Planet America: A voting system in a world of its own

Many more Americans voted against Donald Trump than voted for him – millions more. But nearly as many did not vote at all. And the explanation of why they failed to do so is bad news for what is left of democracy.

So Planet America has returned to the known universe — well, up to a point.

Some had an ideological objection to being taken to the ballot boxes, some just couldn’t be bothered. And quite a few would have been convinced by the polls that it was all a foregone conclusion, so they might as well play golf instead. Such are the perils of voluntary voting.

But there were those who had been deliberately disenfranchised – prevented from exercising their rights by a system by manipulated conservative power brokers who were able to exploit loopholes to make it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate a way through the maze of restrictions.

The vast majority of those whose policies they saw as dangerously progressive would almost certainly have endorsed Joe Biden.

They were the forgotten people — the subversive underclass regarded as unworthy to participate in the American dream.

And even those who fought their way into the lines at the polling booths are now facing the threat of having their votes shredded by the Trumpists, who are opening their war chests to fund challenges all the way to the Supreme Court, which they have shamelessly stacked with their allies.

So even when every vote has been cast and counted, when the results in every state have been tallied and confirmed, when the numbers have been declared within the tortuous electoral college, there may still be a lot of litigation to enrich the lawyers before we can confidently say it’s over.

If, in fact, it ever will be. The most berserk of the reactionaries, led by Trump’s spoiled brat sons Eric and Donald junior and his obsessive legal adviser Rudy Giuliani, have vowed never to surrender – to fight on until they have avenged their loss, and maybe a bit longer just for the fun of it.

This is not only deranged but dangerous. There was relief mixed with some surprise when election day itself went off without serious disruption. But now the right-wing belligerents are deliberately raising the stakes to the point of inciting violence. And within a heavily armed populace with more than a few vigilante gangs waiting for a signal to strike, they cannot be ignored.

And even inside the Capitol building itself, there are still many conflicts to be played out. The Republican majority in the senate may be a small one, but there are no signs that it will not remain solidly against Biden and his program, however mild that may turn out to be. There is an element of payback in this: the Democrats had the gall to drag their man to face a charge of impeachment. The least they can do is make their lives as difficult as possible.

So the next four years are far from done and dusted, an opportunity for healing and moving on. They look more like another act of the melodrama, the Grand Guignol of conflict, rancour, and revenge that beset American politics in the last term and looks to persist until Trump admits defeat and fades away – which he won’t.

This was the election Scott Morrison lauds as a triumphant vindication of American democracy in action. Well, as democracies go, it’s better than some. But at its best – at its record turnout – it could only deliver 67 per cent of those thought to be eligible. For one reason or another, a third of the population did not take part in what was supposed to be the most important decision they would ever make.

If Morrison is looking for a model of a democratic system, he can find a far more complete one at home, with compulsory voting, a robust and impartial electoral commission, and a genuinely independent judiciary underpinning the fragile structure.

But perhaps he doesn’t. He has been temperate to the point of timidity at the outrageous comments of his coalition colleagues, past and present – Joe Hockey, Matt Canavan and George Christensen in the lead – who applaud Trump’s ridiculous lies about stolen votes and fraudulent counting, claims dismissed as paranoid dementia by even the most conservative commentators.

ScoMo’s supporters explain away such caution as justified insurance – there was still just a chance Trump could end up winning, if not through the ballot, then through his tame courts. And if that dire moment came to pass, our prime minister would have to deal with a doubly deranged great and powerful friend.

But more troubling is the possibility that Morrison sees Trump’s assault into division and anarchy as just part of the cut and thrust of political discourse in the 21st century. So he lies, cheats, trashes every rule and convention, is prepared to make his country ungovernable to avoid defeat – isn’t that how a leader is supposed to behave? Oh, for the advantages of an all but impregnable executive, with party, parliament, and the separation of powers no more than petty obstacles to untrammeled megalomania.

Actually, Morrison seldom, if ever, entertains such fantasies – too ambitious altogether. But there are times when he will stick his toe in the water just to see how much he can get away with.

The sneaky announcement of his integrity commission, the watchdog without teeth or even a decent bark, is a sign that he is happy to dispense with rationality or credibility if it can get him out of political strife.

He would, of course, have preferred to ignore it entirely, but the pesky Westminster system made that impossible – too many skeletons uncovered for the bloody media and their crossbench hangers-on to be silenced.

But if a token must be offered, he can at least ensure that democratic accountability can be made powerless.

So even as Planet America sidles back from outer space, the rocky satellite of Australia is nudged further towards the fringe of the home galaxy. Cosmic entropy is maintained.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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