A sinking ship

Like every other decent human being, and (apparently) the President of the United States, I was appalled by Wednesday’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

For months, Donald Trump has recklessly sown doubt over the legitimacy of the U.S. presidential election. He has called his unwaveringly loyal supporters to arms. And now, we’ve seen the consequences — an act of domestic terrorism at the fount of democracy, conducted in the name of a sitting U.S. president.

What happened earlier this week is exactly what Trump and his loyal band of disciples wanted: to bring unprecedented disruption to an established, constitutionally-mandated formality.

And yet, despite this disruption, the Electoral College certification process was completed, culminating in the official declaration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next president and vice-president of the United States. In eleven days, they will assume those roles.

So, what happens between now and then?

First and foremost, Trump needs to go. Eleven more days at the helm is eleven days too many. While every major social media platform has deemed it too high of a risk to remain on their platforms, Trump remains in unilateral command of the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal. Through his actions, he has demonstrated an inability to continue to act in the best interests of the United States, and the “free world” he’s so frequently purported to lead.

Republicans argue that removing a sitting president eleven days out from the end of their term sets a bad precedent.

To those Republicans, I’ll tell you what I think sets a bad precedent: allowing a president to permit a large, radicalised element of their voter base to become so blind to reality to the point that they commit an act of domestic terrorism on the U.S. Capitol. And then, as that act is unfolding, to tell that radicalised element that said president “loves them” and that they are “very special”, and failing to deploy readily available troops to end the conflict.

Allowing that to go unpunished? That sets a bad precedent, and that’s why Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet must invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to remove Trump from office as quickly and decisively as possible.

Should that fail, impeachment should (and will) be pursued. While it’s unlikely a trial will conclude before Trump’s departure from office on the 20th, should the Senate find Trump guilty, it would disqualify him from holding public office ever again — putting an end to any suggestion of a return in 2024.

Shutting down Trump’s future ambitions is an important step forward, but it’s by no means a catch-all solution.

To echo a sentiment I expressed in my last post, The end of the road, Trump is on his way out — but Trump-like figures are not. Just this week, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley have proven a willingness to put their own ambition above acting in the interests of the greater good of society. It’s people like these who represent the long-term threat that American democracy faces.

To be complacent is to be complicit — and far, far too many have been complacent.

That includes social media companies, especially Twitter and Facebook. Twitter has allowed Trump to post a variety of dangerous tweets in recent years, including threatening to commit war crimes against Iran. Facebook, on the other hand, has allowed Trump’s campaign to use its targeted advertising tools to prey on everyday Americans by selling his deluded vision of “making America great again”.

I could argue all day about the merits some see in keeping Trump and others within the regulatory confines of these platforms, as opposed to allowing their opinions to ferment in darker corners of society — but in my view, the reality remains this: deplatforming works, and it’s regrettable that it took an armed invasion of the U.S. Capitol — the first of its kind since that led by the British in 1814 — for social media companies to see that.

This is a topic which isn’t going away, and one I’ll likely write about in more depth soon.

Now, finally, it’s plain to see that the Trump ship is sinking. Many of Trump’s longest-serving loyalists are now seeking to jump ship and distance themselves from him. Shame on them, and shame on anyone and everyone who has enabled this appalling chapter of history and now seeks to absolve themselves of responsibility for it.

Soon, the Trump era will be over, and the time for healing and, importantly, reform will begin. Joe Biden and his Cabinet nominees appear up to the task. In particular, Merrick Garland strikes me as an excellent choice to lead a Justice Department which will face the difficult task of handling the high-profile prosecutions which are bound to emerge from the current administration.

More than anything, I hope that a sense of normality returns to U.S. politics.

Beyond that, I hope for progress. I hope that those in government opt to be more than a cog-spinning kakistocracy. To actively make life better for actual people, rather than corporations and the ultra-wealthy. It’s the failure of governments to do this that has led to the socio-economic conditions that allowed Trumpism to rise — which is why something must be done to address it.

There is much work that remains to be done, but I’m confident that when we all work together, the fundamental principles which underpin our combined existence will prevail.

