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The trouble with lockdowns in a democracy | ticker VIEWS

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Let me start by saying this: Lockdowns work. They have saved thousands of people’s lives and avoided a full blown medical catastrophe. But they only work while they’re in place.

And after 18 months of this – we’ve worked out the problem with lockdowns in democracies.

I remember sitting in the Ticker newsroom at 5am on a Monday morning in January last year. It was a small office as we were just a startup media news company back then.

As I looked around for stories to put in our 8am news bulletin, the obvious choice was the situation in China. The pictures coming out of Wuhan were frightening but felt like a world away. Streets being disinfected by ridiculously menacing looking machines. It truly felt like a 90s sci fi film.

Chinese streets being disinfected last January.
Chinese streets being disinfected last January.

But it was the sudden lockdown in China that was the story. We’d never seen anything like it in Australia, and had never even considered the thought that the government had the power to force people to stay home, welding apartment complex doors shut. Forcing people to isolate from each other, closing 11 major cities across China. All by the way, allowing international travel out of the country. We shrugged it off as “glad we don’t live under a totalitarian state:”.

Then alarmingly, the first case showed up In Melbourne. We know what happened after that.

ENDLESS LOCKDOWN

The trouble with lockdowns is once they start, there’s no point lifting them. Even as vaccination rates increase in the UK, and Freedom Day is days away, there’s growing debate about whether it’s safe to do so. In Spain, despite the jabs, restrictions are coming back.

We should have worked out now that as soon as lockdowns are lifted, despite the best efforts of all of us to follow the rules, circumstances outside of our control means we end up back in lockdown.

There are too many variables. The states blame the slow vaccine rollout and the lack of federal government controlled outback quarantine facilities. The federal government blames the states.

And now in Australia, the two largest states are in lockdown, with no end in sight, in the dead of winter.

It was the obvious question late last year as the Victorian Premier urged forced us to stay in lockdown to get the rolling average number of daily cases to below five, and then eventually eradicate the virus. It’s as if we win. But this doesn’t end.

The problem was obvious at the time but conveniently overlooked by politicians. The flights kept arriving, the cargo ships kept arriving. It might be possible to lock the population down, but it’s impossible to remain an affluent nation without allowing people to return home, or for cargo ships to arrive with products to build homes or sell in stores.

It’s also impossible to continue your way of life in lockdown.

THE SOCIALIST REVOLUTION?

Perhaps the most frightening outcome of this situation is the empowerment of certain parts of society over others. And the tragic inequality that lockdowns have on society. For example, if you work for the government, your circumstances aren’t the same as someone who is a sole trader or an employee in private enterprise. When the government snaps, you are unable to go to work. If your job requires you to be at a workplace, then you are out of work. And government assistance isn’t enough to cover your costs.

Too many journalists have fallen for the theatre of the daily press conferences, rather than reflecting the concerns of the people who are suddenly unemployed.

While every vote is treated as equal, every circumstance isn’t.

Over the past year and a half, businesses have lost so many employees that people who were thinking of leaving before now have no reason to ever come back. In the TV industry, it’s now hard to find people to take jobs, because so many people left the industry for good. The legal industry is facing the same crisis, made worse by a lack of immigrants to fill roles.

I have friends who drive trams, and even though public transport patronage is well down on pre-pandemic levels, the drivers haven’t been impacted. Governments have swollen. Debts have ballooned.

And yet, we’re not fussed by that. For the past decade, debt levels in local, state and federal governments have soared, yet because the economies have been growing thanks to Chinese buying power and immigration levels, the threat of debt hasn’t been something on our minds. We might have a big credit card, but we have had the money to pay it. Move on.

But now without immigration, and with China buying less of our non-resource based goods, no one seems able to answer the question – what comes next?

NOT EVERY BUSINESS IS A BIG BUSINESS

The hardest part of watching thing pandemic and transition play out is watching it through the eyes of running a business. I’m no longer just a journalist, I am accountable for 20 staff. It completely changes how you look at the world. It’s not just about my career anymore, it’s about their job security, mortgages and expenses.

