America Is Losing Its Wall Against The Authoritarians

Written by:
6 November 2020
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A few days ago Alexander Downer wrote on these pages that if he were American he would have voted for Donald Trump – but through gritted teeth.

My view is different from Downer. I would have voted for Trump eagerly and enthusiastically. You could argue that in 2016 there were arguments for both Clinton and Trump. Not this time. In 2020, the case for Trump was overwhelming – although based on the likely election result, it looks like a majority of the American electorate didn’t have quite the same assessment.

Usually when people complain about Trump’s personality it’s because they refuse to acknowledge the success of his policies. In October last year, unemployment in the United States was at its lowest level in 50 years. Trump did more for the job opportunities and economic empowerment of minorities in America than any president since Reagan. At this election, it appears Trump won a greater share of the minority vote than any previous Republican.

Critics complain about Trump’s rhetoric on China but they never explain what they would do differently in the face of an authoritarian and imperialist power.

The suggestion that Trump is some sort of vandal of constitutional propriety is a meme of a media that refuses to countenance that the Democrats might mean what they say and attempt to stack the US Supreme Court.

However, the main reason why I’d have voted for Trump was not because of economics, it was because of cultural values. Trump offered an alternative to the ideology that started on college campuses and is now engulfing the country that defines individuals according to their race, that regards the democratic political process as a tool of oppression, and uses violence to shut down freedom of speech.

American historian Anne Applebaum in a thoughtful article a week ago in The Atlantic titled ‘The Answer to Extremism Isn’t More Extremism’ asked why ‘educated conservatives’, who knew Trump’s faults would still vote for him. As she correctly noted, many conservatives, ‘educated’ or not, are deeply concerned by intellectual trends such as ‘an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty’.

Many conservatives believed that re-electing Trump while not a complete answer to all of this, would have been a start.

According to Applebaum: “Anyone who actually cares about academic freedom, or the future of objective reporting, or the ideas behind the statues built to honor American democrats in the country’s public squares, must hope that Trump loses. If he win a second term, extremism on the left will not be stopped.”

As one of the world’s leading historians of authoritarianism and communism, it’s perplexing that Applebaum would advocate a form of cultural appeasement.

“I hope that educated conservatives think hard about what will happen if Biden’s moderate-left campaign fails: It is extremely unlike that its adherents and spokespeople will shrug their shoulders and decide that, yes, Trump is right after all. They are much more likely to move further to the extremes. Americans will witness the radicalization of the Democratic Party, as well as the radicalization of the powerful and influential intellectual, academic, and cultural left, in a manner that we have never before seen.”

It’s interesting to speculate whether before the election there was anyone in America urging ‘educated progressives’ to vote for Trump to avoid the radicalisation of the Republican Party and the intellectual, academic, and cultural right. Probably not.

Yet for all the potential consequences Applebaum describes of a Trump victory, 68 million Americans nevertheless voted for him; 72 million Americans voted for Biden.

Many commentators before and now after the election have spoken about how deeply divided is America. That’s true.

But many ‘educated conservatives’ would respond that a country or a community or a family is only as divided as it wants to be.

An ‘educated conservative’ who voted for Donald Trump would ask what side of politics it was sowing the seeds of division.

The interest of an Australian in the culture wars of America’s universities, sports fields, and boardrooms is that inevitably what begins in Berkeley, California ends up in Ultimo, Sydney.

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