HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, is the third most populous county in the United States. The 2010 census put the county’s population at just over four million and it is now estimated to be just shy of five. It encompasses an area of 4,700 square kilometres – about six times the size of Lake Taupo – and the glittering city of Houston.
Now, as you may be aware, there is an election taking place in the USA. All across that riven nation, intelligent Americans are protecting themselves against contracting Covid-19 by casting their ballots early. In most states this is a pretty straightforward process. Voters can either entrust their ballot papers to the US Postal Service, or deposit them directly in specially provided drop-boxes. But, in Houston, they have a problem.
The hardline Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has decreed that there shall be just one drop-box per county. That’s right, just one drop-box for a county whose population is not much smaller than New Zealand’s. Crazy? Yeah, but crazy like a fox. The Governor, well aware that the overwhelming majority of early voters are likely to be supporters of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, Joe Biden, has absolutely no interest in making it easy for them – not in Texas, anyway. So, one drop-box per county it is.
Of course, the Democratic Party challenged the Governor’s decision in court – and, initially, they were successful. Unfortunately, what the state courts understood to be a blatant attempt to skew the voting in Texas, the far-right federal judges to whom the Republican Party appealed (all of them appointed, funnily enough, by the self-same Republican Party) were not so persuaded. The Governor’s single drop-box per county decree was upheld.
Outrageous? Of course it is. But, it is also powerfully illustrative of what has happened to the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump. That federal judges could be presented with evidence of the most shameless electoral manipulation, and still deem it to be legal, bodes very ill for the integrity of the 3 November presidential ballot.
Clearly, there no longer exists a bi-partisan commitment to free and fair elections. If the Republican Party can count on the judiciary to rule in its favour: and with the Senate’s confirmation of the far-right Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court it must now be assumed that it can; then this election can be stolen from the Democrats without a single law being broken.
Such a public and unabashed traducing of the values and traditions the United States, and the nationwide protests it would inspire, could only be upheld by a Trump Administration willing to make the dangerous and irrevocable transition from authoritarian words to authoritarian deeds. The global consequences of such a shift would be huge and inescapable – even in New Zealand.
At the risk of attracting cries of “Godwin!”, I cannot forbear from drawing parallels between the perfectly legal installation of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and the remarkably similar evolution of political events in the United States. Were it to happen, a judicially secured and sanctioned “re-election” of President Donald Trump would signal a lurch to the right of Hitlerian proportions. From imperfect democracy to authoritarian autocracy. All over the world the radical Right would take heart – even in New Zealand.
Indeed, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern may find herself singled-out for special attention by President Trump. Into her success at eliminating the Covid-19 virus the thin-skinned President has already read a rebuke of his own catastrophic failure. In her empathy and kindness he has recognised the antithesis of his own narcissism and insouciant cruelty. Nothing would please the re-inflated Trump more than to see this impertinent woman put in her place.
Those who feel obliged to pooh-pooh such a scenario merely demonstrate how inadequately they appreciate the role played by spite in the affairs of men and nations. If Donald Trump should cry, like Henry II: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome prime minister?”, then be assured, he will not lack for far-right “knights” to do his bidding.
An authoritarian America will cast off all pretence of amiability. Its Five Eyes Partners will be expected to follow White House orders without question or demur. We must either be for President Trump, or against him. Neutrality will not be an option.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 October 2020.