Voices: An Australian’s take on the US election

Voices: An Australian’s take on the US election
Source: Jeenah Moon, Reuters

Australia has in the past jokingly been referred to as “the 53rd state of America,” with the alliance between the two nations rated highly – a 2017 New York Times survey had Republicans top-rank the US-OZ alliance, with Democrats putting it high up the pecking order at number four.

Australian politicians, particularly on the conservative side (ironically we call them the “Liberal Party” here, go figure), would agree that the alliance is also one of our most important.

And, on a political-historical level that makes sense as allies through “The Great Wars” and then both the Korean and Vietnam wars, Australia has always answered the call of the United States to any major conflict (the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan included), no doubt with the unspoken agreement that the US would come to our aid if Australia was drawn into some kind of regional warfare.

But do Aussies on the street away from the corridors of power feel the same?


To use a favorite bit of Aussie slang, the answer to that question is “Yeah-nah,” which translates to kinda yeah, but kind of nah.

I remember going through a period in my twenties where I was so ANTI-America it wasn’t funny, as were many of my contemporaries. This changed when I studied for a year on exchange at UC Berkeley, which, let’s face it, was more about me falling in love with California than the USA, but still, it did turn me around to love the land of the free and I still do.

More broadly as a nation, while many Aussies love all the fun US stuff like iPhones and Netflix and the NBA and pepperoni, with our fairly lackadaisical attitude of “she’ll be right mate,” we Aussies generally still push back a little on our American cousins who we tend to view as a little “full on.”

We do have something in common with Americans: large chunks of our population are jaded about politics in the way large swathes of citizens around the world are within their own polities, sick of broken promises, parties and politicians.

There are pockets of resistance, me included, who, in our, “hyper-engaged, super-geeky, political-junkie” bubbles love the shit and love it big, no matter how frustrating it can still be at times.

Quite simply, I can’t get enough of it, both in Australia and abroad.

And US presidential elections take the cake, with cherries, cream, choc sprinkles and just about anything else you care to name on top.

Politics on steroids … literally

However, when speaking to even the most politically disengaged friends and colleagues of mine in Australia, I would say more than usual are just that little bit curious about a US presidential election in 2020 that is not just full of day-by-day October surprises but that also feels like politics on steroids … literally.

It’s easy to throw around grand sweeping statements like “the most consequential election in modern times,” but for once, this election, at least from an Aussie perspective, feels just like that.

After many of us watched Hillary Clinton lose the seemingly unlosable 2016 election to a pussy-grabbing, supposedly swamp-clearing, maybe-not-so super wealthy (yet allegedly massively tax-minimizing) outsider in Donald “Covfefe” Twitter aka Trump, they have, just in the same way that you can’t take your eyes off a horrific roadside accident, watched Trump single-handedly wreak political, social and economic havoc on both his own country and the world, all the while purporting to be “America’s favorite president” on an almost daily basis.

So yes, we Aussies “quite frankly my dear, do give a damn” about this upcoming election.

This also includes conservative friends, who would be GOP voters if they lived in the US and who cannot stomach Trump’s takeover of the GOP, fearing his four-year term could condemn conservatives to a prolonged period out of government well beyond the standard two-term electoral flip we have historically seen in the US.

By the same token, in terms of those, like me, who vote more to the left, it doesn’t mean we are head over heels for Joe Biden (full and frank disclosure – I’m a Clinton fan and after just watching Nanette Burnstein’s four-part doco Hillary, even more so), although we do give him heavy cred for picking a young, Black female Veep running mate in Kamala Harris.

But we do want to see the back of Trump and his narcissistic, fanatically celebrity-focussed megalomania.

We want the White House spring cleaned of the biggest failing in American political history who has wreaked great damage upon America’s standing on the world stage, exacerbated social and racial divides across the country and whose inability to effectively manage a pandemic has in-part led to the death of over 200,000 Americans, even as he saved himself in a private hospital with state-of-the-art drugs.

And, most of all, we want to see some true American leadership – no, never that again, let’s go for partnership – with the rest of the world to help get us through the pandemic and the economic fallout and the other looming challenges of our time, such as climate change.

If the aggregate of polls is anything to go by, it looks like we will get our wish and if you don’t trust the polls – understandably after 2016 – maybe you should check out the betting markets?

Whichever way you go, the story for Trump is the same – it looks to be political annihilation. But, even if/when this occurs, Americans you are NOT OFF THE HOOK.

I’m going to give you THREE THINGS TO DO before 2024…or 2028…just THREE THINGS.

We (Or rather Americans) get the politicians we deserve

I love that old saying – that “we get the politicians we deserve.”

And, don’t hate me America, you got Trump and you kinda deserved it. Why? Well because your political system is fatally flawed in three main ways.

The Electoral College

This is a no-brainer. Trump himself argued for replacing the electoral college with a popular vote winner-takes-all model as recently as 2018…because he would win…apparently. Notwithstanding this bit of nonsense from him, the system is broken, if indeed it ever worked, and needs to be fixed. It won’t be easy and I don’t have the answer of what the alternative model is, but even though it would mean my favorite political pundits at 538 would need a name change, it must happen if America truly wants to be a model for democracy.

The Nominee Process

To waste so much energy, time and money on choosing a candidate is obscene. Imagine all of the resources and talent that is poured into this prolonged teeth/candidate-pulling exercise actually going into the election campaign and what might be accomplished?! There are other ways to do it: Australians do it either by a simple party-room vote or a card-carrying party member vote. Not hard. Fix it.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people

When Abe Lincoln spoke these words at the Gettysburg Address, he should have added three words: “compulsory voting ensures…”

This, maybe more than any other single thing about America, makes me and other Australians shake their heads in “what-the-actual-fuck”-ness.

I know, Americans feel that their democratic right is to choose NOT to vote but I wonder if many of them realize that they are in fact voting in absentia by not voting: their “negative” non-votes are, in some ways, an impost on the party or presidential candidate they might have otherwise voted for and a helping hand to the other.

And before all those cries of “I don’t trust any of them so I won’t vote etc.,” remember this: someone is still going to get elected and by removing yourself from the democratic process and not voting, you are as good as saying you’re happy with whatever party/president takes power.

Take the 2016 election as your guide – Trump won by 80,000 votes, thereby flipping three states and winning the electoral college.

This is not me arguing that compulsory voting is perfect. Every year, there are a small number of Australians who “donkey” or “informal” vote – if you’re a real political junkie, there is a report on the 2016 Aussie election here.

But we are talking around 5% of voters, which is a hell of a lot better than the on-average 55% of US voters who can’t be bothered to turn up at US presidential elections.

That’s just not democracy – it’s bloody lazy, shameful and super dangerous to the functioning of Abe’s idea of representative government.

So, dear friends in America, your Aussie mates Downunder are watching and waiting to see what transpires on November 3, 2020.

We are hoping you see through the spin and rhetoric blowing around out there and get out and exercise your democratic rights to elect your next president.

And we hope the good in you rises to the top so that in 2020 you truly get the president you deserve, for your own good and, a little selfishly, for ours.

We will even throw another shrimp on the barbie in honor of you…

This Voices story was written by Paul Bugeja. Paul is an editor at TMS who is currently based in Queensland, Australia.

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