The sad joke

There is an old joke about the boy who lived in Inflatable World who, after going on a rampage with a pin, was lying deflated in a bed in the Inflatable Hospital. His school principal was sitting beside him and giving him a lecture on ethics and morals; ‘your rampage has caused a lot of damage, you’ve let your parents down, you’ve let your friends down, you’ve let your school down and you’ve even let yourself down’.

Former President Donald Trump could be the inflatable boy, lying in the Inflatable Hospital. In the space of four years, his actions have ensured the Republican Party (that he claims to represent) has lost both houses of the US Congress as well as the Presidency. He has also turned ’the last bastion of democracy’ into a country where a false and misleading propaganda campaign generated an insurrection.

Trump was voted out of office legitimately. He is the first President to be impeached by their House of Representatives twice. He will also go down in history as the tenth US President that ran for re-election and lost. Rather than accept the verdict of the nation, he has wasted considerable amounts of his supporters’ money and everyone’s time pursuing increasingly bizarre claims of fraud through the legal system. To the credit of the judges (some of whom he appointed) they have ruled that the election process was fair and reasonable, based on the evidence presented.

We have no reason to be sitting smugly on this side of the Pacific claiming it would never happen here. There is no claim from a politician that the Australian Electoral Commission arranges for votes to be tampered with — with compulsory voting it would be hard to explain 120,000 ballot papers being received in an electorate with 100,000 voters. Neither is anyone suggesting the AEC or anyone else has truckloads of ballot papers that ‘were prepared earlier’ that arrive after the polls close being substituted for ‘legal’ votes in counting centres. All of these accusations were made by Trump in the US.

We do have politicians that superimpose the party’s will over the will of their constituencies. In most parts of Australia and at all levels of government, people stand for election to represent the voters in a specific area, be it one or two localities in local government, a region in state government or a larger area for the federal government. Unlike the USA, most Australian politicians are ‘influenced’ to publicly support their party’s stated position on almost all issues. Crossing the (Parliament) floor to vote against a proposal that has inimical effects on the majority of the community that put you into Parliament in the first place is likely to see you excommunicated from the party room, removed from any discussion on the party’s policy going forward and having some party loyalist standing against you at the next election. It’s also interesting to note that communities that take the chance of electing a representative that is not aligned to a political party frequently choose to reelect them rather than revert to one of the two major parties at the next opportunity — examples being the seat of Indi in Victoria, Clarke in Tasmania or Bob Katter’s long-term representation of the electorate of Kennedy in North Queensland.

We do have concentrated media ownership. In 2016, the year of the most recent figures, 57% of newspapers in Australia were owned by News Corp, ultimately controlled by Rupert Murdoch, a former Australian who became a US Citizen in 1985 to further his media interests in the USA. News Corp also owns 65% of Foxtel. In October 2020, Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched a petition on the Australian Parliamentary Services website to call for a Royal Commission into the actions of News Corp. The petition was supported by a number of influential people including former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The Guardian reported last November that the petition had reached almost 500,000 signatures and generated a number of unfavourable stories about Rudd in News Corp publications. If it did nothing else, it broke the Parliament House internet. Current Prime Minister Morrison is yet to act on the petition.

We do have members of Parliament who support the same crackpot theories as Trump, without censure. As Michael Pascoe reported in The New Daily on 8 January, Morrison was asked if he had a problem with the madness championed by some of his side of Australian politics.

Reporter: “Will you condemn conspiracy theories being promoted by members of your own government?”

Morrison: “No.”
Pascoe also noted that Morrison refused to condemn the violence that occurred when the US Capitol was stormed by rioters in January, unlike Conservatives such as the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A week later, Acting Prime Minister and Nationals Party leader Michael McCormack added fuel to the fire generated by LNP backbenchers spreading false or unsubstantiated statements on social media by stating
Facts are sometimes contentious, and what you might think is right somebody else might think is completely untrue.

“That is part of living in a democratic country.
In 2015, on the release of a report into bullying and harassment in the military, Australian Army Lieutenant General David Morrison stated: ‘The standard you walk past is the standard you accept’. The comment was reflected on by a writer for The Huffington Post who went on to suggest
Every time we accept the status quo of poor behavior, we are endorsing it. A strong leader should not only advise of behavior that is appropriate, they should embody it. They should be the person telling us that we don't tolerate bullying or harassment.
Morrison and the state premiers aren’t necessarily being booted permanently from Twitter or Facebook or inciting mobs to invade the Parliamentary buildings on Capital Hill, Spring St or George St, but they are implicitly supporting behaviours that demean the democratic process by not speaking out about them. They, and the parties they represent, are also openly involved in a winner take all battle where belittling, bullying and harassment of those with different opinions is not only common, but expected.

In recent months, the US has seen the results of a winner take all battle of wills for the future of the country. Let’s hope our leaders observe, reflect and actually lead, before it’s too late.

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T-w-o take away o-n-e equals?