Dispatch 2: FAQs for the First Week

Dispatch 2: FAQs for the First Week

I brought seven notebooks on this trip. (This trip is my trip to Washington, and it’s not so much of a trip as a sojourn, and it’s not so much of a sojourn as a study abroad.) But apparently seven notebooks is not enough space to take down all of my thoughts, so here are a few.

Here is a guide I jotted down to help anyone who follows me through the first week on campus. No, it’s not oddly specific and it’ll definitely be helpful to people not in my exact specific context.

How do I fold a fitted sheet?

  1. Shake out your sheet until both pairs of underwear that were hiding in it fall out.
  2. Search “how to fold a fitted sheet” on YouTube.
  3. Watch the first video. Attempt folding the corners into each other. Get frustrated.
  4. Watch another video, promising to be the only video you will need. Completely fail at following the instructions that sound deceptively simple. Get more frustrated.
  5. Find a Martha Stewart video about folding a fitted sheet. Attempt to keep up with the instructions that the sheet folding expert swears are easy. Laugh at Martha’s joke about being divorced, so as to distract yourself from the fact that you still don’t understand how to fold a fitted sheet. Ponder on the fact that Martha Stewart became a homewares and lifestyle powerhouse despite a former career as a stockbroker and a conviction for insider trading. Get more frustrated and annoyed at Martha Stewart.
  6. Watch another video. Attempt to fold the corners over each other on your bed in a completely new way, as if this will help.
  7. Roll the sheet over itself.
  8. Develop a passionate anger for your paradoxical desire to see things neat and your inability to actually make them neat.
  9. Throw the sheet onto the floor petulantly.
  10. Follow a few of the rules from the videos about folding corners over one another and then eventually scrunch it up but fold it neatly and put it on the shelf.
  11. Tell your mother that you can’t fold a fitted sheet. Get frustrated when she tells you that you have to fold the corners in on each other. Again.
  12. Have a rest on the other set of sheets you bought from Wal-Mart.


How do I fix the dry rot on my wall?

Stick a copy of the Bill of Rights on top of it and pretend it’s not there. (Any of America’s founding documents will do the job. The Constitution, which is four pages, is best saved for larger stains.)

How do I cope with the obscenely bright light shining through a grid of glass windows on my wall, facing the aisles between apartment buildings?

Buy an eye mask from Bed, Bath & Beyond. (A padded one with moons and stars and things so as to not get a headache from the pressure on your eyelids.)

What do I do when my flatmates move my shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel to the bottom of the four-rung shower caddy?

  1. Buy larger versions of the same items from the Lush on M Street.
  2. Decide unilaterally to be more comfortable in the apartment by asserting your right to more space.
  3. Move whatever is on the second rung of the caddy to the bottom and replace it with your things.

How do I get my flatmates to stop watching loud documentaries about the production of honey in the living room at 1am?

Tweet exactly what you hear in a thread. They won’t stop the behaviour, and will likely repeat it every night, but you’ll have an outlet to vent your ceaseless frustration.

What do I tell myself if I catch myself thinking “maybe I’d be happier if I were at home and not on exchange”?

but ya are blanche

What’s the best laundry detergent to buy?

Definitely liquid based. You can moderate the amount you use based on the size of your load, which you can’t do with pods. Also, consuming liquid detergent is not (yet) a meme.

What do I do if I lose my keys?

Honestly I have no idea and I’m terrified of finding out.

How does eating in the dining hall work?

  1. The person at the entrance to the dining hall swipes your card, gives it back to you, and does not make eye contact.
  2. You walk through the hall and glance at each of the options.
  3. You make a selection and put this on your plate. This may entail seeing something new that looks appetising, which goes on your plate, but does not end up tasting like the thing it was labelled to be. It may also entail you giving up and putting two slices of plain cheese pizza on your plate and, if available, some curly fries.
  4. Fill up a plastic cup with something from the soda fountain. Do not select pink lemonade; it does not taste like the pink lemonade from Bondi Pizza that makes your mother roll her eyes and your father scoff every time you order it. It tastes like swill. Also, do not select Gatorade. Drinking Gatorade from a soda fountain is like drinking Moët from a goon bag.
  5. Deposit your empty dishes on the metal conveyor belt in the small nook on the right hand side of the room.
  6. Return to your room and inhale a family-sized bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos.

