Watching in horror: An Aussie perspective on the US election
The White House is 15 248 kilometres away from our home of Brisbane, Australia. But it’s times like this that it feels much, much closer. The lead up to the 2020 US presidential election is one felt around the world. We know the stakes are high, higher than they ever have been. The leader of the free world holds power, whether we like it or not. Aussies love to hang shit on our Prime Ministers, and pretty much anyone in any level of government, whether or not we voted for them. It’s in our DNA and in our culture. But our politicians’ wrongdoings pale in comparison to the monster that is Mr Donald Trump. He’s a joke that has been taken too seriously. He’s a man drunk with power. He’s the most dangerous president the US has seen in the modern world.
Aussies also love to hang shit on the US and its citizens. Locals poke fun at Halloween and their supersized Maccas drinks. We love to visit the US, but we also love to come home and complain about it. New York smells, LA is dirty, the Grand Canyon isn’t even that good (okay, nobody has ever said that, but you get it). Most of us laughed when Trump ran for president. What a hilarious happenstance! This egotistical maniac known for his orange skin and tax evading tendencies is running to become the most powerful politician in the world! What a laugh! It was a laugh until he won. What struck me about the 2016 election was not the man himself, but the fact that so many US citizens had voted for him and related to what he represented.
We are now four years removed from that fateful day, and a few things have happened. Namely the almost-starting of World War 3, a terribly-handled pandemic response, proof of tax evasion, enough lies to last a lifetime, an attempted privatisation of the postal service (did you forget about that?) and that’s only a fraction of what’s gone down in the last ten months. Election news is on everyone’s mind, and local news stations have posted snippets of the debates on their YouTube channels. We have had many conversations with friends and colleagues on the topic. Significantly more than we had on the Queensland state election held just four days prior.
Why is it that the Biden-Trump debate has occupied so much more of our mental space than the election in our home state? The election whose outcome will directly affect us for the next four years. Is it that we feel like Queensland government matters are low stakes compared to the US presidency? Is it because our state elections are less sensational, less exciting, less eventful? Are Australians waiting for the US election outcome like we wait for the next episode of our favourite TV show to drop? It’s likely a combination. A lot of people will push back against the very idea that the US election should be covered or talked about among Aussies. “Why are we talking about politics that don’t even affect us!?” they will say “This isn’t the USA!” These people are just proud to be Australian, or at least proud not to be American.
The thing is, it does affect us. Trump has set a world standard for leaders. One only has to draw comparisons between him and Boris Johnson to see that. But when you do compare the two, suddenly old Boris isn’t looking so bad. At least he’s not Trump, right? Our PM ScoMo jetted off to Hawaii in the midst of a crisis, but suddenly that seems tame. Tony Abbott was a bit of a national embarrassment at times (many times), but at least he didn’t hire a fake wife and allege the pre-polling system sends ballots out to dogs. Trump has set a new low for leaders across the globe, particularly in the first world. If your country has someone at the helm who is better (ie. not as dangerous) as Trump, then you’re doing just fine! In fact, you should be thankful.
No matter the outcome on 3 November (or a few days or weeks following to account for postal votes), the world will not be the same. If Trump wins, we are looking at another four years of the same devastation he has caused. If he loses, he will attempt to fit four years of devastation into the few months before the new president is confirmed. Australians will watch on helplessly as the election plays out. Like watching a car crash in slow motion, there is nothing we can do. We can’t vote, most of us don’t have hordes of US friends we can encourage to vote, but the outcome affects us. It seems almost unjust to watch from the sidelines like an injured player who so desperately wants to be involved.
America has been our benchmark for so many decades. We consume American shows and music, we fantasise about living in New York City and LA. We pine after the college dorm parties depicted in movies and on social media. We crave the ultra sugary and ultra sized snacks that US citizens take for granted. We compare the negatives as well. Most Aussies are patriotic, but not many of us have a flag in our backyard, and an astonishing number of us don’t know the national anthem. We poke fun of the US for their obsessive love for their country, guns, and aforementioned sugary treats. We see them as less sensible, and more flamboyant. The US has always been the centre of our universe, for better or for worse. American culture is seeping into Aussie ways, one Halloween party and custom-flavoured Dorito at a time.
From 15 248 kilometres away, we are hanging off the edge of a cliff, holding on to a branch whose roots might give out. We are watching and we are waiting. We know we can’t trust the polls and we can’t trust the media. We can’t trust our own instincts or even the instincts of knowledgeable commentators. When the polls close on 3 November and the postal votes begin to be counted, as the tally starts and we wait what could be weeks for the outcome, the world will hold its breath. Until we know the outcome, we are grasping tightly onto that branch, too afraid to become too optimistic, but holding on to a sliver of hope.