A ‘yuge’ deal: Why we should care about US politics

Taking a step back from toupees and “Feeling the Bern”, Jack Moran examines why our concern for US politics should go beyond the comedic.

Unless you’ve been living under a Wi-Fi proof rock for the last few months, you probably already know that the 2016 United States Presidential Election is fast approaching with the nation voting to choose their next leader in November.

The Democrats and the Republicans are currently determining who will represent them through a series of state primary elections and caucuses, a process that will continue up until June. This will then lead to both parties holding their national conventions in July where they will officially announce their presidential nominees.

For Democrats, the two candidates still in the running for nomination are former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders. Republicans have whittled down their initial pool of twelve candidates to four: US Senator from Texas Ted Cruz, Governor of Florida John Kasich, US Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, and businessman and television personality Donald Trump.

For us here in Australia, the US presidential election can seem like an elaborate reality television competition. While it is fun to watch the candidates you love to hate trade scathing insults in the latest episodes of The Real Nominees of the Republican Party, we also have to stop laughing for a moment and actually think about what US politics might mean for us.

The key reason we should sit up and take real notice of the presidential election, beyond just the humour of it, is because of how US politics can affect our own. From as far back as President Lyndon B Johnson and Prime Minister Harold Holt, Australian Prime Ministers have often taken policy cues from the US Presidents they have attempted to cultivate political relationships with. Of course some of these policy cues are also enshrined in the various treaties that we share with the US such as the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) and the Australian – United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA).

Our connection with the US military and part in the ANZUS Treaty have not only involved us in several wars but have also meant that some of our own instillations, such as the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap, have been directly involved in US drone attacks – a practice that some see as a violation of both human rights and international law. US foreign policy has a powerful effect on our own diplomatic and military actions worldwide, so much so that in 2014 former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said that we have “effectively ceded to America the ability to decide when Australia goes to war” and that Australia must “end its strategic dependence on the United States”.

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Current US President Barack Obama has made two official trips to Australia during his presidency. During his first trip in 2012, he announced an increase in the US military presence in the Northern Territory in order to promote security in the Pacific.  Image: Flickr, Marc Nozell, no changes made.

The US’ ability to influence our own policy here in Australia means that the outcome of the 2016 Election could have major impacts on Australia in the next few years. If the next president favours conflict over diplomacy, we could see ourselves fighting in another war. If the next president is influenced by corporate interests, we could see even more threats to Australian consumer rights like the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Beyond this, the other critical reason to be aware of US politics is how much the situation and climate there reflects politics worldwide. The forerunner amongst the Republican candidates is Donald Trump, who has risen to the top on a surge of approval for his ultra-conservative platform, although whether or not Trump is really a conservative himself is up for debate. One of the key elements of this platform is his almost militant anti-immigration plan, a plan that includes possibly building a 2000 mile (more than 3200 kilometres) long wall along the US–Mexico border.

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Part of the US-Mexico Border Wall that Donald Trump promises to extend if he were elected President.  Image: Flickr, Wonderlane, no changes made.

Trump’s success based on a unique brand of anti-immigrant conservatism, conservatism that supports a ban on all Muslims travelling to the US, is frighteningly reminiscent of the resurgence of similar ideals in Europe. Far-right groups such as Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP), Denmark’s Folk Party and France’s National Front Party have all seen surges in popularity and power in the past year due to growing grassroots anti-immigrant sentiment thought to be caused by Europe’s migration crisis.

We can see a similar trait in Australian politics with a core component of Tony Abbot’s successful 2013 campaign being his ubiquitous pledge to “stop the boats”. While not as fierce as Trump’s, much of Abbott’s rhetoric was devoted to calling for harsher anti-immigration policy. We can also see the seemingly constant Reclaim Australia rallies that have begun to spread to capital cities across the country as further evidence of a clear anti-immigration, and more specifically anti-Muslim, mindset among some Australians that is appearing elsewhere.

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Stopping the boats and building a wall: Are Tony Abbott and Donald Trump’s policies reflective of the same kind of worldview?  Images: Flickr, Troy (Abbott) and Michael Vadon (Trump)

If we can see this kind of sentiment powering a candidate who could be the next President of the United States, that should tell us a lot about not only the widely-held attitudes and beliefs in the US, but also the attitudes and beliefs worldwide. Paying attention to US politics provides us a clear picture, and in some cases a warning, of what kinds of worldviews are becoming apparent in global society – in this case a strongly intolerant view of migrants and religion that are surely not conducive to stable or equitable societies.

So while it may be all well and good to laugh at the antics of the US political system – I, for one, will definitely be looking forward to a lot of new hilarious debate sketches on Saturday Night Live in the coming months– it is also crucial that we look at the process deeper. We should pay close attention to the upcoming presidential election as both Australians and as members of a larger worldwide community. The results are sure to have more significance than we can currently foresee.

 

 

Feature Image: Flickr, Evan Guest, no changes made.