The end of the road

The American people have spoken. This is the end of the road for Donald Trump’s presidency.

By virtually all accounts, voting has gone as well as could be expected amid a pandemic. Despite the fears of many, widespread civil unrest has not broken out. Donald Trump’s reaction has been contained to the expected: angry tweets and frivolous litigation. The results we’ve seen so far speak for themselves.

At this point, I’m willing to call it: Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be the 46th President of the United States.

Watching Biden speak earlier today was incredible. For the first time in four years, I felt like I was listening to a president, rather than an irascible school bully. If, like me, you’ve got a few minutes to watch it while sitting through CNN’s irritatingly repetitive ad breaks, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The reality is that this election could have gone either way. It certainly wasn’t the “blue wave” that many like myself had been hoping for. Had Trump received a few thousand more votes in the right places, we’d be staring down the barrel of a second term for Trump right now. Scary, I know.

My greatest takeaway from the last three days has been this: we need to stop pretending that Trump’s supporters are irrelevant — they aren’t. This election has unquestionably demonstrated that. In spite of the president’s innumerable wrongdoings, almost 50% of American voters have cast their vote for Donald J. Trump.

Since Wednesday, I’ve spoken with the few remaining Trump supporters I know, and one thing is abundantly clear: they genuinely believe the utter nonsense that comes out of Trump’s mouth — even the baseless claim that this election has been “stolen”. The thing I find most frightening about this is that these are people I consider to be relatively intelligent, and capable of thinking for themselves. If even they are willing to support Trump’s nonsensical views, it’s not at all surprising that 50% of America is as well.

I’ve come to the realisation that presenting these people with facts is futile. They simply don’t listen. It’s as if they’ve lost the ability to comprehend that maybe, just maybe, reality is comprised of more than what the imperious President Trump wants them to believe.

In the current social and political climate, the ability to think independently is more important than ever before, so it’s deeply concerning that people, smart people, seem incapable of doing so.

What do we do, then? How do we close the great divide that has engulfed political discourse not just in the United States, but the world?

Truthfully, I don’t know.

Answering this question will take time. Fortunately, there are few people better than Joe Biden to lead the effort to heal this division. A lifelong member of the D.C. establishment, he is brilliantly equipped to build a bridge between the Democratic and Republican parties, and restore political decency in the United States.

The next two months will be tumultuous as Donald Trump does everything in his power to undermine democracy. He will undercut faith in the institutions which have been sacrosanct in the United States for centuries. He will attempt to delegitimise a legitimate president-elect. The United States has weathered many storms in its 243-year history, and it will weather this one too.

There’s a longer, greater battle ahead. Soon, Donald Trump will be gone, but his cancerous grasp on society won’t. Bringing people back together will take time and work, it will be hard, and there will be setbacks — a Trump-like figure may well take the presidency once again, but I have faith that the people of the United States are capable of rising to this challenge.

Right now, though, there is real cause for celebration. This nightmare is drawing to a close. A woman of colour will serve as Vice President of the United States. Basic decency will return to the highest office in the land. For the first time in four years, the future is looking up.

For our sake, let this be the end of the road for Trumpism, and the beginning of the long road to unity. If it’s not, we’ll have bigger problems to address than Donald Trump.

The Disunited States of America

Our planet has never been a place of exemplary societal stability. It is a constantly evolving place, and we, its people, change with it — sometimes to our betterment, and sometimes to our detriment.

Today, as our world faces its greatest changes and challenges in recent times, it’s more critical than ever that we do everything in our power to ensure we change for better, not worse.

I’ll get straight to the point: democracy is under threat. Actually, that’s an understatement — democracy is under attack, and it’s under attack in the United States by the President of the United States. I cannot emphasise enough how concerning it is that we are even having discussions about whether or not the President of the United States will peacefully leave office if he does not win re-election.

While it would be simple for me to say that Donald Trump, a contemptible halfwit with neither a moral compass nor ability to lead is incapable of destroying democracy — the devastating reality is that he absolutely is, and is doing just that right now. If Joe Biden doesn’t win the presidency, I genuinely fear that it will be too late to heal the damage that Trump has inflicted on American society and the global community at large.

