Australians are still surprised when the news from our parochial Commonwealth in a galaxy far, far away is noticed big time across the United States.
Sharks, gators, mice - we get that. But our bushfires and climate policies on page one? And emails from far-flung friends concerned about our COVID lockdowns? Well, it's because some of the most influential news outlets in the world, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, have established bureaus here, and their very able journalists are on the job.
What is published in their pages and online quickly crosses over to the right-wing metaverse, which is having an orgy of shock-horror at what Big Government here is doing to suppress our basic human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Candace Owens, a Black conservative convert to Trump with a huge following, has unleashed her fury at our public health orders ("You're not allowed to sit down at parks ... You're not allowed to drink or eat while standing up ... No dancing anywhere"), invoked the elites that backed the war in Afghanistan, and then said: "So I'm going to ask those same lecturing politicians and media members a question - when do we deploy troops to Australia? When do we invade Australia and free an oppressed people who are suffering under a totalitarian regime? When do we spend trillions of dollars to spread democracy in Australia?"
Maybe she will start by getting rid of compulsory voting and the way scrutineers count ballots here.
But this gets much more serious when the powerful pro-Trump governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who has waged holy war against masks, mandatory vaccines, and lockdowns - and who is positioning himself to assume Trump's mantle to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 - gets religion on the heathen apostasy of the Aussies: "Look what's going on in Australia right now; they're enforcing, after a year and half, lockdowns by the military... that's not a free country at all ... Is Australia freer than communist China right now? I don't know ... in fact, I wonder why we'd still have the same diplomatic relations when they're doing that."
If he becomes president, he might be on to something.
What is especially galling is when Republican governors in conservative states, such as Tate Reeves of Mississippi, which has the highest per capita COVID death rate in the US and some of strictest vaccination regimes for schoolchildren in the country - including for measles, mumps, rubella, polio and other viruses - rejects mandatory vaccines for COVID. He doesn't even blink at the hypocrisy.
MS’ economy is roaring because we’ve refused to let fear & pressure dominate our COVID response. We’ll fight unlawful federal mandates, & protect lives & livelihoods - like we’ve done since day 1. Good to be w/ @IngrahamAngle to discuss how real America is getting back to normal. pic.twitter.com/MUWrvpyX65— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) October 23, 2021
Even in a progressive journal like The Atlantic, journalist Conor Liebersdorf asks: "But if a country indefinitely forbids its own citizens from leaving its borders, strands tens of thousands of its citizens abroad, puts strict rules on intrastate travel, prohibits citizens from leaving home without an excuse from an official government list, mandates masks even when people are outdoors and socially distanced, deploys the military to enforce those rules, bans protest, and arrests and fines dissenters, is that country still a liberal democracy?"
This is one of the times when it would be best if we didn't speak the same language. If we spoke French or Bahasa Indonesia or one of our Aboriginal languages, our public health policies might be perceived as existing in a place that was not an extension of LA where the US National Guard could be sent in to restore order.
For all the faux fury, this is not an enduring issue or threat to the alliance. The eruption among the Trumpists is a culture war talking point without serious consequence. It is the obverse about how we feel here about guns in America. We lament after every mass murder: "America's gun laws are insane!" And they are. This will soon be moot, because COVID will be all but over by January 20, 2025, even if it is Trump who ends up taking the oath of office.
US residents lost to the pandemic: 1 in every 500. Australia: 1 in 17,000. Florida, with 21.6 million people, has suffered over 58,600 deaths. Australia, with 25.8 million, has lost 1448 souls.
The Australian defence rests.
- Bruce Wolpe is a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. He worked on the Democratic staff in the US Congress and served on the staff of former prime minister Julia Gillard.