TThe United States has suffered the highest number of deaths from Covid-19: around 600,000 at the time of writing. The same political and media players who deny the reality of global warming have also denied and politicized the Covid-19 virus.
To his credit, Donald Trump has poured billions into Operation Warp Speed, which helped develop vaccines within a time frame corresponding to the program’s ambitious title. But he also downplayed the severity of Covid-19, then peddled quack therapy and mocked cities that enforced social distancing and mask-wearing.
Trump’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic resulted in an electoral defeat in November 2020. It says a lot about the insanity of American political discourse that then presidential candidate Joe Biden had to repeat over and over again: ” Wearing a mask is not a political statement.
Because of our relative safety and sanity, Australians viewed America with increasing horror. If the Covid-19 disaster was not enough, the ruthless murder of George Floyd by police on May 25, 2020 sparked outrageous protests against racism in the United States and around the world. And then events took another grim turn.
Anticipating defeat, Trump was busy claiming the election would be rigged by Democrats. He predicted widespread electoral fraud, bracing for an “I stole it” case if the outcome was unfavorable to him. He had done the same in 2016.
In this case, Biden won convincingly. Trump and the Republican Party have launched more than 60 court challenges to the outcome. Their failure did not stop the disinformation campaign.
Relentlessly, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media slam have claimed that Biden stole the election. A protest march was scheduled in Washington on January 6, 2021, when Congress was to officially count the electoral college’s votes and confirm Biden’s victory. The protest was expressly aimed at putting pressure on Congress, and in particular then Vice President Mike Pence, to overturn the people’s decision and declare Trump re-elected.
They gathered by the thousands. Trump ended them with a typically inflammatory speech, culminating in a call to march on Capitol Hill. The mob began to besiege and enter the home of American democracy. They swept through the halls, threatening to hang Pence and President Nancy Pelosi. Several security agents were killed, as well as one of the insurgents. Fortunately, none of the lawmakers were found by the crowds, although several appeared to have cheered them on in the run-up to the assault.
It was nothing less than an attempted coup, promoted and abetted by the president himself and his media allies like Murdoch who, through Fox News, probably caused more damage to American democracy than any other individual.
Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaigns have sought to exacerbate divisions in Western democracies and undermine popular confidence in their institutions. By creating and exploiting a market for insane conspiracy theories unrelated to fact, not to mention science, Murdoch did Putin’s job – better than any Russian intelligence agency could ever imagine possible.
This is why I supported former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s call for a royal commission on the Murdoch media, which does not function as a conventional news organization but rather as a political party, pushing its own agendas, leading blood feuds against his detractors and covering up for his friends.
In April, I reinforced these points in an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, as I did for the Australian Senate’s inquiry into media diversity. Of all the approvals, none were more significant than that of James Clapper, the former US director of national intelligence, who said Fox News was “a mouthpiece for plots and lies.”
We have to face the uncomfortable fact that the systematic partisan lying and disinformation in the media, both mainstream and social – what Clapper calls the ‘truth deficit’ – has caused enormous damage to liberal democracies, and nothing more than the United States itself. Thanks to this relentless regime of lies, a quarter of all Americans and 56% of Republicans believe Trump is the real president today.
Biden runs a more traditional and rational administration. The friends and allies Trump had outraged around the world breathe a sigh of relief. The United States has joined the Paris agreement on climate change and Biden seeks to lead the world with deeper and faster emissions cuts.
But the same forces that amplified and enabled Trump are still at work in the United States and here in Australia. In April, the Murdoch press intimidated the NSW government into reconsidering its decision to appoint me as chair of a committee to advise on the transition to a net zero emissions economy. My “crime” was not to support the continued and unconstrained expansion of surface coal mines in the Hunter Valley. In the crazy, right-wing media echo chamber so influential with many members of the liberal and national parties, the main qualification for giving advice on net zero emissions is, apparently, full support for coal mining. .
As if we hadn’t had enough demonstration of Murdoch vendetta tactics, just in time, on May 2, Sky News Australia aired a “documentary” designed to disparage me and Rudd as being, in fact, twins. policies separated at birth. As a job, I was told that it gives hatchet a bad reputation. But the message was clear to anyone inclined to hold Murdoch to account: Get out of the line and you’ll be next.
And while politicians are responsible, the Murdochs are not. Their abuse of power was so shameful that James Murdoch resigned from the company. His brother, Lachlan, however, is in charge and apparently more to the right than his father. Yet he chose to return to Australia with his family, fleeing the hatreds and divisions in America that he and his father did so much to exacerbate.
ABushfires raged in the summer of 2019-2020. I was hoping this stark reality of global warming would end the mad and politicized climate wars in Australia. Well no. The onset of the pandemic has served to distract everyone, although the irony of following virus science while ignoring climate science seems to have been lost on too many members of the Australian government.
Australia is more out of step with its friends and allies than it has ever been. All of our closest friends – the US, UK, EU, Japan and New Zealand – are now committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
On May 18, the International Energy Agency released a new report on how the world can and should achieve net zero. gas and coal projects cease and we move quickly to renewables and storage. They described how this would allow us to have more electricity and cheaper.
To coincide with this report (of which the Australian government had full notice), Scott Morrison chose to announce that his government would invest $ 600 million to build a new gas-fired power plant in the Hunter Valley. The energy industry, regulators, the NSW government and other experts have united in saying the plant is not needed – $ 600 million wasted. To the rest of the world, increasingly intrigued by Australia’s fossil fuel fetishism, it must have sounded like a “fuck you” calculated to the global consensus demanding climate action.
To those worried about the lack of leadership on climate, Morrison says his five predecessors have all lost their jobs, in one way or another, because of climate policy. He is determined not to let the right wing of the Coalition do to him what it did to me. Before June, he would highlight the instability of the National Party and warn how climate change could spark a village hall revolt, led by Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and others, to topple Michael McCormack. It has now happened, and Joyce has argued for the change on the basis that McCormack was not doing more to oppose Morrison’s tendency to move closer to a net zero commitment.
Morrison is therefore determined not to rule on the climate; he wants businesses and other governments to take the lead and to see events run their course so that the transition to zero emissions can happen without any discernible action from the Australian government. In the meantime, he will continue to use support for coal as a totemic issue to rally working class voters in the mining areas.
Scott is long in tactics and very short in strategy. Along with the climate, he underlines my biggest concern about his government: that it will succeed in winning the elections but that it will do little in power. And with Barnaby back as Deputy Prime Minister, he has another excuse for doing nothing.
This is an edited excerpt from the new foreword to A Bigger Picture by Malcolm Turnbull (Hardie Grant Books, available now in paperback)