Not So Gobsmacked

Not so long ago, we Australians were in a state of almost constant embarrassment.

You see, we had a series of leadership spills right at the top of our political system. That meant we had a series of Prime Ministers (PMs) over successive years. For those of you wondering what I’m talking about, here’s a primer on the Australian political system – but here’s the TL:DR summary – people within the ruling party called a spill, and then the leader was elected from those who threw their hats into the ring. That person became the PM.

We had, as a result, six PMs in ten years. I remember arriving at a little coffee shop in New Zealand just after the most recent one, and the barista said: “Oh, you’re Australian – I see you’ve got a new PM again.” I replied: “Yes, it’s getting a bit embarrassing…” There were many memes.

We have compulsory voting, preferential voting, and a centralised Electoral Commission. And despite the PM changes, this year has demonstrated to me, how good, solid, and fair our system actually is. Even if we whinge about it a lot. Anyone can be elected. We have multiple parties, and election to the senate of some obscure person from an obscure political party can, and has, happened.

The photo above is an actual senate ballot paper. You can vote ‘above the line’ by numbering at least 6 boxes above the line, or at least twelve boxes ‘below the line.’ Or, if you’re me, you number every single box below the line. Here’s a link the Electoral Commission which explains it. I like to make sure that I really take advantage of the preferential system. (I think last time I had 169 boxes to number. I started at 169 and worked backwards.)

And although up until recently, most of my interest in politics has been local, for about the last six years, I’ve been almost unable to look away from what’s been going on in the US political system. I’ve been generally interested in international stuff for a long time, but I’m no political expert of any kind.

But I have to say, waking up this morning to the news that protestors were storming the Capitol Building in the US was not a surprise. Despite political pundits persistently saying that violence wasn’t going to be a thing, watching the international news, and seeing what Mr Trump had been saying on social media and also in person, suggested otherwise.

I’ve watched the politics of the US polarise people insanely. A tour guide in Canada a few years ago told us he’d had to ban US citizens from discussing politics while on his tours. Apparently they ended up in vehement arguments, and, on occasion, violence. We were startled. While many people we know are passionate about politics, and we might have enthusiastic discussions, we’d never actually fight. We’d joke about it, probably stir each other a bit, and intermittently share choice memes.

Then we’d vote how we wanted to, confident that we’d done what we set out to do, no matter the outcome. Sometimes we’d feel saddened by certain results. But another election comes around every three to four years, so we can vote again and hope our vote changes things.

I cannot imagine the things that have happened in the US in particularly the last twelve months, happening here. (Maybe I’m naive, maybe not.) This morning’s actions should be beyond belief, but sadly, they are not a surprise. My personal opinion is that this is what President Trump wanted. I could speculate on his reasoning, but his tweets and comments about electoral fraud set the scene, along with his spruiking of the rally today and then his speech at the rally, for what has then eventuated.

Even his comments ‘encouraging’ people to stand down,’ focused not on peace and the peaceful handover of the presidency, but perpetuated what appears to be unfounded commentary on the validity of the electoral process. (At this point, no lawsuits have been upheld.)

I understand people not being happy that their choice did not win. But this seems like insanity. Democracy is all about voting. It’s not about overthrowing by force. It’s not meant to be about sour grapes or personal ambition (but we all know that personal ambition does play a part), but standing aside gracefully says much more about a person’s character than perpetuating division does.

I’m watching the news right now. Malcolm Turnbull, a PM who experienced a spill, and was consequently superseded by Scomo (Scott Morrison our current PM), is expressing his incredulity about what has happened – and has just described Trump as ‘a man unfit to be president.’ I might add that Turnbull was a PM on the conservative side of our politics. He spoke frankly, and said more on the matter of Trump’s character that you can look for and read elsewhere.

All I can say, is that I’m sad for my US friends. This is a terrible thing to happen to a nation that prides itself on its democracy, and holds itself up as an example of freedom and liberty. It is a terrible thing no matter where you sit on the political spectrum. Hopefully, people in the US can put aside their political differences and work together to overcome the division.

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