How do you cope with the sudden bursts of existential angst, homesickness, utter confusion, and sheer terror?

You don’t. But every time they happen, they’re a bit less bad than the last time they happen. Just maybe, by the time you’re getting ready to leave, you’ll realise there was nothing to be terrified of. (At least, I hope so.)


Dispatch 1: Pilgrimage

Dispatch 1: Pilgrimage

I brought seven notebooks on this trip. (This trip is my trip to Washington, and it’s not so much of a trip as a sojourn, and it’s not so much of a sojourn as a study abroad.) But apparently seven notebooks is not enough space to take down all of my thoughts, so here are a few. I expect there will be a few more soon.

There’s a fantastic essay from Michael Kirby’s A Private Life that stuck with me long after I read it. He tells the story of visiting the town of Fairmount, Indiana; it’s a pilgrimage to the birthplace of James Dean and one of the many little journeys we all take on our search for meaning. For Kirby, James Dean had awoken something in him when he was young, something that never went back to sleep again. I felt almost in this vein visiting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential library back in December. For me, the essence of the American presidency has always been a marvel, has always made America something of a shiny city on a hill, as it were. I make my way to the library the morning after I arrive in the US for this adventure I’ve thrown myself into.

(The nomenclature is important. If I continue to use the word adventure, rather than any of the other adjectives that spring to mind – words like insanity, Quixotic jaunt, aimless quest – it makes me feel grounded and with a sense of purpose. Or, at least, I tell myself it does, and then I believe it, for the most part.)

The trip to the library, in Hyde Park, is a mark in and of itself of commitment. I make my way to the subway in Grand Central Station, near my hotel – the hotel room I wake up in has a king sized bed in it, and consequently is mostly just comprised of the bed, but that’s fine – and travel to Penn Station, where I buy an Amtrak ticket. After getting slightly lost, possibly more than once, and permitting myself a giggle at the fact that I’m taking the 69, I find the queue to board the train. The trip takes an hour and a half, and in that time I manage to congratulate myself multiple times for having navigated to the station and onto the train successfully.

(Congratulating oneself for doing things that literally anyone could do appears to be a vital tool for the upkeep of my mental health, or so I’m finding. I wonder if it’s a consequence of living in another country, where simple everyday things occur as a consequence of an entirely different set of actions and decisions, so public transport and eating a meal become Herculean feats of strength and ingenuity.)

I find a taxi at Poughkeepsie station, and take the trip up to the library. It was the first to be built, and the only one to be used by the sitting president as an office during his tenure. FDR would never see the library after retiring, as he never did retire, instead dying in office in 1945. I ponder as I make my way in that a president who was elected to four terms – and none of them in his best health – was probably not going to leave the White House in any vehicle other than a hearse. I ponder this, and the departure of presidents more generally, as I note the framed photograph of the current president on the wall of the ticket booth in the main entrance.

There’s the usual film at the start of the trip through, which provides context that I was already aware of. I sit alone in the theatre and watch it; it’s a rather cold day, and out of the way, so the complex isn’t exactly bursting with visitors. A few more show up, and we are toured through the house where Roosevelt grew up, and then left to our own devices in the museum and library building.

For me, presidential libraries are not about learning. Presidential libraries are hagiography, modern day temples to men who play at being gods. He signed the Civil Rights Act, He took the United States into war, He brought freedom to the Middle East, with the power of His voice, He lifted up a nation. A museum devoted to a president is not a place of learning, it is a compliment with touch screens and artefacts and sometimes oddly low ceilings. And, by and large, I have loved every single one I’ve visited.

My devotion to the presidential libraries made this trip something approximating a pilgrimage. I had something of a notion of myself as intrepid, seeking out these temples to the divine in such exotic locales Kansas and Arkansas and Michigan and California. But odes to men, real men with dimensions and flaws, do not draw pilgrims. They draw tourists, looking to see something, to read a bit, to get the stamp. That is what I am. The past is a foreign country. So is this one.

