A crunch day for Australia on Tuesday – and not just for the Melbourne Cup, vital as that is for the nation’s well-being. November 4 will determine whether the United States of America regains its sanity or embarks on another quadrennium of demented Trumpery.
And frankly I am not optimistic. Four years ago I thought it absurd that enough Americans could be hauled from their caves to risk the almighty gamble not only with their own immediate future but that of their compatriots, their allies, the entire world – that they were so fed up with the admittedly flawed but still workable system that had served them for two and a half centuries.
I thought that simple self-interest would prevail, that the mindless slogans about building walls, draining swamps and throwing opponents into jail would be seen as the bluff and bluster it was and that whatever the limits of Hillary Clinton’s appeal. she would at least be a safer pair of hands in troubled economic times than the mendacious wheeler-dealer.
I thought that the revelations about his personal behaviour — his financial chicanery, his refusal to come clean about his taxes and finally his boasts about grabbing pussies would make him unacceptable to a conservative republic.
And if nothing else had ended the farce, I thought that he had offended, denigrated and outraged so many Americans – particularly women, blacks and Latinos – that he could never secure even the minority vote that would deliver him the electoral college.
But of course I was wrong, as were the vast majority of other observers. And having been bitten once, I am shy to the point of despair, because having jumped off the cliff once and survived, there is no good reason for the lemmings not to repeat the plunge.
Joe Biden may have many splendid qualities, but he is not an inspirational leader. And while simply being not Trump is a rational response to an unhinged braggadocio, it can hardly be regarded as a killer policy. From where I sit, admittedly many thousands of kilometres away on the other side of the Pacific, I do not detect any real momentum for change.
And the opinion polls are not helping. Because of the American system of voluntary voting, they are unreliable at the best of times, and in an election with unprecedented, massive early polling they are even less useful than normal.
And even if they are right, so what? Under the electoral college system a majority of votes is no guarantee of electing a president, as we saw in 2016 and many earlier elections. If Trump can manoeuvre his way through the federal labyrinth, he will not worry about how small the numbers are when he arrives back in the White House.
But at least it will all be over this week, won’t it? Well, probably not, Even if all the votes are counted promptly and the results appear to be clear, Trump and his goon squad have foreshadowed delays, protests, appeals, whatever it takes to obstruct the wishes of the people.
He may or may not enlist the aid of a Supreme Court dominated by his chosen reactionaries, but he will certainly maintain his rage through rallies, mass demonstrations of civil disobedience in the name of his sacred mission to keep the socialist radicals out of power.
So any win for Joe Biden, whether large or small, will be considered illegitimate and contested, leaving America riven and tormented. But a win for Trump could be even more horrendous: re-elected, he could abandon any pretence of restraint and become an apocalyptic megalomaniac capable of unleashing Armageddon just to show that he could.
Whatever the results, there will be riots in the streets. Actually there already are.
Of course those are the worst possibilities. It is conceivable that even if Trump refuses to concede defeat, those around him will blink and accept reality. and call the serious nurses in white coats to escort their former leader to a sedated retirement in a padded cell somewhere far from the madding crowds in Washington.
The Republicans could revert to being the GOP, a conservative political organization rather than a war party fuelled by partisan blood lust at the behest of a belligerent dictator. The evangelical right could admit the possibility of a separation of church and state. The warriors of the National Rifle Association could lay down their arms. Well, they could, but I’m not holding my breath.
And come what may, America is not going to be great again any time soon. So perhaps it is time to turn to a somewhat less catastrophic election, the result in Queensland.
Labor’s win was not a surprise, but securing a five per cent swing was certainly an unexpected bonus. There had been speculation that it would be very close – that Annastacia Palaszczuk may be forced back into minority government. Instead regional Queensland held firm and even the marginals in Townsville and Cairns could not be swayed.
The premier was rewarded for her resolute defiance on the borders and freedom fighter Scott Morrison’s incursion into the sunshine state was clearly counterproductive. And the opposition LNP remained determinedly divided. Twelve years after merging, the disunited party still hasn’t worked out what it represents, or whom.
But the big story of the election was the collapse of the mad right. The One Nation vote plummeted and Clive Palmer’s millions were spent in vain – not only did he not win a seat, but his scare campaign failed to dent Labor. For once, Queenslanders did not go bananas.
Indeed, they showed exemplary judgment, endorsing incumbency and rejecting insanity.
But this, unfortunately, will be the choice facing Americans this week. Donald J Trump enjoys the power of office but the handicap of senile dementia. We are about to find out which is more important, not just to a fractured electorate, but to the country which, for all its manifest faults, is still the last, best hope of the world.
Now back to the Melbourne Cup.