Andrew P Street
The new year is still looking awfully like 2020 Part II: The Suckening.
I hate to be the bearer of less than Pollyanna-level optimism, but it’s fair to say that the first few weeks of 2021 have not manifested the worldwide system reboot that so many of us were fervently hoping for as the final fireworks faded over Sydney Harbour.
The global cases, and deaths, from the COVID-19 pandemic are on the rise, and the fitful rollout of the first batches of vaccine is already creating new classes of crony healthcare in countries as diverse as India, Russia and the US where the wealthy get jabbed and frontline medical workers are fashioning masks out of garbage bags.
The ineptly handled conclusion of Brexit has ruined UK-Europe supply chains at a time when frictionless movement of goods and services – especially, say, medical ones – might be especially handy.
But most notably, we had barely slept off our 2020 hangovers when the world almost got to see an ur-example of modern representative democracy collapse as the United States’ four year flirtation with fascism-lite was almost clumsily consummated by an invasion of the Capitol building by a mob who didn’t seem to have any demands or plans beyond Making Democracy White Again. Five people lost their lives, senators had their offices trashed, and Jamiroquai found himself unexpectedly trending on Twitter. In short: 2021 isn’t distinguishing itself from its sibling nearly enough.
And there are a lot of think pieces about the likely future of the US under Joe Biden, whether Trumpism will endure, how his love of spreading dangerous fictions has already affected Australia, and so on – although lately that’s been subsumed into an argument that basically runs; ‘government MPs deliberately lying about medical treatments is an important and valuable contribution to the public discourse and must not be censured, much less actually censored, because freedom of speech’.
Déjà vu all over again
Didn’t we do this with Safe Schools a few years ago? You know, when MPs were lying about an optional online learning module so teachers might recognise the bullying of LGBTIQ+ kids by describing it as classes training children in dildo usage?
Anyway, in these articles there’s a common undercurrent of how governments can regain public trust and… no, seriously: didn’t we do this with Safe Schools a few years ago?
It’s not limited to Australia or the US. There’s been a steady downgrading of faith in governments over the last couple of decades all over the world. And even once Trump is blessedly out of power and facing impatient creditors in a series of courtrooms, the angry – his angry, violent, conspiratorial legacy – will remain.
But diminished trust in our democracy can be overcome – and what’s more, the way to get there is simple, although far from easy. And it is this:
That’s really difficult, true. After all, no one thanks you for being accountable and, say, resigning en masse because you mistakenly pursued welfare recipients for money they didn’t actually owe – as just happened in the Netherlands, and notably didn’t happen in Australia.
Also, governing for one’s allies is a doddle. You give your supporters plum positions the courts or the Administrative Affairs Tribunal, you punish those who defy you by, say, withholding infrastructure funding to their electorate, or favouring certain sports clubs for upgrades, or by mysteriously mislaying $7 million in emergency arts funding and refusing to explain how.
And every obviously partisan decision erodes our general trust in government that little bit more, and society becomes a little less stable as more people feel they’re being excluded from it.
What can your government do for you?
The challenge for Joe Biden, and for any other leader of a democratic nation wracked with fear and anger, is to show what his incoming government can do for its people, especially in a time of crisis. Because the one thing that unites Trump’s followers in the US, and with their fellow travellers around the world, is that they’re aggrieved. They’re missing out on the aspirational life they’re being told they can achieve – that they’ll get a go if they have a go, you might say.
And instead of concluding that they’re being lied to by people in power they instead conclude that they’re being denied the lives they deserve by other means – immigrants, or academics, or the media, or LGBTIQ+ folks, or whatever scapegoat is being offered up.
When people are scared, and when the future is uncertain, it’s incredibly easy to make them believe things which are objectively ridiculous – like, for example, that the Democrats successfully faked millions of ballots to give to Joe Biden the presidency in such a way which also lost nine House seats and failed to gain a Senate majority, for some reason.
If governments continue to use their power to divide, by rewarding their cronies and punishing those they deem unworthy, we can guarantee a future of violently angry people seeking simple answers to difficult and complex questions.
On the other hand, it’s possible to turn it around if politicians are brave enough to do their jobs. And just imagine how refreshing it would be for our leaders to try swapping ‘colourful and inflammatory’ for ‘dull and competent’?
C’mon, 2021: Make Politics Boring Again!
The Echo presents Andrew P Street as one of the new columnists who will replace the irreplaceable Mungo.
Mr Street is a Sydney-based, Adelaide-built journalist, columnist, author, editor and broadcaster.
His bio reads, ‘Disappointingly, he looks much like the picture to the right.
He is also the author of the acclaimed The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott (Allen & Unwin, 2015).
That was followed in 2016 by The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull: the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat’.
For more info, visit www.patreon.com/andrewpstreet.