So I get the stamp in my passport at the gift shop and borrow the library’s wifi to call an Uber back to the train station. The trip back feels longer, as though I am realising with every minute that brings me closer to New York City that I’m going to have to do this every day for two weeks, finding a reason to get up and head out and do.

(I will be mostly successful. Barring Christmas Day, the day I went downstairs to have breakfast in the morning, watched The West Wing on Netflix, and ate nothing but ice-cream flavoured jellybeans of which I did not have enough to sustain myself, of course.)

I return to my hotel room, promise myself I will not fall asleep, fall asleep at five in the afternoon, wake up four hours later, don’t go back to sleep. I have missed dinner. (I miss dinner the next night as well, and have technically missed dinner for the last two consecutive nights, so by the time I get to Saturday dinner is a myth, and every time I use the word I suspect it comes across slightly reverential.)

But hey, there’s another stamp in my passport.

Survey Says…

I’ve been speechless for a few days.

(This will come to a surprise to my Uber driver last night, who heard me wax at length about the five year survival rate of pancreatic cancer (eight percent); to my mother, who heard all about the significance of a senate race in Alabama; and to the rest of my Dungeons and Dragons party.)

This has been an incredible rollercoaster of a campaign, as our nation did its best not to tear itself apart whilst holding a divisive and public survey about same-sex marriage. I’ve written about the topic several times on this blog since I began it as an opinionated year eight student, all the way up to and including as an opinionated third year university student. The inertia after having pushed for this reform for so many years and having it (almost) fall in my lap has been a bit jarring. I am unused to having a moment thrust in front of me and not knowing exactly what to say about it.

Few moments will surpass for me the one I had on the morning of Wednesday, the 15th of November. Standing in Prince Alfred Park in town, my arm around one of my oldest friends, I nervously turned my eyes to the film screens. For the past two weeks, I had expressed with conviction and confidence that the Yes campaign had pulled off a win, joking that soon – to borrow a turn of phrase – gay weddings would be “widespread and compulsory”.

Five minutes before the announcement of the results, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure.

This was a campaign of many difficult moments. It has often been said that one of the features of our modern world is that it brings politics into our homes through more platforms and formats than ever before, that it makes the politics personal. The politics of this issue were already deeply personal, and there was no way to avoid them. Vote Yes flags flying through Martin Place. Coalition For Marriage ads spouting lies about radical gender theory education on every third commercial break.

I decided at the start of the campaign that I would have a big party to collect survey responses and donations to support at risk LGBTQI youth. But as the weeks went on, I felt battered by the constant, repetitious nature of the campaign’s intrusions into my life. Within the space of any given day, I felt like we were headed for a win, a bruising defeat, and then a win again, and then absolutely no idea. I felt tired out by it, worn down, and tired.

One morning my friend next door called me and asked whether I’d looked up at the sky yet. Slightly puzzled, I walked outside and saw it, in big white letters; VOTE NO. My immediate response was a four letter word. (So was my instagram caption.) I was angry, certainly. But on another level, my heart sank. This was expensive, and it wasn’t likely to change a single vote. All it would do is tell people like me that we aren’t welcome to express our love in the same way as others. It wasn’t long after the skywriting that I cancelled the party, deciding against inviting the debate into my home again.

Obviously, I couldn’t avoid it completely. On many levels, I did not want to. I lived my life with a rainbow watch strap from June onwards, sending a signal to people about what my views were. My family and friends know my thoughts and feelings on this topic. Much as it came up every week on Q&A, it came up every week around the Shabbat dinner table. Being openly gay often means being the ambassador for the community wherever we are; everybody wants your take on the latest dip and dive, the latest nuance and controversy. There were so many; the Pansy Lai debacle, the Tony Abbott headbutting, the infamous mass text. I had to have a take on all of them, and be prepared to defend that take for hours ad nauseum.

