As the debate continues over whether Australia Day should be celebrated on January 26, this series looks at the politics of some unresolved issues swirling around Australia Day – namely, the republic and reconciliation. And […]
US President John F Kennedy described myths as “the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought”. Those myths, in today’s presidential terms, are called “alternate facts”.
The wholesale disregard of evidence in favour of a certain type of belief helps to explain so much discussion and trepidation around the political phenomena that is Donald Trump.
On a recent holiday in Hawaii I only heard one American defending the new president. In every other case they, his countrymen, were apologising for his behaviour and invariably pointing out that he did not win the popular vote. The Hawaiians I spoke to were particularly keen to point out that their state had a 70 per cent vote in favour of Hillary Clinton.
Even on a walking track high above Maui, people would stop to talk about the new president, to apologise and to express their fear for the future. The first week of the Trump executive orders had seriously reinforced their concerns for Americans and for all of those who come under American influence.
Canadians argued that the executive order excluding people from selected majority Muslim countries, the wholesale rejection of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Mexican wall were indicators of the treatment Canada could expect if not kowtowing to the whims of Trump. Ironically, what a marked contrast was the tweet of Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”?
There are important lessons for Australia. The US electoral system that delivered this result is clearly faulty. Although women will march in their millions to demonstrate concern about interfering with their autonomy – I doubt if there has ever been a demonstration on electoral systems. With a preferential voting system instead of “first-past-the-post” Donald Trump would not have been successful even in the first round of the Republican Primaries.
American presidential elections are conducted on a system of first-past-the-post using Electoral College votes to make the final decision. The system is two centuries out of date. Less than 25 per cent of voters supported him… without even considering the masses that have not registered to vote. A president was elected despite being around three million personal votes short of his opponent. There is a clear message that change is needed.
The ACT can be proud its elections are one of the most recent, advanced and fairest systems in the world under Hare-Clark.
However, electoral reform only occurs when the major parties are either too embarrassed to do otherwise or, more commonly, there is mutual interest.
Our Australian federal systems are not perfect. However, preferential voting at the electorate level in the House of Representatives and optional preferential voting based on proportional representation in the Senate does deliver a much fairer outcome than the American system.
Another improvement for Americans would be to mirror Australia’s compulsory attendance at the polling booth. This is widely referred to as “compulsory voting”, which is inaccurate as the secrecy of the ballot box allows a voter to simply submit an unmarked paper. Combined with a requirement to register, the American system would be much fairer.
Fear and trepidation are still the hallmark of the Trump era. When George W Bush engaged in the Middle East for the second Gulf War, the commitment was not done based on evidence. Rather the invasion, with Australia’s support, was under the pretence of “weapons of mass destruction”. Over a decade of commitment to war is the result of action based on myths rather than evidence.
All indications are that this will be commonplace with Trump as president. Already evidence is regularly being replaced by myth. The appointment of so many members of his cabinet who, in the past, have made pronouncements similarly based on myth rather than evidence does not bode well for the future.
And back to fear and trepidation. This man who does not have “the discomfort of thought” has the keys to a nuclear arsenal that has the capacity to destroy life on earth as we know it.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.