strategy.
The fault is in ourselves, and nothing less than a civic transformation is going to push it back. We’ve allowed this system of intolerance to infect our own country by accommodating it, rather than fighting it.
You don’t have to support Donald Trump to see the problem.
It infects our education system, many of our cultural institutions, and is now infiltrating our corporations. It represents ideologies that we once thought were geographically constrained to places like the USSR and China, but we should now recognise that no civilisation is immune from the authoritarian impulse. Under this influence civil discussion has become civil war.
The US stands on the brink, and we might be standing with them. In 2021 we have to start rediscovering that each individual has unique worth and inalienable rights, not just those people who are on our side. And we need to have the courage to prosecute our case.
That’s why I’m prepared to argue the case of Donald Trump. Unpopular he may be, but in the battle for civilisation, it’s the hard cases you need to take up. Just being agreeable won’t cut it.
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