For Donald Trump’s many supporters and advocates in Australia, yesterday was a defining moment. Either they support democracy and free and fair elections, or they don’t. Many, it seems, do not.
Whether they’re on the lunatic fringe of right-wing politics here, or in the ranks of the Morrison government, or lurking in the commentariat at News Corp, or capering on Sky News, Trump supporters have ignored four years of the trashing of many of the values and institutions that they claim to hold dear.
But Trump’s insistence that he won the election, and his efforts to halt counting in states where he is ahead while supporting the continuation of counting in states where he is behind, has to be a clear line for anyone professing to support democracy.
In 2016, Trump won legitimately. Progressives and Democrats have resented the result ever since, and tried to blame Russian interference (with considerable justification), fake news and a failed media. Many never wanted to accept that Trump tapped into a deep resentment toward business-as-usual politics in the United States.
But the refusal of Republicans to accept election outcomes has always been much more than rhetorical — it motivated a systematic program of voter suppression via the purging of rolls, legal restrictions on voting and campaigns to deter turnout.
Trump supporters and conservatives in Australia have turned a blind eye to that anti-democratic behaviour, and some even dreamed of using it as a template to restrict voting here.
Outright refusal to accept the legitimate results of elections, however, is a step into clear authoritarianism — ironic given how much Trump enthusiasts profess to support freedom. Attempts to use courts to litigate away appropriately cast ballots that don’t favour your candidate demonstrates a contempt for democracy.
Trump’s behaviour was thus a test for how people view democracy. It was a test many failed. Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, said nothing last night as Australia’s most important ally teetered on the brink of a coup.
For Payne, tweeting about Tonga was more important than the trashing of US democracy. Finally, this morning, she was shamed into saying every vote should be counted and she was “confident that they will be”. Scott Morrison, when pressed this morning, refused to even go as far as Payne went.
Joe Hockey went the other way, insisting that electoral fraud had taken place. “There’s plenty of good reason to have litigation,” Hockey said. His evidence — bizarre even for a Trump nutter — was that there was a strong vote for Biden in Washington DC.
Hockey’s lobbying business will benefit from Trump’s continued occupancy of the White House, so Joe is thinking with his chequebook, but it was an effective endorsement of Trump’s attack on democracy.
At The Australian and the AFR, many were too busy celebrating Trump’s performance — and what they thought was his victory — to condemn his attack on democracy.
Right-wing columnist Tom Switzer could only bring himself to refer to Trump’s attempted coup as “boorishness”, as if a fundamental attack on democracy was akin to some bad manners. Paul Kelly celebrated — at his usual bloviating length — Trump’s “miracle win“. Chris Kenny cheered what he thought was a Trump victory. So did Greg Sheridan.
None of them were the slightest bit perturbed by Trump’s attack on democracy and refusal to accept the result.
Peter van Onselen, to his credit, once again resisted the house line.
There’s a fundamental question here for Kelly, Kenny, Sheridan, Switzer, Jennifer Hewett and other reactionaries — and for Morrison and Payne. Do you actually believe in democracy, or only when your own side wins? At what point does the trashing of democracy and efforts to silence the votes of people who don’t support you become repellent?
Or — as seems to be the case — is it OK because in the broader scheme of things it’s more important that the “right” candidate wins?
Trump’s behaviour leaves his supporters with nowhere to hide. Many have decided it’s Trump first, democracy second.