I was fortunate to have parents who were of the same mind on the issue. Parents who are kind, understanding, and thoughtful. I know that there are many out there who did not have the luxury of leaving the fight beyond the boundary of their front door.

I did try persuading a couple of people to come around to the Yes side; not No voters per se, but those on the fence. For the most part, I stuck to rational arguments about fairness and equality and secular society. Eventually, I got exasperated. Behind the wheel of my car, dropping a friend home, as the question remained unclear, I finally went to the place I hadn’t wanted to go; “how would you feel if you voted no and I could never get married?”

There were highlights of the campaign as well, few and far between. The elected roof body of my community, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, voted to endorse a Yes vote as a matter of secular policy. I knew at the time that this was unlikely to change a single vote, but it spoke to me so deeply and powerfully about the level of acceptance in my community.

Many told me throughout the campaign that it didn’t matter to them how I loved or who I loved, that it was an issue for me alone. One particularly thoughtful friend gave me his ballot paper and said it was mine to do with as I wished; he didn’t feel he should have a say on my right to marry. (He voted yes, in case you were wondering.) The people must have their say, the refrain rang out throughout the campaign. So many of my straight friends wondered when they ever gained the right to have a say about how I lived my life and who I loved.

Slowly the debate grew dimmer and dimmer, and it appeared we were rushing headlong into a foregone conclusion. The Paterson bill stirred up some more outrage for the sake of it. I mused to my mother that sometimes one sees legislation that would be just perfect if a couple of things were removed or tweaked; this bill was rotten in even the section that would have given us the right to marry.

I vacillated about going to the Prince Alfred Park announcement event. What if things weren’t so great? Would I want to be at home, in a safe quiet place where nothing could go wrong? In the end, I did what I’m often petrified of doing and took the risk. And so we waited, as David Kalisch explained what exactly the ABS does. And waited, and waited.

The moment he said the words “seven million”, I began to cheer; a fair few of the people around me awaited the actual percentage to express joy. (I learned later that the same thing happened to Bill Shorten.) I felt elation, and just so much joy. JPY took the stage, to my utter amazement, and had us all dancing along to Love is in the Air, which for us it was. In my arms, one of my oldest friends could not stop crying. I could not start. Not even the sight of Penny Wong bursting into tears burst the dam. (Okay, maybe a little.)

Until today, pulling into my driveway, and the first strains of Same Love rang out of my car speakers. (Remember when they tried to ban it?) I teared up. Because suddenly I could see the future.

I could see myself filing notice with births, deaths and marriages that I was to become a we. I could see joint tax returns. Co-signing a lease. Introducing him to colleagues as “my husband”. Him allowed into my hospital room. My parents’ grandchildren, waking us up in the middle of the night, getting spoiled endlessly by doting grandparents and a beloved great aunt, making us proud and making us smile. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, nursing homes, funerals.

Before, I could see myself spending the rest of my life with someone I loved. Now, I can see myself getting married.

Wedding Bell Blues

Wedding Bell Blues

To tell this story properly I have to take you back to my first day at uni, in 2015. My first lecture was at 4pm on a Monday. But on that specific day, I decided to make my way there at 11am. Why?

UNSW had decided to raise the rainbow flag in honour of Mardi Gras, which was that weekend. Attending that flag raising, as the guest of honour, was former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. To set the scene; I am a big Michael Kirby fan. Australia’s first openly gay High Court Justice and I do not see eye to eye on every issue, but as my Legal Studies teacher put it back when I was in high school, for the most part, “if Michael Kirby says that the sky is green, there’s probably something wrong with my eyes.”

Which puts a fine point on my abject disappointment today after reading his public statements suggesting that the best course of action is to abstain from the upcoming postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

To be candid, I do not support the idea of putting this question to a plebiscite. Not solely because of the kind of awful rhetoric we’ll see in this campaign – the type we’re starting to see already, courtesy of Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop, among others – but also because the fundamental notion of our parliamentary democracy does not give our politicians a free pass on hard questions whenever they feel like it.

At the same time, the Commonwealth Government, in their wisdom, has decided to put my fate into my hands. And I don’t intend to let it go by resting on my laurels, content in how wonderful my principles are and how smart I am not playing the Government’s game.