This is, of course, the natural problem with democratic societies: we choose our own paths, and sometimes those paths are bad. That’s not at all to say that I think democracy is bad, but rather to point out what is one of its most fundamental flaws. In the words of Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

As I’ve pointed out to numerous people throughout this year, the parallels between Trump’s America and Hitler’s Germany in the 1930’s are staggering — explained excellently by Dana Milbank in his Washington Post op-ed “This is not a drill. The Reichstag is burning.” in September.

Fortunately, the constitutional safeguards which exist in the United States (especially the Supreme Court) make it difficult for Trump to unilaterally gain power in a similar fashion to Hitler. Nonetheless, the comparison is terrifying and a true indicator of how bad things have become in the land of the free.

I don’t like to be an alarmist, but I really do believe that there’s a lot at stake here, not just for the United States, but for our global society and its future.

The comforting reality is that Donald Trump will be gone at some point in the near future, but the forces that elevated him to power and his legacy will not. Removing these deep-rooted and pervasive forces will not be easy. It will take time. There will be resistance. But if we try, we will.

We have an entire generation of young people who have, for the first time in history, been not just allowed but empowered to educate themselves, to know right from wrong, to identify social inequalities, to fight for change. What is crucial now is that we take hold of that power, and hold authority to account. Taking hold of our future depends on us caring about it — if we can’t do that, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

We must stand up. We must make our voices heard. We must educate ourselves. We must vote. We must fight like our lives depend on it — because they do. Living a quiet life of complacency and blind acceptance is no longer an option. Democracy is under attack, and it’s up to us to protect it.

Frankly, I haven’t got the faintest idea what the outcome of Wednesday’s election will be. I do know there will be deep civil unrest. I do know there won’t be a result right away. But, I do not know what lies at the end of this road.

I suppose all I can say is this: in the coming days and weeks, may democracy win.

It’s time for change

The past week has brought significant public attention to several serious, deep-rooted problems within the United States, drawing people to the streets across the world, amid a pandemic, to fight for change.

Appalling police brutality and complicity has once again resulted in the death of a non-threatening, cooperative Black man; the President of the United States has proven himself to be an aspirant fascist dictator; and lawless rioting and looting has engulfed vast swathes of every major city. All of this has happened in just one week.

Times like these make it easy to ask: what the hell is going on in the land of the free?

For decades, the United States has almost universally been seen as the leading example of democracy, freedom and successful society in the world. Now, it’s easy to argue the opposite: that the United States has become a prime example of what happens when a society is allowed to become bitterly divided.

Like so many others, I wish I had an answer to why this is happening, but I just don’t. No amount of thinking will ever allow me to understand why such deep division has come to exist in the United States. Part of me feels that it’s always been there, deep under the surface, and has been enabled by the utter depravity of Donald Trump — a man whose despicable lack of empathy for and understanding of those around him has brought the United States to what is arguably its most divided state since the Civil War.

Throughout the past week, I’ve had discussions with numerous people about what’s going on, and one thing is abundantly clear: people are angry with the world right now, and want change. It’s rare for something to get a majority of people my age politically fired up, but this week has well and truly done it.

We’re angry and concerned about what our future world looks like. We want our voices to be noticed, rather than dismissed in the old tradition of ‘children should be seen and not heard’. Something needs to change, and it needs to change now.

As idealistic as it sounds, imagine if the world was a place where everybody was equal and respected. A world where someone’s personal, political, or religious beliefs do not form the foundation of how they judge others. A world where a person of colour can have an encounter with police, without feeling threatened. A world where a woman can walk around by herself late at night, without fearing for her safety. A world where aggrieved people can peacefully protest, without fear of being forcefully moved on by armed soldiers. Imagine that world.

These problems are not exclusive to the United States, either. Right here in Australia, similar (though not nearly as divisive) problems exist. For example, in the last week, there have been at least three major news stories on law enforcement mistreating Aboriginal teenagers: a video of a NSW Police officer performing an unnecessarily forceful arrest; a video depicting an unlawful strip-search being conducted; and the High Court of Australia finding that unlawful teargassing was conducted at the Don Dale Youth Detention centre in 2014.

