Democracy Opinion

Our far-Right tub-thumpers just as dangerous as Trump's 'patriots'

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

While Australia watches the U.S. deal with its flawed democracy, it's important to remember that we have a history of partisan chest-beating with violent consequences, writes Dr Alex Vickery-Howe.

"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters." 

Donald J Trump

DISASTROUS ex-U.S. President Donald Trump is endearing the way Homer Simpson is endearing — gormless, gluttonous and prone to stunning public admissions of stupidity.

If he had been a satirical character created by Sacha Baron Cohen and not the geriatric with the nuclear codes, his presidency would have enjoyed actual popularity.

Still, there are moments of genuine pathos in the Trump era, as he tried and failed to find his place in the world. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this loathsome evolutionary dead-end – the part that makes him, dare I say it, almost relatable – is the way he has always openly mocked his cavalcade of brainwashed supporters.

Thus, we get this gem from 2016, when then-candidate Trump did indeed boast that he could shoot somebody in public view and the sheeple that call themselves "patriots" would flock to excuse and defend him.

Right-wingers wandering onto this article may accuse this of being a "deep fake", but it’s real and in context, like all the worst Trump quotes inevitably are. Nevertheless, history is proving Trump correct. Shooting someone on Fifth Avenue would be perfectly on brand for this careless thug. There's little doubt he would get away with it, just as he got away with tear-gassing protestors and cosying up to Vladimir Putin.

On this point – only this point – the man displays a flash of 'stable genius'. He knows his audience. What he has never understood is his opposition.

Texas Paul Schroder says this much more eloquently than I – and in a much better accent – but the crux of the insanity of 6 January is this: the Right wanted a fight and the Left didn’t show up to give them one.

The extreme Right in America has long assumed, foolishly, that the "woke Left", the "libtards" and the "socialists" are just as prone to a mob mentality, just as eager to degenerate into partisan violence, as Republicans have proven themselves to be over recent years.

That is why hotel rooms were stacked not only with weapons but with food for a long siege. That is why they still make transparently daft claims like "it was all (anti-fascists) Antifa!"; "it was a false flag operation!" and so on. A fundamental miscalculation of their opponents’ appetite for senseless bloodshed turned a potential coup into yet another humiliating self-own.

To justify disputing the electoral outcome, a fight between two bitter, braying mobs was crucial to the Trump team’s strategy. That way, then-Vice President Mike Pence and others could slip into the role of passionless, level-headed, sensible statesmen stepping up in a time of crisis. They wanted – they needed – a fight.

It didn’t come close to happening. Thankfully.

One cannot underestimate how monstrous this attempted coup was. People died that day. So-called "tourists" broke into offices to smear shit on walls. Politicians were smuggled out while brave officers diverted a swarm of seething idiots. American democracy came within a few chance encounters of falling apart irrevocably.

What can Australia learn?

In retrospect, Hillary Clinton was far too kind when she referred to Trump’s rabid base as "a basket of deplorables". A garbage can, or a sewer, would be a more fitting storage unit.

Nevertheless, while Australia watches America’s precipitous descent from world leader to flawed democracy, it’s important to remember that we have our own history of partisan chest-beating with astonishingly violent consequences.

During the Cronulla riots of 2005, then-radio broadcaster Alan Jones was inciting race hate with gay abandon — his craven hypocrisy, as always, operating on even more levels than Trump Tower itself.

These riots have left a jagged scar on Australian culture yet, much like the former U.S. President, the radio shock jock’s many cruelties and duplicities largely go unexamined, let alone unpunished. He may lack class, intelligence and nuance, but he excels at sloganeering and oily, wink-wink apologies. It’s theatre. He knows his audience too.

Alan’s fellow bigot, Andrew Bolt, can be seen on Sky News – insidiously playing at your local Hungry Jack’s – feigning offence at the horror of "Left-wing bullies" while claiming 'racist' is a meaningless word and that naming a ship after gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk will encourage a Chinese invasion.

When he’s not analysing whiskey, this sixty-two-year-old man-toddler is mocking environmental activist Greta Thunberg for being a 'false prophet' and a 'holy fool'... as though those who respect scientific methodologies can even relate to such hyper-zealous occultist terms.

You can see where I’m going with this ramble. Australia has the same rot in its core. Let’s not get started on Sky News commentator Peta Credlin inciting violence against the Victorian premier.

In the past, I have advocated "snark" as an appropriate response... after all, this whole post-millennial, proto-fascist nightmare started because Donnie’s feelings were hurt in public, so it’s evident that the alt-Right is triggered by a healthy serve of ridicule.

It’s also true that if we laughed louder and more often, at the absurd declarations of, say, handsy ex-mayors sweating outside garden shops, we would sleep a little easier at night. But with the latest revelations surrounding 6 January, we now know there’s more to it than that. They desire our anger. They rely on it. They plan for it.

We can’t give it to them.

The lesson of the failed January coup is not to despair and certainly not to soften our vigilance, but to understand how we differ from those who would bait us. They cannot justify their lies, their hatred, their denial of democratic norms, if we – the progressives, the centrists, the rational of all stripes – refuse to be the monsters they portray in their paranoid memes and fantasies.

We must expose them with laws, with facts, with mockery and with unity. We must protect our most vulnerable. We must stand by our ethics. We must make "green shirt guy" our avatar and giggle until the penny drops.

Most importantly of all, we must remember that those who would subvert the course of free and fair elections, those who would replace rational debate with broken bottles and smeared shit, are not restricted to our American cousins. They’re trolling much closer to home.

Dr Alex Vickery-Howe is an award-winning playwright and social commentator. He teaches creative writing, screen and drama at Flinders University. You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlexVickeryHowe.

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