While many of us in Australia are impressed with the state of our nation, especially when we compare it with our rich and powerful ally, the USA, we should not get too smug, with plenty of warning signs of some really bad American ideas about to be imported.
We have managed to avoid the chaos and devastation that America has endured now for close to a year. Our Government(s) made plenty of mistakes in handling the pandemic, but nothing on the scale of the criminal negligence of which President Trump and his Republican Party allies were guilty.
But there are gathering signs that we have a particularly malicious set of parliamentarians, with fellow travellers, who are keen to import some really bad American ideas.
The American system faltered because the traditions and the myths of its origin story have been hijacked, and politicised, and the myths have won out over common sense.
Some examples include the notion of personal liberty outweighing the public good, the flawed view that public health systems are socialist, and the idea that education is not a human right but something to be purchased.
Other caustic ideas include the notion that regulations on the private sector are always bad, that global warming is rubbish, that welfare paid is money wasted, that citizens should have the right to bear arms, that any relationship, or family, based on anything other than the classic nuclear family is immoral, that reducing taxes on the rich is good for the economic and does not increase inequality, and that poverty is a sign that a vengeful god is punishing the poor because they deserve to be punished.
There are many other areas to examine, but I want to highlight voter suppression, which is on the radar for our very own Trumpist government.
Voter suppression is a first step to authoritarianism
Voter suppression is an ancient and honoured tradition in America. Since 1870, when the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, all men (later broadened to include women) were guaranteed the right to vote. This included men of all races, and specifically former slaves. Southern states, still smarting from their loss in the Civil War, set about limiting black access to the vote.
These methods included a poll tax, which charged a fee to lodge a vote. Poor whites could gain an exemption from paying the fee, but not poor blacks.
Literacy tests were also routinely applied, with many more black Americans being excluded than white Americans. This often related to the education available to black Americans, which was in most cases inferior, if it was even available. But in other cases, the tests applied were selective, with African-Americans often receiving more difficult ones. These measures were gradually phased out during the 1960s, but not before they had disenfranchised generations of otherwise entitled voters.
More recently the Republican Party has refined its methods to suit the times. In Florida, for example, until recently convicted felons were ineligible to vote. Many with similar names to felons were wrongly purged from the electoral rolls.
That law was reversed in 2018, but Florida’s Republican government circumvented the intention of the statute, known as Amendment 4, by making restoration of the right to vote almost impossible. Don’t forget the election of George W Bush in 2000 was decided by less than 1,000 votes. Convicted felons, by a huge margin, were more likely to be black, and to vote Democrat.
Although the election last year was not decided by a tiny number of votes, Florida voted for Trump. Up to 1.4 million voters were eligible to be restored to the rolls, but only 300,000 were allowed to register. Some 1.1 million voters were disenfranchised. That would make a difference to the result.
That couldn’t happen here…
Of course that could never happen here, could it? We have no voter fraud here, so there could be no reason to change the voting rules. Well, yes it could. As Caitlin Fitzsimmons recently reported in the Nine newspapers, the (Australian) federal government’s joint standing committee on electoral matters recently included a recommendation to require ID to vote, and another recommendation to require ID to enrol or change address.
Liberal committee members made similar recommendations in their reports on the 2013 and 2016 elections as well. They quoted several submissions in support, from the Institute of Public Affairs, and others. Labor and the Greens opposed the recommendations, but were outvoted.
There is a cynical reason for such a simple rule. The more disadvantaged you are, the more difficult it is to conform to what look like petty requirements. And the ID of choice for most Australians is the driver’s licence. Petty for you, and me, but not if you have insecure housing, or are forced to live on the starvation line, or if you are fleeing domestic violence. And many disadvantaged people do not own, or drive, a car. That means they do not necessarily own a licence, and yet they may need to buy a licence simply to vote.
The Liberals think that the disadvantaged are more inclined to vote for Labor, so any measure that makes voting or registering to vote more difficult is a good thing. There is a reason most Australians despise the IPA and its ilk. They appear to be staffed by weird and strangely cruel people who desperately want to be characters in Atlas Shrugged. Strange, but true.