Ultimately, the most crucial thing to do is to stay aware of what’s going on. Don’t blindly accept what the government tells you. Challenge ideas, question why things are the way they are. Ignorance is only bliss for those who want you to be ignorant.

For decades, a simple pattern has repeated itself over and over: something happens, it gets in the news cycle for a few days or weeks, people raise awareness, then we forget, and nothing changes. Don’t allow the death of George Floyd to be in vain. Do something useful. Something more than just posting a black photo on your social media pages. Reflect on your own behaviour and attitudes. Make change. Hold people accountable. Challenge intolerant bigots. Whatever it is that you do, make a difference.

This time, let’s change for good.

One month later: COVID-19 in Australia

Just over a month ago, when the reality hit for many that COVID-19 was a real and immediate threat to Australians, I wrote about choosing to approach it as optimistically as possible, given what little we could do about the virus, besides following the appropriate health advice.

Now, a month later, I feel that I should share an update on where I think we, as a country, are at.

By all accounts, we’ve done well. Exceptionally well. Much better, I think, than anybody could have possibly expected a month ago. The vast majority of Australians have honourably followed the directions given by all levels of government, and thanks to that we are now in a position to begin slowly reopening our country — something which will certainly be one of the dominating themes of political discourse in this country over the coming months, and rightly so. After all, if we reopen too quickly we risk another outbreak; while reopening too slowly risks unnecessary damage to the economy. These are such tough decisions to have to make, and I certainly don’t envy those in government right now.

When it comes to keeping the spread of coronavirus minimal, I think it’s crucial that we harness the power of modern technology. For that reason, I’ve downloaded the COVIDSafe app, and so should you. There are few people more concerned about the increasing trend in government surveillance worldwide than I am. When I first heard about the app, I immediately refused to even consider it. In fact, I was opposed to it almost all the way up until its release. It’s a very technical thing (better explained in this thread by Matthew Robbins on Twitter), but in short: the app does not collect location data on you. Misinformation surrounding the app is rife, so please take the time to educate yourself.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been taking my normal school lessons online via Zoom. For me, it’s been great. With a bit of extra effort, and thanks to the brilliant work of teachers (who I cannot possibly thank enough), I’ve been able to keep on top of my work, and minimise the impact of remote learning.

That being said, not a day goes by where I don’t think how difficult it would be right now for students not fortunate enough to have access to the resources that I do, and I think that decisive action in one form or another is going to have to be taken at some point to ensure that every child in Australia, from Ascot to Aurukun, has the right to access safe, high-quality education.

In my post last month, I placed particular emphasis on looking for positive things right now. To that end, I want to share my two favourite things from over the past month. One is quite funny, and the other will surely be the most heartwarming thing you’ll see all day.

For now, that’s all I’ve got to say. To keep track of my thoughts, head over to Twitter and follow me there. To conclude by saying ‘stay safe’ has become quite a cliché, so I will instead make a simple request of you: as life returns to a degree of normalcy, please don’t become complacent — we’ve made it this far, and it would be such a shame to erase that progress now.

Optimism over despair: responding to coronavirus

I can distinctly remember scrolling through Twitter in early January and reading an article — in the New York Times, I believe — about a mysterious new SARS-like virus that had been rapidly spreading in the city of Wuhan, China.

Back then, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that this small, localised outbreak would lead to (in a matter of mere weeks) the world facing what is arguably its greatest crisis since World War II.

Notwithstanding that, here we are. Countries are in lockdown, borders are closed, the economy is crashing and masses of people have been left unemployed; hardly a great start to the better decade we were all hoping for 10 weeks ago. But, it’s what fate has delivered, so we must do everything we can to minimise its impact, stop the spread and ultimately learn from it.

In this landscape where the news is so frequently bad, it’s important to regularly step back and look at the broader picture. The Facebook post below does a good job at highlighting what a negative mindset versus a positive mindset looks like in this situation.

On my part, I’ll be trying my best to find stories of people doing good things throughout this, and I’ll be sharing them on my Twitter page. If you’re interested, follow me there.

