With US democracy under threat from within, AUKUS puts Australia in danger

Sep 24, 2021
US Capitol
(Image: Unsplash)

With the AUKUS treaty, Australia may have hitched its fate to a nation soon to be led by people who make Trump seem competent. Britain and Australia’s democracies are under threat; America’s future is in dire peril. 

In 2024, there is a strong chance that the damage done to US political systems, courts, media and civic discourse will leave the Republicans able to seize government against the will of the majority.

The candidates who might lead that putsch include Florida’s Ron DeSantis, the governor currently killing thousands of his citizens in his efforts to prevent COVID-19 suppression; right-wing conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene who argued that Jewish space lasers started Californian wildfires; and QAnon believer Lauren Boebert who was alleged to have given tours around the Capitol for the seditionists in preparation for January 6.

Tucker Carlson, as the chief Fox News propagandist for the Trump base, might even accept the Republican invocation that he challenge for the nomination.

As early as 2022, Biden could lose the chance to prevent this. The Democrats have two Bills they are trying to push through — one aimed at curbing executive power and another at protecting voters’ rights — that they say will address the crisis of democracy facing America, but some rogue Democrats are refusing to support the Bills.

Redistricting from the flawed census carried out under Trump means that Biden could lose the House of Representatives without losing one citizen’s vote. It will take a huge voter turnout to prevent his government being frozen by cynical Republicans after the midterms.

One hundred “scholars of democracy” recently released a letter through the New America think tank speaking of the cliff edge upon which America’s flawed democracy currently stands. Australia’s international fate is thus at stake too.

This democratic decay is no accident. In the 1970s, key Republicans set in place a number of projects aiming to take lasting power from the Democrats decades into the future.


One of the masterminds, Paul Weyrich, said in 1980 that he didn’t want everybody to vote and that Republican “leverage in elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down”.

The surviving architects of these plans must be proud: they have worked effectively to limit or undo the progress of the civil rights era, and the GOP looks likely to hold power for the minority for some time to come.

Many of the mechanisms emerge from ultra free market think tanks and the billions poured into them by libertarian fossil fuel, tobacco and banking billionaires.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that money is speech has given them, and similarly-funded Super PACs, the ability to spend billions to support people and programs which gift them the policy they desire. The think tanks have set up well-endowed conservative economic forces in academia to promote their low tax, small government message, as well as more direct interventions.

The Federalist Society was established in 1982 to foster conservative law students through to judicial appointments.

Under Trump the Federalists provided the names of judges to be appointed, including for the Supreme Court which is a major legislative arm of government in the US system. Mitch McConnell had blocked 100 appointments under Obama, giving Trump’s government the chance to seat 200 lifetime federal judges who will shape important parts of the nation for years to come, including electoral systems.

The US political system has been skewed since its federation was (re)created. Population growth has only made the problem more dramatic. Whether a state has a population of 600,000 like Wyoming or nearly 40 million like California, it sends two senators to Congress. Currently the US Senate is a 50/50 split between the two parties, but it theoretically represents 41 million more people in Democrat states than Republican. More than twice the whole Australian electorate is unrepresented in that body.

Above the intrinsic injustices of the system, state level manoeuvring has made the electoral system more perverted.

David Daley, in his 2016 account Ratf**cked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count, tracks the practical measures strategic “conservatives” took to trap their states in a vicelike Republican grip. This has been extraordinarily successful. In one example, Democrats won every statewide race in gerrymandered Wisconsin in 2018 with 54 per cent of the vote. The fact that Republicans nevertheless held two-thirds of seats meant they were able to strip the new governor, a Democrat, of all important powers.

This distorted grasp on local controls has allowed Republican state governments to make it ever harder for Democrat-leaning voters to cast their ballot. Since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, any number of logistical barriers have been thrown in the way of particularly Black and Brown voters, including First Nations Americans. Affluent Americans, statistically leaning white, vote with ease.

Think tanks have put British democracy at risk. We have the same problem.

