(Image: Supplied)

To prepare myself for Election Day USA In Oz (and keep myself entertained during during the many flat spots), I tracked down a DVD of Don’s Party, the iconic Australian play and movie by David Williamson (Millenials, find out more here).

Don’s Party is about the 1969 election night party that has defined the way we Aussies (well, us baby boomers) have cheered or wept as we watched election night counts (and perhaps football finals) in the 50 or so years since.

Why this one, besides nostalgia? Well, vote counting is taking place in daytime down under, and watching it amid calls for social distancing makes for a very different vibe.

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After Donald Trump’s shock win in 2016, a fallback like Don’s Party was always going to be needed in case history repeated itself.

Seven (Sunrise in its various versions), Nine (Today, likewise) and the ABC’s News Breakfast started election coverage about 6am. On Foxtel it was the usual Babel of blatherers — Fox News/Sky News, CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and more.

At 9am the ABC, Nine, Seven and SBS went serious, while Ten brought us a truncated Studio 10 (for about 50,000 desperates around the country).

On SBS, French network news anchored from a very evocative vantage point on Broadway started around 8.40am.

Ten started its coverage at 11am (taking a feed from its owner CBS, with all its resources and insight about America). SBS started at 11am and took the ABC feed from the US — far more interesting than our ABC’s hours of talking heads.

Nine used to have the rights to both CBS and ABC (US) in Australia but they were lost in a silly bout of cost-cutting years ago. It was a smart husbanding of resources by SBS and Ten.

Seven took CNN’s coverage (as it has done in the past) and mixed it with local presenters in a solid hybrid. CNN, like CBS and ABC (US), had keener insight, and enough touch screens and slick graphics to give our ABC’s Antony Green and Casey Briggs conniptions (and a massive attack of graphics envy). I didn’t manage to see Fox News and its barkers, being locked away in the mad-right ghetto known as Sky News and Foxtel.

ABC News Breakfast kept backfilling the flat spots while waiting on counts from the US. Antony Green lurked, and so did Mr COVID-19, Casey Briggs. Both have their maps, graphics and touchscreens and a look of contentment so strong that you could bottle it and call it eau de nerd. Stan Grant and Ellen Fanning, though, looked very serious.

One half of Planet America John Baron was backfilling with Grant in a battle over who knows more about American politics and voting — my money was on the pro, Baron.

And look, there’s the Weekend News Breakfast hosts as well — is anyone at the ABC not on air today? Play School? “There’s a vote in there, and a Trump as well…” And now David Speers has drifted in from the Insiders set.

Of the broadcasts, Nine’s heart wasn’t really in it. It has the first of three State of Origin games tonight which is prime boys’ biffo and meat pie territory in a COVID-safe environment called Adelaide. A blow up in Origin tonight or a massive win to either team will lead the morning bulletins in NSW and Sydney (well, on Nine and Macquarie) on Thursday morning, regardless of the election results from America.

The commercials were due to end their coverage in the late afternoon or early evening. But for the ABC, ahead lies more and more chat, figures, a wrap, an hour of news and current affairs from 7pm, a couple of hours of Planet America and then a special 55 minutes of The World (Bev O’Connor is staying up late). Where are Roy and HG when you really need some insight with teeth?

In the afternoon I tuned to the ABC (US) coverage on SBS, talk about confusing, flipping and flopping on who was ahead and who wasn’t. Too many talking heads and too many “experts” and not enough waiting for the counts to happen.

Fondly I re-cued Don’s Party and realised that for all the angst in 1969, Australia does it better, cleaner and quicker. A result within hours and then time for some argy bargy, a drink, a snog, an argument and a hangover on Sunday morning.

And what will be happening in the Stupid States of America? It’s now a country that is close to forfeiting its long and proud tradition to being a leader of the liberal west and a bastion of science and technology with an intelligent and compassionate people. No longer.

With the count still going on, that’s the message from election day 2020.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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