Yes, there is a chance that a yes vote will not lead to a yes outcome. But by my estimation, there is a much greater chance that a yes vote will inspire our politicians to do the right thing. (Maybe. Just the once.)

It’s disheartening to see this position being taken up not just by Justice Kirby, but by the leadership of marriage equality campaign groups. I understand and agree with Australian Marriage Equality and the Equality Campaign’s principled opposition to the plebiscite. I understand their decision to go to court and challenge it. But on the 12th of September, more likely than not, ballots will go out in the mail. We have 14 days to ensure that the more than 200,000 young people who are eligible to vote and are not registered get their name on the roll. Tony Abbott is on television telling people to vote no if they want to take a stand against “political correctness.” The Prime Minister, when asked if he would campaign for the Yes vote, would only say that there were many demands on his time.

The No campaign is out ahead. There is no Yes campaign.

So here is what I propose to do:

  • In the next two weeks, pester all of my friends to ensure that they are on the electoral roll. Get them registered, and get them ready.
  • Once ballots are out in the mail, I will organise a big party to collect my friends’ ballots – and the ballots of their families and friends and everyone they know – and raise money for Minus18, so that LGBTQI young people have someone to reach out to, and so that they know that they don’t have to feel alone.
  • I will make an effort to collect a ballot from every single registered voter I know. No ifs or buts about it. Every single one.

There is, I’m sad to say, no leadership on the yes side of this debate. We all need to be leaders in the next three months. There’s no two ways about it.

Get registered. Get voting. Get ballots. Get equality.

Courting Controversy

Courting Controversy

It’s been a slow time for marriage equality since the plebiscite bill went down in the Senate back in November. (It seems as though it’s been years since November, for unrelated and obvious reasons.) There was that flare up back in March when suddenly Peter Dutton thought the situation was a problem but that passed us by about as quickly as it appeared. (Did it ever appear? These days, one reads so many reports from anonymous sources that provide a detailed timeline of events, only for it all to come to nothing. The tree may not have fallen down in the forest. Who can tell?)

So it doesn’t entirely beggar belief that we’ve spent the last six days talking about Margaret Court not wanting to fly Qantas because gay people or whatever. We’ve endured a great deal of the typical cycle; comment that offends one side of the divide comes up, person who made the comment ends up on The Project and then The Bolt Report, op-eds saying that the person who made the comment should be stripped of honours, op-eds saying that the response is overblown, etc etc. (It almost seems as though this was the only thing that could take the conversation off Yasmin Abdel-Magied. That was two weeks of the news cycle we’ll never get back.)

But ultimately, even if we’re being vilified, there is still something gratifying about being back on the national conversation. Even Tim Wilson seems to acknowledge that we’re only talking about it this much because we haven’t talked about it anywhere else – like, say, in a large Canberran enclave with green (or red) seats for members.

Should Margaret Court Arena be renamed? In all honesty, I’m not that sure. The arena was nominally given that name in recognition of Court’s tennis achievements, which are considerable and praiseworthy. The argument then goes that we shouldn’t judge peoples’ professional achievements based on their character.

But fundamentally, the decision to name a stadium or an arena after a sportsperson is about more than just how well they played. John McEnroe only has a tennis academy named after him because he founded it. It’s unlikely that we’d see a Lance Armstrong Velodrome or, as was suggested around my Friday night dinner table, a Ben Cousins Stadium. That’s obviously not to suggest that choosing not to support same-sex marriage is the same as using drugs, but to speak to a larger point.

Sporting heroes are not honoured merely for achievement, but for sportsmanship.

Inevitably, skeletons emerge under scrutiny. This is not the first time Margaret Court has made comments that deserve a second look. In an interview with The Guardian in 1970, she described apartheid as South Africa having race relations “better organised than any other country, particularly America”. And whilst people are entitled to their religious practice, there is something inherently uncomfortable about someone leveraging their sporting profile to argue that their religious beliefs be imposed on the rest of civil society.

