“Watching the world’s political class respond to the coronavirus and guide the trajectory of major powers proves the planet is run by imbeciles who really mean it and, worse, the truly malevolent,” he wrote.
Examining Donald Trump’s chances of winning the upcoming US election – “the most consequential election in memory” – Uhlmann wrote that America is now in crisis, with enormous consequences for Australia and the rest of the world.
“The great outsourcing of America was backed by Republicans and Democrats, so both became the enemy,” he wrote.
“When Trump emerged, devotees saw him as a revolutionary vandal. They did not want him to go to Washington and fix it; they wanted him to burn it down …
“Trump has delivered destruction beyond their wildest hopes but the tragedy for them is that they worship a narcissistic property tycoon who is incapable of building anything.”
Across the Pacific, in China, “a malign alternative” is ready, rising to replace the diminished world power.
“The oppression of this autocracy is now radiating outwards, as Beijing steals the land and sea from its neighbours and punishes its critics,” Uhlmann wrote.
The column appeared to tap into a deep despondency among readers who, while facing numerous challenges at home, are keenly aware of the approaching US poll and recent developments in China.
Many readers praised Uhlmann’s “no holds barred” approach.
PeteBrighton: “Brilliant piece Chris, frightening but brilliant. I hope you’re wrong on this and the black vote carries the Democrats through.”
John: “This is one of the most incisive articles I have read in a long time. Brutally incisive and brutally disturbing.”
Impatiens: “‘man with the instincts of a demagogue’. The most horrifying description of Trump ever. And the several paragraphs after this quote would and should strike terror into the heart of every caring world citizen. Well said, Chris Uhlmann!”
Aanasi: “Brilliant article, win or lose, it’s going to be fascinating 4 years and a fascinating decade to ride out as most fascist regimes will start to collapse like dominoes ie. the ’80s/’90s in Germany [and] Russia and the ’10s with North Africa ie. Arab Spring.”
Wasimbari2429: “A good article, Chris. What scares me the most is the thought there could be another civil war in the US. I had never thought about it but suspect it could be on the cards.”
For Uhlmann it was clear why readers responded as they did: “Donald Trump frightens them, as he frightens me.
“His disdain for his own institutions and the world architecture that America built and underwrote has real consequences for Australia and readers get it,” he said. “More of the same will be disastrous.”
As for the developing situation in China, the journalist says Australia is walking in a minefield, “caught between a pathological narcissist despot wannabe and a true despot”.
“If you wanted evidence that China under Xi Jinping is a scary place then add the flight of two Australian journalists this week to the militarisation of the South China Sea, the oppression of the Uighurs, the jailing of dissidents, interference in our democracy, economic coercion, industrial-scale cyber theft, wolf-warrior diplomacy etc.”
While many readers applauded the article, several objected to Uhlmann’s conclusion that “while politicians are maligned worldwide”, Australians have more reason to be optimistic.
“In Australia part of the hope is close to the mark; most politicians do want to improve their community and attempt to do it guided by their own political lights,” he wrote.
Reader TrevorN wrote: “We can snot our noses at the American voters’ complacency and willingness to be led by the vain and irresponsible so-called leadership class, but the fact is that when it comes down to it we are no better than our opposites across the Pacific.”
Steve Carey: “And not a word about how ScottyfromMarketing is an emulator of Trump and never condemns him or even scolds him. Yuk!”
Billnix: “The great outsourcing of Australia was backed by the Labor and LNP parties, so both became the enemy. One Nation Party was the outsider who challenged this bipartisan agreement in 1998. No surprise the big parties ‘put them last, even until today’. The globalists are powerful and have the support of the MSM, but one day Australia will get its version of Trump. On that day we will see what happens. Politically speaking, Australia runs about 10 years behind America, so that day is closing in on us. So far no signs of who our National ‘messiah’ might be, but then nobody thought about Trump in 2015. Could it be Clive Palmer?”
However cate replied: “Could it be Clive Palmer? No … We don’t have a history like the Yanks do. We don’t have a social structure like the Yanks do. Bottom line is – we are not Yanks.”
bratman added: “The comparison between Palmer and Trump is reasonable. Self-obsessed billionaires playing up to jingoistic nationalism and prejudice, with no idea of how to run a country. The difference is that the Australian electorate, for all its faults, is smarter than that in the US and our electoral system is somewhat fairer, so such people will continue to be consigned to the fringes, as has One Nation. And globalism is inevitable; it’s a question of how to manage it for the benefit of the majority.”
There was vigorous debate among readers on whether Trump would win in November.
Some readers lived in hope that a second Trump term could be averted – but even then they shared Uhlmann’s apprehension.
nerkdergler: “Our average behaviour as a mob can be manipulated for a certain amount of time, but it’s an illusion – we are far more complex (both individually and together) than pollies give us credit for. Or than we give each other credit for. If you find yourself thinking ‘the other side are idiots’, then it’s you who have missed something. I just hope that when Trump crashes to Earth, it doesn’t come so unstuck that there is civil strife. As Chris points out, Trump is busy poisoning the well about the election to achieve just that. The irony is that he is sowing seeds of doubt about the validity of the result with one hand and actively trying to pervert it (postal voting, anyone?) with the other. Let’s hope for all our sakes that his fall is a ‘soft fail’.”
Kewley Stanbrick: “Latest polls/college analysis says he won’t win. Chris nailed the real threat: a refusal to accept the result. That would destroy faith in democratic process and trigger violence and unrest.”
Uhlmann said while “it is not written that Trump will win” again, what he may do on the way out was “the real horror”: “Could Trump’s last act of his vandalism of American institutions be to burn down the village as he leaves it?”
Online readers of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age made 64,604 comments on 723 stories in the past week.
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Orietta Guerrera is the Reader Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times and WAToday. She was previously Federal Political Editor for the mastheads.