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Don’t blame 2020, blame pragmatism



On Tuesday 3 November, the United States will hold a Presidential election and the building tension is can already be felt world over. Many commentators have argued that this election is a fundamental test of democracy for the US, and people have started providing serious advice to US citizens on how to both prevent and prepare for a coup d’Etat.

Main image: President Donald Trump exits after speaking at the White House. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, as we live through a global pandemic, we are crashing through a number of climate tipping points — exponentially increasing the threat of climate catastrophe.

Things aren’t looking too good, are they?

It’s tempting at this point to blame 2020 for the almost comically bad situation we are facing right now. But here’s the thing: this isn’t bad luck or even some kind of testament to the power of numerology. This dire situation was predictable and even, sadly, preventable. We walked right into it — or, at least, we allowed ourselves to be led here.

One significant downside to this fact is that 2021 is not going to magically resolve these issues. In fact, they are likely to get worse. On the flip side, it does mean that the power to correct our course is absolutely in our hands, if we are willing to do what it takes.

And this brings me back to the US Presidential election.


'If liberated from endless focus group and poll driven policies, maybe our progressive parties could take a more courageous and principled approach to the challenges that are facing our country and our planet.'


The global focus on the US election is entirely understandable. The US exerts a significant and disproportionate influence on global politics, and the Trump administration’s approach to democracy, rule of law, human rights, climate justice and global health have all been incredibly damaging. If Trump does stay in office, by democratic election or otherwise, 2020 may start looking like a high-water mark in global wellbeing.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude from this that Biden’s election would represent some kind of turning point. Biden is a moderate candidate. He represents the ‘middle ground’ and is known for being willing to compromise with the opposition and for taking a ‘pragmatic approach’ to policy. So, while Biden’s election would certainly buy us all more time, it is unlikely to result in any significant change to the crises that we are currently facing.

This is a familiar story. We have seen a similar approach in relation to Australian politics, with the current federal opposition consistently favouring ‘pragmatic’ politics — particularly in relation to the fossil fuel industry. For both the US Democratic Party and the Australian Labor Party, pragmatism is held out as a necessary path to electability and, therefore, to the capacity to secure progressive change.

There is some powerful logical behind these arguments. We’ve all seen situations where perfect becomes the enemy of done, and where a refusal to compromise has stymied any possibility of achieving change. It is also the case that any political party (that respects democracy) needs to actually win an election in order to gain the power to pass their policies.

But here’s the thing: I’m not convinced this strategy is working.

Consensus building doesn’t really work when only one side of politics is committed to compromise. Instead, what we have seen is decade upon decade of progressive compromise to an extreme and unflinching neoliberal agenda. And 2020 is the result.

We can’t afford to keep taking this approach. Besides the fact that it isn’t working, we actually don’t have the time. The climate crisis represents a clear and present threat to the liveability of our planet — our habitat. If we do not commit to radical change to the policies (and underlying ideology) that are creating this crisis, really soon, very little else is going to matter.

So maybe it is time to take some risks? Think back to 2016. It was common wisdom that Trump would never be elected. He was too extreme, too polarising, he didn’t act ‘presidential’ and was, thus, considered ‘unelectable’.

Of course, I am not arguing that anyone should emulate Trump. But it might be worth considering that voter behaviour is nowhere near as predictable as we’d come to think, and there is no perfect formula for electability. If liberated from endless focus group and poll driven policies, maybe our progressive parties could take a more courageous and principled approach to the challenges that are facing our country and our planet.

What kind of changes might we push for if we stopped measuring them against this arbitrary gauge of pragmatism and electability? Could we launch a rapid transition to a low carbon economy, coupled with generous support for all workers who are currently employed by carbon-intensive industries? With lessons from the US so fresh in our minds, could we get on the front foot to protect our democracy by deepening our commitment to participation and accountability at every stage of the policy cycle?

What kind of radical changes would you support?



Cristy ClarkDr Cristy Clark is a senior lecturer with the Faculty of Business, Government and Law at the University of Canberra. Her work focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and the environment, and particularly on the human right to water.