When I hear or report on conversations about “business should be doing more” my eye twitches. Because what they actually mean is big faceless corporations. The big companies with big profits. The Harvey Normans, the Coles, the banks.

But unfortunately, the rules imposed on (big) business often impact small and medium business – whether it’s by increasing superannuation, or assuming business doesn’t need anything in the budget because corporate profits have rebounded. But not every business received JobKeeper.

Then there are the things you can’t measure. For example, when the Victorian government slapped a levy on big business to help pay for mental health (which suffered greatly due to the Victorian government’s record breaking lockdown), the banks responded by not hiring back 3-400 staff they were planning to. Marketing budgets were cut. The flow on continues.

When you lockdown the people of Sydney and Melbourne, thousands of businesses suffer in every other state – yet they’re not the recipient of any government funding available to businesses in the locked down states. It’s all too convenient.

TALL, SUBERVIENT POPPIES

Victoria was only just in a full blown lockdown just over a month ago. We all abided by the rules, giving up our freedoms, our exercise, our happiness at the dreariest time of year in the hopes of avoiding another prolonged lockdown.

But it didn’t stop it. Because you can’t stop a virus or human nature. When those three revivalists arrived in Victoria, the Andrews government was off the hook. This lockdown hasn’t led to the usual blue faced anger of past restrictions. Most of us have given up fighting. When the lockdown for midnight Thursday was announced late in the day, it didn’t surprise me. People don’t need warning anymore. We’ve come to expect it.

And that’s the most dangerous thing. Anyone under 40 woke up yesterday in Sydney or Melbourne and could have thought this – I’m under 40 so can’t get the jab, despite so many young people being infected in Sydney. I can’t leave the country even if I wanted to. And there’s no way to send a message until there’s an election. It’s a health response for senior voters.

Former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson wrote this week: “Australians demonstrate that the “tall poppy syndrome” is alive and well by constantly rubbishing politicians — that is, until they are in their company when many become obsequious and subservient.”

Perhaps the downside to these lockdowns is we have given up fighting for fairness and now find ourselves subservient to wide-ranging rules. I wonder what the long term impacts of that will be. It reminds me of what happened to travel and privacy after September 11. Bureaucrats rarely like to hand back power.

Anytime anyone questions the logic, the mob shout back “what about the health advice!?”

Well, my doctor says I shouldn’t drink. But I’ll raise my glass to that.

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Ticker News available on podcast apps, allowing you to hear the latest news, plus special programs.

 

Ticker News is available as a podcast.

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Trump’s campaign tactic – debase and disgrace the legal process

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Donald Trump, former president of the United States, hated Arraignment Day I in Manhattan two months ago, the first time a former president had been criminally charged. 

Trump was being forced against his will into a proceeding he had utter contempt for.  He was being arrested and fingerprinted and photographed under an indictment under the jurisdiction of Manhattan in New York City for allegations of hush money payments and fraudulent bookkeeping practices to conceal criminal activity. Trump heard the charges read out against him and he entered a plea of not guilty.

Trump had a terrible day. Trump wore a scowl throughout. His countenance was fearsome.  What Trump hated most about his arraignment in New York is that he had to sit at a table with his counsel side by side with him — equal to him — and with the judge above him looking down on him. Trump could not control the discussion and could not interrupt to make his points.

Trump was subordinate to the judge. He was subordinate to no one as president.

Arraignment Day II

Arraignment Day II in Miami will be worse from Trump, even more stressful.  The charges are substantially more serious:  the alleged violation of federal criminal statutes involving the alleged mishandling and illegal possession of classified documents, lying to legal authorities, and obstruction of justice.  Potential penalties run to years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

Trump throughout his business life had always crafted his affairs to avoid being a defendant. But in his term in office, he was caught up in it big time. He was a defendant in two impeachment trials – again, unprecedented events – and left office in disgrace.

But Trump does not feel disgraced. He never does.  Trump does not have a reverse gear.  He never retreats.  Never admits. Never concedes. Never yields.  Trump is never embarrassed. Trump never feels ashamed. When something goes wrong, it is always the fault of someone else.

