An American moment in an Australian campaign

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Perhaps the ugliest part of the Australian election campaign was the debate over transgender rights. Katherine Deves, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s handpicked candidate for Warringah’s seat, sparked controversy this week when she backtracked on a previous apology for calling transition surgery “mutilation.”

Mr Morrison has resisted calls – including from his own Liberal party – to drop Ms Deves since tweets deleted from her account resurfaced, including the original comment about transitional surgery. In another tweet, she compared her campaign to ban trans women from women’s sports to standing up to the Holocaust.

Mr Morrison has dismissed the response to Ms Deves’ comments as a culture of cancellation, and in an election season that has been light on policy and heavy on spectacle, the issue has spawned furious commentary and countless headlines.

For many, the tone and arguments feel very, well, American. It looks like some conservative conversation in the United States has been exported to Australia. Or is this something that reflects Australia’s own political urges or unresolved divisions?

It is not the first time that culture war and identity issues have been part of an Australian election campaign. But this time it feels particularly ugly, both because of the topics discussed and the vitriolic language used.

“I think it’s more personal, intrusive, and I think it’s hurtful to those who get caught up in it,” said John Warhurst, an emeritus professor of politics at the Australian National University.

He said it seemed like an example of overlap with American culture. “We’ve had political debates about political correctness and wakefulness before,” said Professor Warhurst. “Those usually originate in the US and are picked up in Australia by those who use them to their advantage.”

Political analysts say Mr Morrison appears to hope Ms Deves’ views will resonate with religious voters in rural areas, in the districts the coalition must win on May 21, even if some moderate Liberal seats are to be sacrificed.

But will it work? According to Paul Williams, a political analyst and associate professor at Griffith University, the issue of transgender rights does not resonate in Australia as it does in the United States.

“You can see that culture wars are at the heart of American politics,” he said. “I don’t think we’re in Australia at that point.”

“Central Australia appears to be a pretty reasonable electorate,” he added. With economic concerns at the forefront of the people, issues like trans women’s participation in sports are hardly a priority.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t voters who see politics through the prism of pro- and anti-political correctness. But do they form a critical mass? No, said Professor Williams. And would the trans rights issue determine their votes? Probably not, he added.

But he is worried about the future. This campaign was particularly “presidential,” he said. driven by the personalities of leaders, not by the policies of parties. It was also marked by the “atomization” of reporting, with different outlets constructing different realities for different constituencies, and the weaponization of issues such as trans rights, he said.

He fears that “Australia will become not only polarized, but as irrational as post-Obama America, where the old adage that you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts has been thrown completely out the window. †

“This idea of ​​winning at all costs, winning on ethos and pathos, feeling and character — or at least perception of character — but not facts, is a terribly slippery road to go,” said Professor Williams.

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