Moving forward, I hope that as we move past the terrible impacts this virus has had and will continue to have, humanity will draw closer (social distancing still applies!) as a result of it. Let’s allow coronavirus to serve as a reminder of our shared existence, and that we are all stuck here together.

We can defeat this thing. Stay at home unless absolutely necessary, practice good hygiene, remember to exercise common sense, and most importantly, follow the health advice. Together, we will pull through this, and emerge stronger than ever before.

Be kind to each other, and stay safe.

Why I’m supporting Elizabeth Warren for president

Many months ago, at the commencement of the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I firmly entrusted my support in Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year old Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. With his sensible progressive policy agenda, military experience as well as Harvard and Oxford education (on a Rhodes Scholarship, no less), what wasn’t to like about Mayor Pete? Sure, he didn’t possess the largest political background, but I was (and remain) of the view that the ability to lead stems from more than just experience in selling policies.

Towards the end of November, however, I started to feel more and more disillusioned with the direction in which Buttigieg’s campaign was moving. In my view, his policies were becoming either poorly redesigned versions of what his more prominent opponents were proposing, or simply not in line with my views — a sentiment that many former Buttigieg supporters seem to hold. At that point, I felt it was time to move on from Mayor Pete. But with all the other candidates, actually deciding who to shift my support behind proved to be a slight challenge. Notwithstanding that, I eventually reached a conclusion.

Joe Biden.

Sure, I didn’t think he was by any stretch a great candidate (nor do I currently), but I knew he’d get the job done and pose a formidable challenge to Donald Trump. His policies are to effectively continue and build upon the work of the Obama administration, and for the most part that ticked all my boxes.

Later, though, I realised that it should not be about just ticking the right boxes. This election is about who will inspire the most Americans with the hope of a better future. It’s about not just promising but acting to create legislation which increases living standards for the many, not the few. It’s about making the individuals and corporations at the very top of society pay their fair share. I can tell you now, neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden will do all of those things. So, who will? Elizabeth Warren.

Warren brings to the table an inspiring plan to rebuild working-class America — lots of American Dream type stuff. Meanwhile, Biden just aims to keep things more or less the same, making changes here or there, but primarily going with the flow. As I mentioned earlier, this ticks the boxes for me (anything that’s not Trump does at this point), but why stop there? Why pick the merely satisfactory option, when an option which is so significantly better lies just beyond it.

Some might wonder why I care so much. After all, I’m neither a citizen nor a resident of the United States. That’s true, but for better or for worse, the United States remains the undisputed leader of the free world, and as long as that remains the case the onus is on us, as members of a democratic society to maintain a key interest in monitoring the state of affairs in the US (without interfering) because what happens there is all too often mirrored here in Australia.

In that spirit, it’s my view as a non-American that the America which Elizabeth Warren is aiming to create is one which promotes equality, freedom and justice for all. An America where you’re paid enough to be able to feed your family, keep a roof over the heads of your children and enjoy world-class healthcare. An America where those at the top end of town pay their fair share.

Elizabeth Warren’s vision for the United States is progressive, sensible and inspiring, and it’s for that reason that I am supporting her campaign to become the 46th President of the United States.

Lost leader exhibiting a lack of leadership

A week ago, I posted a thread on Twitter criticising Scott Morrison for his notable lack of any useful contribution to the bushfire crisis. Almost no visits to impacted areas, no real public displays of support and concern, as well as point-blank refusing to accept legitimate realities surrounding the situation.

So, what would I have Morrison do? It’s so incredibly simple: unify the country. Have people put their political divisions aside to support those impacted in whatever way fits best. At this terrible time, strong and unifying leadership is almost all I ask of you, Scott.

Unfortunately, Scott Morrison has proven himself to be completely inept at practising leadership at that level, or even a level close to it. It’s not just his leadership that’s missing, either. The man himself has taken a “well-earned” break with his family, an opportunity that so many Australians will not have this Christmas as a result of their astonishing bravery and generosity in putting themselves on the line to battle the fires. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone deserves a holiday every now and again, but this, a national crisis, is the sort of thing I would expect the Prime Minister to return from a holiday early from, certainly not to begin one during.

