IT’S an odd feeling as we look across the Pacific to our great and powerful friend – part wonderment, part anxiety, but mixed with a dash of smug superiority.
Clearly, America is in a mess, its presidential election has become a nightmare; and of course it couldn’t happen here.
Or could it?
Superficially, our political systems are very different. Their president is directly elected while our prime minister is subject to dismissal by his (or her) own party or the House of Reps.
But in reality there’s not much between them in the exercise of power. A popular Australian prime minister probably has greater control over his country’s governance than an American president.
The real differences are in the methodology of the process, the most crucial being our compulsory voting versus America’s voluntary system. This means that in Australia the election battle is aimed at the great bulk of voters in the centre, while in the US it’s the enthusiasts at the edges who grab for the political tiller.
Add the massive cascade of money from US lobby groups, the power of the Christian evangelicals, the unbridled advocacy of media trumpeters such as Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, the gerrymander of “red” and “blue” states and rocketing income inequality and you have a recipe for the disaster that confronts our friend and ally today.
Its name is Donald Trump.
But wait; is this not the same system that gave us the inspiring Barack Obama eight years ago, and re-elected him four years later? Well, yes, but that only proves the point – his candidacy activated a massive turnout of black American voters, enough to swing the “voluntary” election his way. And that produced a “blacklash” among the whites that threatens to carry Trump to the White House.
Happily, we don’t have the same fractured community. Our colonial slaves were called “convicts” and their descendants are indistinguishable from the rest. We don’t share a border with Mexico (or anyone else) and our multiculturalism is an object of pride.
However, we should not be too complacent. Our inherited racism still stalks the land; we, too, have galloping inequality; we’re not short of extremists in the Cory Bernardi mould; and in our elections too, money talks.
Happily, we do have a secret weapon. As the Fairfax papers depart from the newsagents’ shelves, as Murdoch’s rags scream their phony headlines and the shock jocks parade their unquenchable egos, that “sensible centre” around which we gather for the truth of the matter is increasingly our own ABC.
And it’s much more than that. As well as news and current affairs, its drama, its recent “Q&A” on science, its heart-warming “Hatch, Match and Dispatch”, its “Keeping Australia Alive” series, to say nothing of its continuously fine cultural radio programing provides Australia with a wonderful antidote to the extremists.
Sure, it’s sometimes bland and boring, and so are our major political parties. But that’s where most of us live, and in these days of rage and hostility it’s not such a bad place to be. You can have your exciting Donald Trumps and your whacky Bernie Sanders; I, for one, would so much rather be nestled in Aunty’s ample bosom.