Main image: President Donald Trump exits after speaking at the White House. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Cristy Clark, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, US elections, climate crisis, democracy, politics, environment



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Existing comments

In his book. 'Korea : Where the American Century began ' , Michael Pembroke reminds us of the massive bombing that aimed to ' bomb them back to the stone age' in Korea. used again in Vietnam. Pembroke's detailed research uncovers that the employment of atom bombs was seriously considered. Americas emphasis on war and not trade has given the initiative to China to become the world power. The danger is that American atom bombs could be used to restore US power and ' bomb them back into the stone age'. Problem is it would take us and the world with them. It means that the ' all way with the USA' foreign policy must be replaced with one that is independent and ends support for illegal and inhumane wars.

Reg Wilding | 01 October 2020  

One certainty with far-Left politics, is that they always accuse their opponents of what they themselves are guilty. Daniel Hunter’s referenced article suggests that failure by Trump to concede in November might be a coup d’Etat, and “a show of numbers in the streets may be decisive”—rioting, like Hammer and Sickle clad Antifa protesters in Oregon perhaps. Yet it was Hillary Clinton and Democrats who paid for the phoney Steele Dossier used by corrupt FBI officials, using a falsified FISA warrant, to commence the Russia/Trump collusion hoax to remove Trump from office. Then came the impeachment hoax, and now Clinton has urged Joe Biden to “not concede under any circumstances.” Despite official denials about voter fraud, between 2012 and 2018, some 28.3 million mail-in-ballots remain unaccounted for according to data from the federal Election Assistance Commission; New York officials recently sent faulty ballots to 100,000 Brooklyn residents; Project Veritas released a sting video showing a cash-for-ballots voter fraud scheme intended to help Democrat Ilhan Omar; overseas military mail-in ballots, all cast for Trump, were found in the trash in Pennsylvania; and even non-conforming Democrat Tulsi Gabbard expressed concern over ballot harvesting and voter fraud. November’s election will be tumultuous.

Ross Howard | 01 October 2020  

I am a strong believer in the Common Good as stated in Catholic Social Teaching. I also believe that the Westminster Parliamentary system is outdated and Australian government needs urgent reform. We must get rid of extreme individualism and economic free market ideology. The people and the state of the environment must be our main focus.

Ron | 01 October 2020  

The rise of Neo liberalism where the philosophy is "Individualism" ( I am all right Jack) at the expense of the "Common Good".We are now at a stage where the concept of a just caring society taking care of those unfortunate souls who, through no fault of their own, have fallen through the cracks .They have not only missed out on the benefits of industrial/technical innovation, but are now almost at the status of the medieval serfs. Recall Joe Hockey's comment about "lifters and leaners ' a few years ago or the horrific term "dole blugers' for those unlikely to win the prize for being a part of the "lucky country". We are at a huge turning point as Cristy points out.The COVID-19 Pandemic is the biggest warning to us humans that we are reaching a series of tipping points which not only threatens our civilization, but indeed the very future of humankind, if we dont heed the terrifying messages. As a climatologist I am observing daily with almost all my colleges, the impact of human induced climate change as seen in the extreme wildfires , not only in Australia and California but even in the Arctic, an ecosystem that is almost never is dry enough or warm enough to burn.The Amazon Rain forests , the Earth's Lungs are burning. The rise of Trump and similar politicians reflect a massive failure in moral and ethical behavior within Western Society . But it did not start in 2020, it has been developing for at least the last thirty odd years, most likely with the collapse of Communism and the end of the so called "Cold War. It was born of greed and lack of a moral compass in western society.

Gavin O'Brien | 03 October 2020  

There probably are still people somewhere walking down the street bearing placards which read 'The End Is Nigh'. They are, of course, Millenarian Christians calling on us all to repent and change our ways before it is too late. This article and the comments on it strike me in similar vein. They are unnecessarily alarmist. When someone like Ron suggests that 'the Westminster Parliamentary system is outdated' I shudder because I think it is not the system itself which is wrong but the way it is manipulated. That can be addressed. I think it is a pity that the USA does not have a similar system to ours. That would correct many of its functional problems. If you look at some of the problems facing the world today you could get horribly distressed. I do not think you should. The end is not nigh.

Edward Fido | 05 October 2020