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Election time: wild card, joker or Trump card?

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Photo: Andrew Cline/

Commentators analysing the current decline in interest have made various predictions about what it may mean for Australia, given that a federal election is scheduled for this year.

In fact, all countries that are part of the group called ANZUS: Australia, New Zealand and the United States, will have ballots during 2016 – a government to be determined here, voting to decide on a possible new flag in New Zealand, and a new President to be chosen in the US.

The American election is attracting the greatest interest to date, reflecting the important role which that country plays in world affairs. Much of the concern centres on the bid for candidacy by the outspoken and rather colourful multi-millionaire and former television host, Donald Trump.

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In short, his campaign for endorsement by the Republican Party has been directed towards offering his fellow citizens a perspective on the future that’s in sharp contrast to what has appeared to come from other candidates – and he has shown little consideration for consequences from his policies.

A brief visit to the US near the end of last year afforded me a closer opportunity to observe both the coverage and analysis of what he is proposing and, while he’s promising a very different way to handle many of the issues affecting society, there is a genuine need for concern.

Trump’s agenda seems to have been crafted by plugging into general conversations from many people – and only the future will reveal whether they represent a majority of electors – and he’s letting them hear exactly what they want to hear, but dismissing more rational and humane ways to address many difficult issues.

Of course, he’s attracting support, because audiences like hearing views that equate with their own, which is the simple way commentators garner strong audiences for their presentations.

But some media outlets are disturbed about the path that Trump is taking.

“The growing ugliness of Donald Trump’s campaign poses a challenge to us all,” was the editorial verdict of the Washington Post in November, accusing him of being a narcissistic bully spreading lies and stoking hatred to reinforce the base instincts of the fears and prejudices of his supporters.

Stirring those feelings has made it difficult for his immediate opponents to take issue with his stand and his damning rhetoric has made one media outlet consider simply placing coverage of his campaign in its entertainment section – yet there is little genuine mirth in what he is proposing.

And he’s not the only potential candidate who is encouraging rather than discouraging gun ownership.

Many issues which Trump seeks to dismiss need the support of strong and powerful nations to at least begin any processes of improvement, including seeking to address the world’s increasing numbers of refugees.

He has turned his back on words beneath the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free …” written as part of a sonnet by Emma Lazarus for The New Colossus which inspired her friend, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, to found the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. They’re part of the Third Order of St Dominic, dedicated to caring for cancer sufferers who have no financial resources.

Those words and what they inspire are far removed from the current political debate in the US where, unlike Australia, voting is not compulsory.

This means that people who are more likely to be enticed by candidates who seem to be saying precisely what they wish to hear – regardless of its successful application to responsibly addressing current problems – may feel more inclined to visit polling booths.

The coming months will be interesting and arguably concerning with politics contributing strongly to international news coverage even if in the one-time words of another former Prime Minister, John Howard, Australia seems “relaxed and comfortable” about our own situation.

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