And Trump never repents.

Trump can feel this way because Trump is waging war on behalf of his armies in “the final battle” for the future of the county. In his first, fiery post-indictment speech in Georgia, Trump said, “They’ve launched one witch hunt after another to try and stop our movement, to thwart the will of the American people.  In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you … “Either we have a Deep State, or we have a Democracy…Either the Deep State destroys America, or WE destroy the Deep State.”

It is a powerful formulation, and his true believers love it.

Hours later, In North Carolina, Trump mainlined his distilled message for the Republican crowd:

“We are a failing nation. We are a nation in decline. And now these radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement.

It’s totally corrupt and we cannot let it happen.

This is the final battle.

With you at my side we will demolish the Deep State.

We will expel the warmongers from our government.

We will drive out the globalists.

We will cast out the communists.

We will throw off the sick political class that hates our country.

We will roll out the fake news media.

We will defeat Joe Bide and we will liberate America from those villains once and for all.”

Any lesser mortal would be staggered by these events.  Any other presidential candidate would be driven from the race.  But not Trump.

Debase and disgrace

Trump is using the same playbook today as he successfully triggered after being charged in New York:  debase and disgrace the legal process by terming it completely political.  Trump said the federal indictment is “election interference at the highest level.”

Almost every other Republican running for president has adopted this line, insulating Trump from pressure to leave the field.

Trump’s chief opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said after these indictments: “The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.”

Republican congressperson Nancy Mace: “This is a banana republic. I can’t believe this is happening.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: “Democrats are arresting their political enemies. and they work together in their corrupt ways to get it done.”

Trump is using his affliction to raise millions of dollars from his base.

Trump will likely face Arraignment Day III in Georgia in August.  A state prosecutor is expected to charge Trump with criminal interference in the certification of Georgia’s vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

As of now, there is no sign of cracks in Trump’s support among Republican voters.  There is no surge to another candidate.  What remains to be seen is whether Republican voters, as they see Trump spend his days in courtrooms and his evenings at rallies around the country, reach a conclusion that this is a spectacle too far, too much to bear, and that they want to turn to another conservative populist who stands for them in the political trials— and not the criminal trials – of 2024.

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Donald Trump’s legal woes will serve him well

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It’s not often that a U.S. President faces federal indictment, but if it’s going to happen to anyone, it might as well be Donald Trump first.

The news that Donald Trump is facing a federal investigation over the removal of secret documents from the White House in 2021 came as no surprise.

Keen watches of the Washington soap opera have seen this playbook before, albeit in a different form.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a Washington outsider. But as seriously damaged as he may be (thanks to the events of January 6), his support base has only grown whenever he faces scrutiny.

For his supporters, his legal woes mirror their own relationship with the government – a giant, unfair beast that picks and chooses its fights.

Trump is accused of storing sensitive documents—including those concerning matters of national security—in boxes, some even in a shower.

The documents were seized last August when investigators from the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago.

The Department of Justice has historically avoided charging people who are running for public office. Whether they should do that is a debate for another day. But it’s happening now. And it’s making it all too easy for Trump to claim there is a concerted campaign to get him away from the White House.

Trump exposed the deep state. IF they exist, they probably don’t want him back in power. Whether they exist doesn’t matter really, because plenty of Trump’s supporters agree with him, and believe the secret state is working against them. Call it QAnon, call it a conspiracy – it doesn’t matter in a democracy.

The DoJ now has to go all in. Failing to secure a conviction would be a serious embarrassment for the department.

This is the second time Trump has been indicted in recent months, yet the opinion polls show he only increases his popularity among MAGA and Republican voters. It leaves the Republican party in a difficult position. Support their leading candidate or support the law?

As other Republicans rallied around the embattled candidate, Trump held on to his loyal base of supporters.

For the Democrats, and for Biden, another reality will soon sink in – if Trump becomes President, and they lose office next year, how will a Trump-run DoJ deal with them?

Broadly, the tit-for-tat one-up-manship of U.S. politics is breaking tradition and potentially breaking the country.

 

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