The voices of sportspeople on all topics carry weight, but we have seen the impact that they have on this topic in particular. Riding the wave of Ian Thorpe’s coming out in July 2014, marriage equality reached its zenith of popularity; 72% in a Crosby/Textor poll. The numbers have ebbed and dipped since; the issue makes it in the news, then disappears for months.

It’s always worth it to consider what it is we truly, honestly want, at the end of the day. It’s like when I bust my guts trying to do nice things for attractive straight boys; you need sometimes to take a moment to centre, and acknowledge: “even if I do this, he’s not going to sleep with me.” Changing the name of Margaret Court Arena isn’t going to marry a single same-sex couple in this country. We might claim some kind of moral victory, but at the end of the day, we’ll be no closer to full equality than at the start.



About ten years ago, there was an episode of Australian Story about my grandfather. He was a master tailor, who made suits for some of the most respected men in the country, and he was also a Holocaust survivor and an immigrant. They touched on the fact that he learned how to speak English primarily by listening to the radio.

I remember watching that part of the story once and asking my Dad, “how did Nagyi learn English?” Nagyi was my grandmother. And, according to my dad, she learned from the radio too.

My grandparents’ story sometimes reminds me of that old cliché about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; everything my grandfather had do to, Nagyi had to do backwards, in heels, whilst raising four sons and cooking dinner. It feels like telling her story too often involves the word also. She also worked hard at her own business. She also struggled with the trials of being an immigrant. She also picked herself up and moved from country to country after the war.

As a young girl, she lost nearly all of the family she had ever known. By the time the war ended, Nagyi was fifteen. Of her family in the town of Balassagyarmat, in northern Hungary, which stretched to around a hundred people, only three survived. Nagyi, her mother, and her brother. The story my family often tells of the Holocaust is that of my grandfather, nursing a broken arm in secret in a concentration camp, trading sewing jobs for favours, eating the grass to the roots to survive – as we should. But the world that Nagyi grew up in also disappeared when she was too young. She also lost nearly everyone she held dear. She also survived.

The feminist in me is probably too attached to this idea that we overlooked Nagyi’s story, that we valued my grandfather’s story in a way that we never did hers. It’s most certainly not that simple. I think we mythologised Popi in a way that we never did to Nagyi. We treated Popi as though he was a larger than life figure, in no small part because that’s exactly what he was.

Nagyi was the one I told stories to. With Popi I smiled wide, played up my wit, let myself laugh just that little bit too hard. Every time we saw each other, Nagyi would ask me, “Joshy, how is school?” The same inflection in the words, the same cadence. And something about it put me at ease. Something about her put me at ease. Eating Friday night dinner at her house, there was a sense that she had put care into ensuring that there was always something on the table that I would enjoy. (This was probably in no small part because I was a fussy eater, and so a point had to be made that there was something specific that was intended expressly for my consumption.)

Or perhaps I’m desperately seeking a frame to remember her by. We’ve had a few deaths in the family recently, and after each one, I sat down to either write some kind of speech, or eulogy, even a poem or two. Something that captured the essence of not just the loved one I lost, but the relationship that we shared. I’ve tended to linger more on personal anecdotes than big existential questions. This time it seems that finding those anecdotes is harder than usual.

Nagyi began to develop dementia six years ago. In that time, I slowly lost another person that I loved. This time was different. There were smaller losses along the road to today. I lost the feeling of seeing her in the home she and Popi built, the world they created together, when they had to move somewhere with care facilities. I lost the fond way that the two of them bickered, when she became a widow. I lost the feeling of communicating with her, as English slipped from her grasp – and then sentences, the thread of conversation entirely. I lost our Friday night dinners, and then our Sunday night dinners. I lost her. Somewhere along the way, there was a moment like all the other moments I’ve had, where there was enough to remember to set it all down. But in amongst hoping beyond hope that we could settle into a status quo where she was lucid, finishing high school, starting university, and losing so many other relatives, I forgot to notice it.

I lost my grandmother. My grandmother died. For me, the two are not the same. I can tell you the exact moment that my grandmother died, but it was a long time ago that I lost my grandmother, and I could not point to exactly when. It is a curious feeling to know that you are now supposed to miss a person you have already missed for years.

