One day last week America produced the perfect illustration of the forces that are tearing that country apart. US science achieved the stunning feat of gently landing a spacecraft on Mars; and simultaneously the Trump White House released an uncompromising rebuttal of a report on the devastating effects of climate change. Said Trump, ‘I don’t believe it.’
The uncivil war between the two contending forces – of science and wilful ignorance – could hardly be more scarily demonstrated. Nor could the stark consequences of victory or defeat for Australia’s future and that of our beautiful blue planet.
For most of us born in the twentieth century, America was always the best and brightest hope for a future of freedom and prosperity. And for decades it fulfilled its promises. Kennedy grasped the scientific challenge to put a man on the moon. Johnston’s Great Society attacked racial injustice. Nixon for all his faults brought China back into the community of nations. Reagan triumphed over Soviet communism and ended the Cold War.
Admittedly, there was a dark side. Johnson oversaw the horrors of Vietnam; Nixon gave us Watergate; and Reagan’s successors – usually named Bush – began the idiotic Middle East adventures that resulted in the catastrophe of Iraq and Afghanistan leading to a refugee exodus that threatened the great EU experiment. But throughout, America held aloft the banner of objective truth, scientific rigor and the democratic principle.
Today, however, those values are under attack from the figure who used to be their standard bearer. Instead of joyous presidential applause for the men and women who built that incredibly complex space craft – deliciously named ‘Insight’ - propelled it 54,600,000 kms through space and landed it smoothly and expertly on the red planet, Donald J Trump chose that moment to sneer and scoff at a warning that unless we act now we could eventually make our own planet uninhabitable.
He knows he’s in for a fight. He’s used his power and influence to nullify the Supreme Court that might otherwise check the presidential misdemeanours and felonies. He has cleared the way to sack the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller who is investigating the validity of his election.
In this war, Mueller is democracy’s arms and ammunition manufacturer, and when his arsenal is complete he will launch his assault in the court of public opinion via the media whom Trump has dubbed ‘the enemy of the people’. No one outside his staff knows when the big guns will fire but we should not be surprised if it happens tomorrow.
When battle is joined between blue and red – the watery globe we cherish versus the baking incandescence of a Martian wilderness - we who have chosen democracy should not be afraid to weigh in. After all, we have joined America on the battlefield in every skirmish since World War II. And it’s our SES volunteers, our native fauna and our towns and cities that are taking the hit as fire and flood ravages our continent.
But do we really believe that the man who lovingly carried a lump of coal into the Australian Parliament will come down on the side of Insight?
Good luck with that one.
Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton. His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.