The state electoral distortions affect the nation in a number of ways. In 2020, Biden won the presidential election by 7 million votes, but 43,000 votes in key states could have changed the outcome. The Republican structural advantage means that Democrats have to win the popular vote by as much as 11 points to edge ahead of the Republicans, it was estimated in 2018.

This echoes out broadly through government. And after Trump’s loss in 2020, Republican states are introducing hundreds of laws to place further obstacles in the path of people who might vote Democrat. More worrying still are the laws and candidates that aim to remove the honest Republican officials who refused Trump’s pressure to distort or overthrow their state’s election results.

Added to this, the US primary process is tending towards the nomination of extremist know-nothings and conspiracy theorists in gerrymandered districts who not only end up pushing the Republican Party’s policies in more radical directions, but also provide politicians ever less able to cope with complex challenges such as climate change, technology and a pandemic.

The radicalisation of Congress has particular significance for America’s AUKUS partners.

The 9/11 Commission found the fact that only 57 per cent of national security appointments had been filled in the months after the 2000 election was important to the lapses which allowed that disaster to take place. Biden’s government has only been able to fill 26 per cent of these critical roles because of senate obstruction.

The judicial crisis is most concerning in the Supreme Court which is firmly in the grip of increasingly radical conservatives. McConnell stole Obama’s legitimate selection and then installed a third Trump appointment after he had lost the 2020 election. The court they shaped is fast undoing the credibility upon which its standing is based.

The court illustrated in July 2021 that it has no interest in checking this anti-democratic trend. It displayed the Republican worldview that the handful of cases of illegal voting are an “epidemic” and must be crushed even at the expense of many (predominantly Black and Brown citizens) potentially losing the ability to vote. In the same week, the court objected with horror that the identities behind “dark money” — funding from groups that obscure the source of their funds — might be revealed.

The rights of the plutocrats are to be protected; the masses are untrustworthy.

The Supreme Court’s shadow docket (brief and unaccountable late night summary decisions with no court process) acceptance of Texas’s draconian anti-abortion heartbeat law this month was a shocking marker in the radicalisation of this august body.

The ruling signified the degree to which “church” has rejected the constitutional barrier separating it from “state”.

The 1970s efforts to forge Evangelicals into a “conservative” voting bloc, with other staunch Christians, around the issue of blocking abortion have born theocratic fruit. The free market Republicans’ fate is almost inextricably linked with dominionist Evangelical religion now.

An unhinged radical conservative media web has grown out of Ronald Reagan’s 1987 termination of the Fairness Doctrine that aimed to keep news media “fair and balanced”.

In the aftermath, right-wing radio jocks, Fox News and now an ecosystem of disingenuous platforms, amplified by social media and conspiracy theories, distribute a swirling barrage of ever more loopy opinions and counterfactuals.

The radicalised “base” they have created demands ever more extreme positions, so that Fox now chases the ideologues it created down the rabbit hole. There is no chance in 2021 for the American people to debate issues over a shared fact base; too many inhabit different universes.

The damage Trump’s people did to the government was immense. Stripping it of experienced people, they filled it with ideologues, also-rans and lobbyists. The Trump era damage, however, is reparable. It is the broader crisis that threatens the American system.

The coup that so many feared in January 2021 did not quite happen. Biden’s hold on effective power, though, is limited by Republicans made cynical or extreme as a result of their decades of machinations. It is even more constrained by golden-handcuffed figures in his own government.

The strategies that created the Evangelical bloc or the Tea Party revolution have rotted the Republican Party from the outside in, so that even after thugs threatened congressmen and women’s own lives as they carried out the “sacred” duty of the transfer of power, many Republicans went on to insist that Trump’s victory had been stolen. The less wild claimed it was because they feared for their own lives, threatened by their own voters.

This is the situation in America that Scott Morrison’s government has bound us to with the AUKUS Treaty.

America has plenty of intelligent, educated and experienced figures; they may not, however, be able to keep power from the radical fringe who have seized the broken system’s controls. Australians need to pray that the Democrats’ efforts to shore up their democracy can defeat the odds or Biden might be replaced by another Trump.

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