Coalition, conservatives duck for cover on calls for US democracy

by Bernard Keane | Nov 5, 2020 | Comment & Analysis, Government

While US Republican politicians and conservative commentators were quick to condemn President Trump, not so Australian conservatives, despite their professed love for freedom. Bernard Keane reports.

“We did win this election,” said US President Donald Trump, despite not all votes having been counted. “This is a major fraud on our nation.” Law suits have been filed, with Trump challenging Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court decision on the deadline for mail-in ballots.

Trump’s insistence that he won the election, and his efforts to halt counting in states where he is ahead while supporting the continuation of counting in states where he is behind, has to be a clear line for anyone professing to support democracy.

Test for views on democracy

In America, prominent Republicans and conservative commentators were quick to condemn Trump’s baseless claim. Republican senator Marco Rubio tweeted: “The result of the presidential race will be known after every legally cast vote has been counted.”

Former senator Rick Santorum said: “I was very distressed by what I heard the president say,” a sentiment echoed by Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor.

The Fox News host Chris Wallace said it was “an extremely flammable situation, and the president just threw a match into it”, while the right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted that Trump’s victory claim was “deeply irresponsible”.

Australian right fails the test

Compare these reactions with those of Trump’s Australian supporters and conservative commentators.

Former Treasurer Joe Hockey insisted that electoral fraud had taken place. “There’s plenty of good reason to have litigation,” he said.

Hockey’s lobbying business will benefit from Trump’s continued occupancy of the White House, so Joe is thinking with his chequebook, but his statement was an effective endorsement of Trump’s attack on democracy.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said nothing on Wednesday night, tweeting about Tonga seemingly more important than the trashing of US democracy. Finally, this morning, she was shamed into saying every vote should be counted and she was “confident that they will be”.

Scott Morrison, when pressed, refused to even go that far, saying:

“I’m not a participant in the US political process. It’s not for me to run commentary on those things and I won’t.”

Columnists celebrate Trump victory

At The Australian and the Australian Financial Review, many were too busy celebrating Trump’s performance — and what they thought was his victory — to condemn his attack on democracy.

Right-wing columnist Tom Switzer could only bring himself to refer to Trump’s attempted coup as “boorishness”, as if a fundamental attack on democracy was akin to some bad manners.

Editor-at-large Paul Kelly celebrated Trump’s “miracle win“. Columnist Chris Kenny cheered what he thought was a Trump victory. So did foreign editor Greg Sheridan.

None was the slightest bit perturbed by Trump’s attack on democracy and refusal to accept the result.

Contributing editor Peter van Onselen, to his credit, once again resisted the house line.

There’s a fundamental question here for the likes of Kelly, Kenny, Sheridan, Switzer, Jennifer Hewett and other reactionaries — and for Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Do they actually believe in democracy, or only when your own side wins?

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Repellent silencing of votes

At what point does the trashing of democracy and efforts to silence the votes of people who don’t support you become repellent?

For Trump’s many supporters and advocates in Australia, yesterday was a defining moment. Either they support democracy and free and fair elections, or they don’t. Many, it seems, do not.

Trump supporters have ignored four years of the trashing of many of the values and institutions they claim to hold dear.

In 2016, Trump won legitimately. Progressives and Democrats have resented the result ever since and tried to blame Russian interference (with considerable justification), fake news and a failed media. Many never wanted to accept that Trump tapped into a deep resentment toward business-as-usual politics in the United States.

But the refusal of Republicans to accept election outcomes has always been much more than rhetorical — it motivated a systematic program of voter suppression via the purging of rolls, legal restrictions on voting and campaigns to deter turnout.

Trump supporters and conservatives in Australia have turned a blind eye to that anti-democratic behaviour, and some even dreamed of using it as a template to restrict voting here.

Step into authoritarianism

Outright refusal to accept the legitimate results of elections, however, is a step into clear authoritarianism — ironic given how much Trump enthusiasts profess to support freedom.

Attempts to use courts to litigate away appropriately cast ballots that don’t favour your candidate demonstrates a contempt for democracy. Or — as seems to be the case — is it OK because in the broader scheme of things it’s more important that the “right” candidate wins?

Trump’s behaviour leaves his supporters with nowhere to hide. Many have decided it’s Trump first, democracy second.

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This article was republished with permission from Crikey. You can view the original here.

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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