Some of the worst pop political writing involves a commentator opining on the politics of another country. My eyes could not have rolled harder when the New York Times and the Economist wrote editorials on Australia’s asylum seeker policy. And I have no idea why Australian taxpayers funded an ABC unit to go to the United States to cover the election when the Internet gives us instant access to some of the best American-authored commentary.
So I promise that I won’t contribute to the bin fire of superficial takes on American politics.
I want to focus instead on what Brexit and Trump are saying about Anglophone Conservatism.
In the expression of outrage, disbelief, and genuine shock, the Left has been keen to point fingers at each other to attribute blame. But who could be more guilty than the Republican Party? Here is a party that could not control its excesses and caved to anti-conservative, populist forces. Here is a conservative party leading a backlash against the ‘Establishment’. Aren’t we conservatives the establishment? Isn’t that the point of conservatism?
We see the same kind of rhetoric in the UK and in Australia. Conservatives now hate ‘elites’. They urge voters to reject authority, tradition, and structure in favour of individualist anarchy. Cory Bernardi — a fringe right senator from South Australia — this morning issued a call for people to join his ‘Australian Conservatives‘ movement to oppose the establishment that has ‘ignored’ mainstream popular opinion.
And I’m like: why? What incentivises this kind of behaviour?
The first part is clearly that the populist right is getting rewarded for its poor behaviour. Every time Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, Bill Leak, or any of their class write something hideously offensive and terrible, it spreads like a wildfire across both social and traditional media. The call out culture doesn’t work here because they want to be called out. Every time they spark outrage, they pat themselves on the back and claim that the outrage proves that they’re speaking truth to power, declaring the Emperor has no clothes, and are championing the silent majority.
But also look at the way the media presents the worst part of the right wing political culture for entertainment. George Christensen is an objectively terrible person — an ignorant oaf who does little but think of ways to make life worse for vulnerable people — and yet the media loves to present him as a sideshow attraction.
Christensen is extremely fat and therefore part of the entertainment is a sort of fat-shaming. Here’s the first paragraph of the SBS feature article about him:
In the shadowy recesses of a little-visited Chinese restaurant, George Christensen is consuming a variety of deep-fried creatures. There is chicken, beef, pork, fish, prawns and scallops, all disguised within thick blobs of batter. The big politician munches steadily through the impressive pile he served himself at the restaurant’s bain marie, seemingly without concern over which mystery animal will enter his mouth next.
This is a man with utterly vile views, and yet we are asked to think of what goes into his mouth rather than what vomits out of it. Here’s Mark di Stefano in his book, What a Time to Be Alive:
Over the next few minutes he took each and every thin sweet potato chip, scooped it into a small stainless steel pot of aioli and plopped it in his mouth.
It’s a short passage in the middle of a completely unnecessary sewer stream of his views on gender, Islam, and politics. And why does it exist if not to make this guy into a spectacle?
At some point, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to incentivise the kind of behaviour that we want to see from our politicians and journalists. We keep rewarding them with attention that they don’t deserve, and then seem shocked when populist campaigns trash the Commons.
Now, again, we need a strong conservative movement to tame the populist excesses of fear, panic, and selfishness. And if we want that — regardless of our position on the political spectrum — we need to incentivise it.