TThe United States has suffered the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 – around 600,000 at the time of this writing. The same political and media actors who deny the reality of global warming also denied and politicized the Covid-19 virus.
To his credit, Donald Trump invested billions in Operation Warp Speed, which helped develop vaccines within a timeline that matched the program’s ambitious title. But he also downplayed the severity of Covid-19, then sold healing therapies and mocked cities demanding social distancing and wearing masks.
Trump’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic resulted in electoral defeat in November 2020. It speaks volumes about the insanity of America’s political discourse that then-presidential candidate Joe Biden had to say, over and over again: “Wearing masks is not a political statement. “
From our relative safety and sanity, Australians looked at America with growing horror. If the Covid-19 disaster wasn’t enough, the cruel police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 ignited a wave of outraged protest against racism in the US and around the world. And then events took another sinister turn.
Anticipating defeat, Trump had been busy claiming that Democrats would rig the election. He predicted widespread electoral fraud, bracing himself for a “I was robbed” case if the outcome went against him. He had done the same in 2016.
It so happened that Biden won convincingly. Trump and the Republican Party launched more than 60 legal challenges to the result. Its failure did not stop the disinformation campaign.
Relentlessly, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media claimed that Biden had stolen the election. A protest march in Washington was scheduled for January 6, 2021, the day Congress was scheduled to formally count electoral college votes and confirm Biden’s victory. The protest was expressly designed to pressure Congress, and especially 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 incendiary speech, culminating in a call to march on Capitol Hill. The mob proceeded to besiege and break into the home of American democracy. They crossed the hallways, threatening to hang Pence and the president, Nancy Pelosi. Several security guards were killed, as was one of the insurgents. Fortunately, the mob did not find any of the lawmakers, although several appeared to have encouraged them in the run-up to the assault.
It was nothing less than an attempted coup, promoted and encouraged by the president himself and his media allies like Murdoch who, through Fox News, has probably done 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 trust in their institutions. By creating and exploiting a market for insane conspiracy theories untethered to fact, let alone science, Murdoch has done Putin’s job better than any Russian intelligence agency could imagine.
That is why I supported former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s call for a real commission on Murdoch’s media, which does not operate as a mainstream news organization, but rather as a political party, pushing its own agendas, executing revenge against its critical and covering up. for your friends.
In April I reinforced these points in an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, as I did with the Australian Senate investigation of media diversity. Of all the endorsements, none was more significant than that of James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence for the United States, who called Fox News “a megaphone for conspiracies and falsehoods.”
We have to face the uncomfortable fact that systematic partisan lying and misinformation from the mainstream and social media – what Clapper calls the “truth deficit” – has done enormous harm to liberal democracies, and no more. than the United States itself. Thanks to this relentless diet of lies, a quarter of all Americans and 56% of Republicans believe that Trump is the real president today.
Biden leads a more traditional and rational administration. The friends and allies Trump had outraged around the world are breathing in relief. The United States has rejoined the Paris accord on climate change and Biden seeks to lead the world with deeper and faster cuts in emissions.
But the same forces that amplified and empowered Trump are still at work in the US and here in Australia. In April, the Murdoch press intimidated the New South Wales government to reverse its decision to appoint me chairman of a committee to advise on the transition to a net zero emissions economy. My “crime” was not supporting the continued and unrestricted expansion of open pit coal mining in the Hunter Valley. In the crazed right-wing media echo chamber so influential among many members of the Liberal and National parties, the primary qualification for advising on net zero emissions is apparently unconditional support for coal mining.
As if we hadn’t had enough of a demonstration of the Murdochs’ revenge tactics, just at the right time on May 2, Sky News Australia aired a “documentary” designed to disparage Rudd and me for being, in effect, estranged political twins. at birth. As a job, I’ve been told that he gave axes a bad name. But the message was clear to anyone who was 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. His abuse of power has been so shameful that James Murdoch has resigned from the company. His brother, Lachlan, however, is fully in charge and is apparently more right-wing than his father. Yet he has chosen to return to Australia with his family, fleeing the hatred and divisions in America that he and his father have done so much to exacerbate.
TOs the wildfires raged in the summer of 2019-20, he hoped this stark reality of global warming would put an end to Australia’s insane and politicized climate wars. Well, it wasn’t like that. The onset of the pandemic served to distract everyone, although the irony of following virus science while ignoring climate science appears to have been lost to many members of the Australian government.
Australia is more out of date than ever with its friends and allies. All of our closest friends – US, UK, EU, Japan and New Zealand – are now committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
On May 18, the International Energy Agency released a new report on how the world can and should reach net zero. For the first time, this agency of experts, always seen as a sympathizer of the oil and gas sectors, demanded that investment in new oil, gas and coal projects cease and that we make a rapid shift towards renewables and storage. They described how this would allow us to have more and cheaper electricity.
To coincide with this report (of which the Australian government had full advance notice), Scott Morrison decided to announce that his government would invest $ 600 million to build a new gas power plant in Hunter Valley. The power industry, regulators, the NSW government and other experts joined in saying the power plant was not needed – $ 600 million wasted. To the rest of the world, increasingly baffled by Australia’s fossil fuel fetish, it must have seemed like a calculated “fuck you” to the global consensus calling for climate action.
For those concerned about a lack of leadership on climate, Morrison says his five predecessors lost their jobs, one way or another, due to climate politics. He is determined not to let the right wing of the Coalition do to him what they did to me. Before June, he would point to instability in the National Party and warn of how a change in the weather could trigger a party room riot, led by Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and others, to oust Michael McCormack. That has happened now, and Joyce defended the change on the grounds that McCormack did nothing more to oppose Morrison’s move toward a net zero commitment.
So Morrison is determined not to lead the climate; he wants businesses and other governments to take the lead and for events to run their course so that the transition to zero emissions occurs without any discernible action on the part of the Australian government. In the meantime, he will continue to use support for coal as a totem issue to rally working-class voters in mining areas.
Scott has a lot of tactics and very little strategy. On the climate, he underscores my greatest concern about your government: that it will succeed in winning the election but do little in office. 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, now available in paperback)
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism