Scott Morrison is a terrible human being. Make no mistake, he is genuinely awful. And so when he claimed that he had been exposed to hatred and bigotry for expressing his views, not many people had much sympathy. Specifically, he analogised the sort of hatred and bigotry targeted at the homosexual community with the sort of hatred and bigotry targeted at homophobes. Indeed, he probably thinks the term ‘homophobe’ is somehow discriminatory.
ScoMo is wrong, of course, but it’s not a stupid position. And the response to ScoMo’s claim shows that there’s something really ugly at the heart of our public discussion.
Discrimination towards the homosexual community is nothing like the discrimination that ScoMo suffers. Rebecca Shaw conclusively demonstrates that — albeit clunkily — when she tried to exchange ‘homosexuality’ for ‘religious views’ over on SBS. The problem with the piece is that the Christian Right really does believe that it’s under attack in the way described in Shaw’s article. They think there’s a concerted programme to erase them from public life, arising from a history of being persecuted but never understanding the content of being persecuted.
The real power of ScoMo’s statement is that it resonates entirely with the aforementioned group. They honest to Jove believe that they are being persecuted. When ScoMo says that he is persecuted, he solicits empathy from all the other homophobes and terrible people. He stands in solidarity with them. He speaks out for their imagined pain.
But let’s change the focus of the discussion away from ScoMo’s obviously idiotic comparison between forms of discrimination and focus instead on a troubling reality: why are people in ScoMo’s position subjected to abuse?
Last week, everybody was shocked that an MP would be shot by somebody who opposed her political views. We were shocked because it was shocking: wasn’t the point of democracy that we could have debates and effect (some kind of) political change without having to resort to gunning people down?
But we also saw it as somehow an obvious conclusion to the public debates that we were having. The violent, hateful, toxic rhetoric that forced participants to see each other in dehumanising terms. We didn’t merely disagree with each other about matters of political opinion; we were at war with each other.
I would believe that ScoMo and his staff would be subjected to that kind of rhetoric almost constantly. Hell, even in response to ScoMo stating that he is on the receiving end of hatred, progressives on Twitter took to writing all kinds of crazy crap at him.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece about why Australia should continue to ban R18+ video games. In response, somebody went out of their way to write to me to tell me how much they wanted to kill me, just so I’d know the difference between fantasy violence and real violence. Female friends of various political persuasions tell me how abusive rhetoric is a constant from men who disagree with them, as if somehow the fact that they dared espouse a contrary opinion was an open licence to make death threats.
I’m right wing. I know that I have a real problem in my own political backyard with regard to this kind of rhetoric, made all the worse that the violent rhetoric of conservatives has a greater reach and greater impact on vulnerable people.
But the right response to ‘I am subject to vicious hatred from people who disagree with my political opinions’ is not ‘Suck it up, you wind sack. Think of people who have it worse!’ The answer is: ‘Yes, political debate is a bin fire and we need to do something to clean it up. Let us all work together to improve political debate. You could start by sacking Cory Bernardi.’