I’m not the only one who thinks this sort of thing isn’t on, either. Here’s Scott Morrison on the ABC’S Q&A programme in 2010, criticising then Victorian police chief Christine Nixon for going out to dinner during the Black Saturday bushfires.

It’s almost like he’s criticising her for abandoning her post during a bushfire-related emergency, right? How good is a hypocrite?

Scott, I’m seeing a lot of burning right now, but none from you. I’d be very surprised if Dutton and Porter aren’t counting the numbers right now.

Malcolm, you’re welcome back any time.

A week later

Well, that was a surprise. While it may not be the result myself or millions of other Australians were hoping for, it’s the result we have been given, and the result we must accept out of respect for the democratic process which our country is so lucky to have. I’m not going to do some sort of boring analysis of every little detail of the entire week that’s passed since the election, but rather provide insight into my thoughts about some of the key parts of the week.

What happened: I still don’t know. Nobody should trust a poll ever again.

The resignation of Bill Shorten: If anybody could lose the unlosable election, it was bound to be Bill. If he couldn’t win this election, he can’t win any. Time’s up for Bill.

ALP Leadership contest: Of course, from the moment Bill Shorten resigned, the ALP became abuzz with talk about who would possibly replace him. While Anthony Albanese has been the favourite to replace Shorten for a long time, I had really hoped that Jim Chalmers might be given a chance. After watching him speak throughout the campaign, and taking a look at his past, I feel that he would have been a refreshing modern change for Labor, and someone who would have been able to target multiple demographics. However, as we’re now aware, it looks like Albanese & Marles are set to take up the top two jobs within the ALP. Wouldn’t have been my first pick, but then again, its a hell of a lot better than what the Liberals have to offer.

The Second Morrison Ministry: Because we all thought there would be a second! Let’s be real though, it’s just as bad as the last one. Angus Taylor has surprisingly maintained his role as Minister for Energy, despite the water buyback scandal that emerged in the weeks leading up to the election. An interesting exclusion from the ministry is Tim Wilson, who has been creating quite the name for himself within the Liberal Party recently, most predominantly as the architect behind the furore surrounding franking credits.

Clearly it’s set to be an interesting three years which will surely be as drama-filled as the last three. To those who refuse to accept the result of the election, you aren’t doing any good for anyone. Focus your anger on holding this government fully accountable for everything they do (because they were totally prepared to maintain government). Take this as some sort of comfort, we’re already 1/156 of the way through it!

The one thing Clive’s spot on about

“Australia ain’t gonna cop it, no Australia’s not gonna cop it, Aussies not gonna cop it any more.” Those words, while hard to take seriously in their original context (a United Australia Party TV ad), tell a lot about the state of politics in Australia in 2019.

Think about what the United Australia Party’s main vote winning strategy is across the nation. It’s not stopping the boats, or blocking the Adani project. It’s the promise of ending the political chaos of Canberra, and focusing on making the lives of the people of Australia better. No matter your view on the UAP, I think we can all at least accept that to quite a large amount of people, the idea of Canberra being refreshed is an appealing one — even if those among us with brains recognise that the UAP won’t do that.

If you aren’t convinced that people are losing faith in democracy in Australia, I’ll point you to this article in The Guardian, which shows that between 2013 to 2018, peoples satisfaction in Australian democracy fell from 72 percent to 41 percent. At this rate, fewer than 10 percent will have trust in Australian democracy by 2025. This is an alarming statistic, and one which is not receiving anywhere near as much attention as it should.

I’m not at all suggesting that the UAP or its policies are necessarily good (and I personally disagree with the party on almost all fronts), but rather pointing to it as an example of what happens when people lose faith in the system. Just look at the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election if you don’t think distrust in the system can turn bad very quickly.

No matter which party manages to form government at the next election, it’s crucial that Australia’s politicians work together to achieve a better future for all of us, rather than themselves. In today’s divided world, the last thing we need is an unnecessarily divided nation, and with unity still a relatively easy thing to achieve in Australia, it’s crucial we hold on to it!