It could be that this is the source of my confusion. It could be that this is why I feel like we forgot to tell Nagyi’s story; because I forgot to make note of when it ended, forgot to give it definition. It could also be that we made Popi’s story so mythic that Nagyi’s was relegated to the sidelines, the alsos. Something tells me that it’s a little of both.

Whatever the case, my Nagyi was elegant, loving, wise, beautiful, stubborn, tenacious, gentle, giving, cried at the drop of a hat, and laughed like there was nothing she would rather be doing. And whilst as a girl she lost almost all of the family she had known, as a young woman she built a family – by blood and by the steadfastness of her friendship – that is just as loud, loving and hardworking as she was. She leaves behind not just four sons, not just nine grandchildren, but also four great-grandchildren.

Our story is sometimes the life that we lead. Our story is sometimes the world that we helped build. My Nagyi’s is both. I am proud to be a line in that story.

Judged on its Merits

Judged on its Merits

In 2013, our High Court provided an opinion on whether the ACT could make same-sex marriage legal. It was a particularly contentious decision at the time, but constitutionally there was only really one clear path. I remember how often our Prime Minister at the time – Tony Abbott – pushed for Justice Bell, who is a lesbian, not to hear the case. It was a clear conflict of interest, he said. She’s biased against our case, he said. We’re safeguarding traditional marriage, he said, that’s what you have to understand.

Except he didn’t. (I know it was believable, but it wasn’t true.)

Right now in the States, controversy is swirling around Donald Trump for saying that a judge can’t hear a case involving him for a detailed, legal reason.

He’s Mexican.

(Excluding the part where he isn’t, but that’s neither here nor there.) On the surface, Donald Trump appears to be mounting an extremely racist campaign against an independent member of the judiciary. I don’t think he’s doing that at all.

That’s not to say that the comments themselves aren’t a reflection of hideous racism – they absolutely are. But that’s all that they are – a reflection. A reflection of the worst parts of a society lurking in the corners. There’s more to this than just trying to say that because someone has a certain heritage, they can’t do a job.

The rulings in the Trump University case are not going Donald Trump’s way. Everyday, new information is being unsealed by Judge Curiel, and he has come to the decision to unseal it not because the Donald wants to build a wall, but because that is the legal decision that he has arrived at.

As the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump has a huge platform from which to plot his moves. He can sit behind a veneer of policy and political gamesmanship in order to disguise true intentions – in this case, he intended to have Judge Curiel recused from the case.

It’s easy if you have such a platform to create controversy that inevitably biases someone against you. Whether or not Judge Curiel cared about the wall before this, some will argue, he likely does now. A number of people will decide that even though Judge Curiel did nothing wrong, he shouldn’t sit on the case anyway – because of Donald Trump’s actions. And that is as dangerous as it is ridiculous. (That’s probably a very good summation of Donald Trump’s whole campaign, actually.)

This glorious chapter in what’s proven to be a carnival funhouse of an election campaign has been an all-out assault on the independence of the judiciary, hidden behind a veneer of racism. Do we want to create a situation where the powerful in the political class can create bias against judges they don’t like, sufficient enough to subvert the whole trial? Make no mistake, this is what Donald Trump is doing. His criticisms have nothing to do with genuine opinions on race and everything to do with the notion that the judge might be construed to be, and I quote:

He is a hater. A hater of Donald Trump.

If this were racism, it would be easy to write off. But do not make the mistake of shoving it into the same pile as the rapists and drug dealers speech, or the blood coming out of her wherever interview, or the time he called someone “my African-American”. This is substantively different: it’s an assault on the independence of the judiciary from a person who wants to be able to decide who the judiciary is.

Not even Tony Abbott on his worst day would suggest that a judge isn’t able to do their job because of a personal characteristic. This is mostly because reasonable people understand that when this election is over, and Donald Trump is not the President, the judiciary will still have to keep doing its job. It cannot do that if powerful people are able to subvert the rule of law by pretending to be racist.