Newsletter 465

Published November 14, 2022
God bless America, the land of the untethered-from-reality

American politics may not be as gripping as it was when Trump was in the White House, with the daily prospect that he might lean on the nuclear button while reachng for a diet coke, but the craziness only seems to have escalated. I think I speak for people everywhere in the world, who simply cannot understand why so many Americans consistently vote for politicians who are utterly unfit to hold public office. The list includes liars, frauds, racists, misogynists, religious extremists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, self-enrichers, and occasionally, (don’t mention Herschel Walker) imbeciles. How might any of these qualities encourage the average voter?

Even the complacent Aussies were smart enough to see through Scummo’s egregious lies and incompetence, delivering an election defeat of historic proportions. In America it’s a different story. Most people who are voting for the Republicans simply refuse to listen to the scathing – albeit truthful – reports about these candidates. They are so rusted on to one party over another they would prefer to believe the most ridiculous lies and show a sovereign disregard for the very real threats to democracy that loom on every side. A dictatorship seems so simple and efficient until you get the knock on the door at 3 am.

There are all those disaffected members of a growing underclass, motivated by evangelical hate speech, racist fears, or the need to find scapegoats for their own misery, who will vote for a party that is guaranteed to erode whatever welfare, health, infrastructure and education benefits they might enjoy. Or a party that will wind back climate change legislation, allow increased contaminants in air and water, and continue the destruction of wildlife and woodlands. Or a party eager to ban abortion in every part of the country, effectively ensuring that women have no control over their own bodies and destinies. Or a party that will do everything possible to prevent the other side voting, and gerrymander election boundaries to guarantee their own success. Or a party that has embraced violence and intimidation as valid political weapons…. Need I go on?

It’s frightening stuff, and with some of the candidates elected in the midterms it’s all on the verge of coming true. Although the Democrats are congratulating themseves on not being completely trounced, they should be very afraid of what is in store when the Republicans are back in control of the Congress. Policy is set to go out the window. What we’ll see is a succession of political stunts, an attempt to impeach Joe Biden on the most spurious charges (you can’t be impeached for being old and silly…). Attempts to raise the debt ceiling will be blocked, the economy will stall, protests and violence will be the order of the day.

The American courts have become so partisan and polticised the historic separation powers is rapidly disappearing. The political system has become so corrupted by money it’s generally accepted that the candidate who raises most funds will win the seat. This is appalling, and we shoud see it as a warning for Australian politicians who are becoming far too attached to donations from interested parties.

The worst part is – what happens in America has a massive impact on the entire world. As the United States grows crazier and more dysfunctional, embracing authoritarianism, the echoes will be felt everywhere, even in Australia. It’s been morbidly fascinating to watch from a distance, but by this stage I wish the horror movie was over. Instead, one suspects it’s just beginning.

Life is permanently manic in Thailand, which is the setting for this week’s art column, on the third Bangkok Art Biennale, but somehow the Thais get through with the most placid demeanour. The theme of the Biennale, Chaos:Calm, is well-chosen to reflect the seamless transitions life in Bangkok makes from one state to the other and back again.

This relatively youthful biennale is one of the more attractive examples of the species. Director, Apinan Poshyananda has hit upon a structure – mixing a core selection of international ‘big names’, with a diverse group of local artists, to create a genuinely stimulating show. If you’re headed in that direction you might like to take in the Singapore Biennale as well. Together, the dual biennales make a strong case for South-East Asia’s post-pandemic bounce back.

Two movies are being reviewed this week – not because they bear any resemblance to one another, but because they were both worthy of comment and I can see a crowded schedule of new releases on the horizon. James Gray’s Armageddon Time is an autobiographical coming-of-age tale set in Queens in the 1980s. The hero, Paul, is immature and trouble-prone, but more decent at heart than the society in which he’s growing up.

The second movie is The Wonder, in which Florence Pugh plays an English nurse sent to a village in late 19th century Ireland to watch over a eleven-year-old girl who allegedly hasn’t eaten for the past four months. Is it a miracle or a fraud, or a bit of both?

Finally, I’m posting another obituary in the blog section, this time for Nicholas Harding, who has succumbed to cancer at the age of only 66. Over the years I watched him rise from obscurity to the most dazzling success, but he remained an entirely likeable person. Although obsessed with his work, Nicholas still seems to have had time to make a lot of friends, who have been quick to sing his praises this week.