Kamala Harris might ensure a fair fight

Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his candidate for Vice President is outstanding. It takes the fight to Trump and Pence forcefully. Harris’ presence in the debates and the campaign will strengthen the possibility that the vote will be allowed to determine the outcome, not corruption.

An understanding of context is vital.

The irreducible context of the Trump presidency and of the elections to take place at the beginning of November, is that he has conducted his office and, the affairs of the United States in ways which have been deeply destructive of almost everything he has touched, and substantially criminal. He has repeatedly broken national and international law and above all, has continually violated the Constitution of the United States.

The zenith of the latter is the attack that he and the Republican Party have been waging on the conduct of the forthcoming national elections. They have sought to rig every aspect of that conduct including by restricting voter registrations, reducing the number of polling stations available and, most significantly in a full-scale attack on postal voting and the ability of the United States Postal Service, to enable such voting.

In addition, in the event that polls indicate that will lose the election, Trump has proposed, in public, that the election might need to be postponed.

In recent weeks, distinguished constitutional scholars and commentators in the United States, have discussed possible solutions to the variety of actions Trump might initiate to steal the election. While this public discourse is healthy, on one level, the relative absence of expressed outrage that the conversation is even occurring, is striking. That the President of the US is a criminal, and an aspiring autocrat seems to have become part of the national furniture.

It is now beyond doubt that the elections in November will determine the viability of popular democracy, as such, in the US. This is the crucial context in which Biden’s choice of Harris needs to be judged.

Harris’ politically relevant characteristics, her: colour, gender, remarkable skills in debate and speaking, personal narrative, positioning in the centre-left of the Democrat party, are true strengths. She should prove to be an asset in assembling the votes needed to win, in the variety of settings and regions in the US, including in States of particular importance to the electoral college outcome, such as her own – California.

She will be attacked savagely by Trump, Pence and the Republicans, more than is the usual electoral combat, precisely because she is a credible threat to them.

They will not want to debate her or Biden on substantive issues, of which the Covid19 disaster and the derived collapse in the economy are the key ones.

Objective forensic analysis of the actions taken and not taken by Trump and his Administration and, of the relevant timelines during 2020, demonstrate that Trump is personally responsible for the magnitude of what has occurred and continues to occur in the US. There have now been 164,000 deaths.

Of the myriad pieces of evidence available on Trump’s failure on the Covid 19 task, none is more telling than his suggestion that sufferers could cure themselves by drinking Lysol household bleach.

So, the Trump machine will attack Biden and Harris personally directly in public and through social media and through a range of bogus groups. One can only guess at what form and scale this will take. Presumably, it will be massive.

This should prove to be an interesting laboratory experiment on the role and influence of the internet in shaping public opinion in an electoral democracy, the main rules for which, in the US, were developed when messages were sent by letter and, were transported by horses. Rather different from Twitter speed.

Biden’s age is showing but he has shown that he is brightly aware of what is at stake in this election. His expressed belief that the soul of the nation is at issue is credibly advanced. And, many believe he is right.

Harris knows this truth but also signals a toughness that will be needed in the 80 odd days ahead.

This election is important to Australia. There is the matter of our alignment with the US which surely cannot continue in the broadly uncritical fashion of the past if the US were to continue to trash the rules and values we claim to share with them. That would be the case were Trump and his enablers to remain in office

Last week, national elections were conducted in Belarus. They were, once again, flagrantly manipulated giving its President, Lukashenko, a 6th term in office. He is accurately described as Europe’s last remaining dictator.

What happened in Belarus last week fitted the pattern of the successive elections of Lukashenko. The Belarus example can be said to constitute an extreme instance of electoral misconduct.

But, when the US pressures others to support the solemn canons of democracy and, we speak about these as the values we share with the US, care must be exercised.

The widespread phenomenon of the Gerrymander in the US (invented in Massachusetts in 1812 ), voter suppression based on race, and an electoral system which includes the anachronistic and distorting mechanism of the Electoral College, has routinely produced outcomes, including the election of Trump in 2016, which cause despair to serious theorists of democracy and psephology.

US sanctimony about electoral matters encourages thoughts of glass houses and stones and, arguments based on relative degrees of criminal conduct: Those that object: – how dare we be compared to others, such as Belarus – should be rejected.

What is an absolute today, not  a relative matter, is Trump’s repeated insistence that the US Constitution contains no restraint on his actions, no obligations he must fulfil, and his overt threat to seek to reject or render void the result of the next election, if it does not give him a second term in office.

Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris should ensure their victory and through that, at least a pause, in the decaying of the US polity.

But, in suggesting this as the likely outcome of the voting, it must be remembered that none of us are able to know how those votes will be counted and, what Trump will do if the count is not to his satisfaction.

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Richard Butler AC Former Ambassador to the United Nations, Executive Chairman of UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq, Professor of International Affairs.

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