OPINION

Trump's America shows us where race-baiting language will take us

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Australia's acting Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, has used the first two days of his elevated platform to blitz the airwaves with incendiary commentary about those protesting for racial justice.

In lines almost indistinguishable from the hard-right American politicians finally forced to condemn Donald Trump's white nationalist base, the Nationals leader on Tuesday morning reiterated his view that "any form of protest, whether it is a protest over racial rights or what we have seen on [US] Capitol Hill in recent days is condemned and abhorred".

Without evidence or expertise, Mr McCormack blamed Black Lives Matter protesters for death and destruction akin to an attempted coup, and flipped the infamous "both sides" response from US President Donald Trump as he attempted to keep his fired-up base on side. "All lives matter" was a retort invented to minimise the dangers experienced by a minority. When Mr McCormack repeated it on Tuesday, surely he was not ignorant of its standing as the more TV-friendly version of racially charged rhetoric like "It's OK to be white"?

It was also not the first attack on Black Lives Matter protests by the Deputy Prime Minister, who blamed them in June for Victoria's second-wave COVID-19 outbreak.

Australian politicians might have paused before making such rhetoric a pattern. Australia's Deputy Prime Minister should know his statements exist in the same global context as US politicians' mainstreaming of demagogic race-baiting, which led people to attack the very democratic institutions they claimed they were defending.

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US Republican politicians baited the white nationalists with such frequency during the Obama presidency that Mr Trump in 2016 faced virtually no specific criticism for telling supporters to watch the polls in majority black communities for irregularities: "Watch Philadelphia. Watch St Louis. Watch Chicago. Watch so many other places," Mr Trump, then a candidate, told a campaign rally.

He didn't stop, and neither did his fellow Republicans like former Arkansas governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who tweeted a picture of black gang members with the caption "Nancy Pelosi introduces her campaign committee for the takeback of the House."

Protesters invaded the Capitol building. Picture: Getty Images

Protesters invaded the Capitol building. Picture: Getty Images

Trump's Republican allies went missing when the President or his inner circle pandered to the white nationalists. Their silence gave hate respite it didn't deserve.

African-Americans know what this escalating rhetoric had done to their lives. They live in fear. They teach their children to embrace constant vigilance as a survival tactic.

Last week, a lone black US Capitol Police officer being chased by rioters holding Confederate flags and Nazi symbols led them away from the Senate entrance doors, in what looks like a selfless but easy calculation that a black man - even one in a uniform - would make an enticing target for the Trump supporters.

Another easy calculation to make is that enflamed rhetoric about racial justice protesters will lead to the mainstreaming of more explicit and violent attacks. Trump's troubled US has shown us the path Australia should not want to follow.

Trump's administration repeatedly covered for anti-Semitism among his supporters, who chanted "Jews will not replace us" in the 2017 Charlottesville rally that prompted the "good people on both sides" response from the President.

The Holocaust-themed sweaters worn by rioters at the Capitol invasion don't seem much of a stretch when the earlier incidents were tolerated and minimised at the very top of the country's political leadership.

There are other ways to respond to journalists' questions about free speech and incitement to violence. Nobody wants to believe they're fostering hatred, or share those views, but language that panders to those who do hold hatred in their hearts has the same effect.

This story Trump's America shows us where race-baiting language will take us first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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