In 1993, desperately struggling to hang on to office, Paul Keating insisted 'when you change the government, you change the country'. He was right. Voters don't lightly dispatch governments. Because we've had such a succession of recent PMs (one dispatched by their own party, each of the last four terms) it's sometimes difficult to remember that the last time Australia had a one-term government was when Labor was booted out during the Great Depression back in 1931.
With the single, brief exception of Jimmy Carter (1980), the last occasion when the US voted out a one-term government was more than 120 years ago, in 1896 (George H.W. Bush's single term came after two terms of Republican government under Ronald Reagan). That's why Donald Trump's dismissal is so important. This not an accident - this is hugely meaningful. Change the US President, and you change the world.
American voters have looked at the paralysis that's gripped the West since, effectively, the fall of the Berlin wall, and finally decided enough was enough. Particularly since 2001, when Bush the younger took office, the two biggest problems facing the world - climate change and establishing an effective, workable new world order - have remained unaddressed. Waylaid by the distraction of Islamic terror, the White House became consumed in a shadow war in the Middle East that no amount of sheer military might could ever win. Solving that (important) issue required a way of resolving the underlying causes of this instability; doing this required an administration that could do two things at one time. Neither Bush, Barack Obama, or Trump had that capacity.
That's why this is a crucial turning point: because the new President (and, perhaps even more crucially, his Vice-President) understands the old ways have failed. There is a need to change course. The ocean liner, headed straight for the reef of climate change and seemingly inevitable conflict with China, is finally turning. As a result our future, too, will change.
This wasn't either obvious or a foregone conclusion. Because of the state-based electoral system the winning margin initially looked narrow. Now, however, what can clearly be seen is the overwhelming support for a new world order: Democrats control the White House, Congress, and have a chance to command the Senate too. Joe Biden didn't just win on the East and West coast, he won in the mid-West (Pennsylvania) and the South (Georgia); the white suburbs and the black centre. This is a hugely dramatic, resounding victory, one made even more significant by the time it took to arrive.
This vote was a thoughtful, considered verdict on the future. It was one that rejected partisan demagoguery and embraced a progressive vision of a shared humanity. The ramifications will soon be felt on our shores. At first this will seem like soft waves, breaking gently on the shore. Don't be lulled into thinking things can go on as before. A huge storm is forming, one that will soon break on the old order, sweeping it away.
Let's start with the coming, world-wide trade war.
Biden believes in climate change; Kamala Harris is a convert. They'll use climate as an excuse to rewrite protectionism and impose environmental barriers on imports to protect and save their rust-belt voters. Coal is dead. A way will be found to incorporate energy use into trade negotiations and use this as a way of blocking exports that go against domestic political interests.
Forget the holy grail of free trade. That nirvana vanished when industrial workers voted for Biden to protect their jobs and he won't turn his back on them. He'd rather, instead, find a way of supporting them by burnishing his environmental credentials.
The second, huge change will be to the push-back on China.
Washington wants to find a way of living with Beijing without engaging in direct conflict. The US won't step back but many of the incoming members of the new administration - particularly those at the level where policies and deals are formulated - aren't enthusiastic supporters of the military-industrial complex.
Biden's first meeting with China's Xi Jinping will be crucial in charting this new way forward. This means an end to the so-called Quad, the pretend putative alliance between Australia, Japan, India and America. The US won't withdraw from the world (as it effectively did under Obama), but it will alter the terms of its engagement in a way that will have dramatic ramifications for us.
The biggest change, however, will occur at a cultural, deeper level.
For the past 20 years political debate has been hijacked. Progress has stopped as autocrats have seized control and conservative, nationalist, small-world authoritarian governments have blocked attempts to move in new directions. Cooperation has ceased as countries have looked at deals and asked, 'what's in it for me'. This will change.
It's not that everyone will suddenly become altruistic - that won't happen. What has been reignited (and just in time, before it was finally extinguished) is the idea that by cooperating together and participating in a community the world can become a better place. That in order for one person to get ahead another has to lose out. The world is not a television show played in accordance to the rules of programs like Survivor or Trump's Apprentice. People, voters, have grown tired of spectacles pitting one person against another.
There's no enthusiasm for yet another rerun of this sort of politics. It doesn't offer a way forward. Buffoons like Boris Johnson are, in the end, as vile as Belarus' despot Alexander Lukashenko, simply because they're so useless in advancing us to a better world.
This is why Biden's victory sounds an ominous warning for Scott Morrison. The policies of the past; the politics he excels at, simply won't cut it any more. Change is in the air.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.
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