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.