Anglosheric political madness

In politics, it seems, rationality has become but a small episode in a general theatre of madness. 

In the US a convicted felon is poised to be President again. In Britain, a dying government is sending refugees to Rwanda and wants to draft 19-year-olds into “national service”. In Australia, the Opposition sees nuclear power as the salvation when coal power stations shut down, as if the power stations are pieces of Leggo – throw out a brown bit and immediately replace it with a silver bit.

The next election will be dominated by this investment-chilling silliness instead of getting on with the transition to carbon-neutral.

The more often sensible people say, “This is madness”, the more the “madness” is portrayed as undeniable truth.

When Donald Trump said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and he would not lose support, many people said it was madness. Now it is truth.

What are we dealing with here? The power of human nature, I suppose. 

As the human brain evolved giving us the frontal cortex responsible for judgment, abstract thinking, creativity, and maintaining social appropriateness, the basic reptilian part of the brain was retained.

The reptilian part controls all the automatic functions: breathing, flight or fight, heart rate and so on.

It seems as if, in politics, more people are relying upon the reptilian part of the brain. There is no place for complexity or nuance.

It has coincided with the rise of the internet, but admittedly the causal link is not proven. Nonetheless, it is a good hypothesis that the decrease in physical social interaction with a diversity of people and an increased obsession with the individual has led to more unthinking and unquestioning tribalism.

Perhaps the uncertainty of financial crises; industrial rundowns; and the pandemic has added to the populist-tribal effect.

If the leader says something the followers unquestioningly believe it. Until they wake up, often too late.

In Britain the followers are slowly waking up to the Brexit madness as reality dawns on the massive actual economic and social cost as distinct from the promised nirvana of a “free” deregulated world.

In Australia we are slowly waking up to climate change. The climate has changed. But we haven’t completely woken up to the costs of not joining the world in acting to at least slow it down. But we seem to be waking up to the fact that a decade and a half have been wasted.

In the US, for course, they haven’t woken up to Trump. 

Canada and New Zealand, on the other hand, have somehow managed to avoid this Anglospheric madness of the past decade or so. 

There are lessons here. Canada had a wholesale realignment of political parties with the demise of the oxymoronically named Progressive Conservative Party in 2003. New Zealand had a wholesale change of its electoral system.

In each case, since then minority governments have resulted most of the time.

Meanwhile, in the US, Britain, and Australia, one or other major party would invariably get a controlling majority with much less than half the vote. And having got the majority they would treat it as a mandate to do or not do whatever they chose without consideration of alternative views.

In the US in 2016, Trump won with 46 per cent of the vote on a 59 per cent turnout.

In Britain in 2019, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives got 44 per cent of the 67 per cent voters who turned out which resulted in 56 per cent of the seats. Johnson went on to govern with just 29 per cent of popular support.

In Australia in 2022, Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party won 51 per cent of the seats with just 33 per cent of the vote. At least Australia has compulsory voting which gives our elections more legitimacy – in 2022 there was a 90 per cent turnout.

Before that Scott Morrison’s conservative Coalition in 2019 got 51 per cent of the seats with 36 per cent of the vote. And – Covid aside – governed as he and his parties wanted, often in defiance of public opinion on things like a corruption commission and climate policy.

Now Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is determined to irrationally continue the climate wars in a desperate attempt to placate his Coalition partner and at least pretend he has a solution, even if it is 15 years from even starting to bear fruit.

So, what happened to these three great conservative parties: the Republicans; the Conservatives; and the Liberals? The parties of Eisenhower, Churchill and Menzies.

An investigation into how and why they allowed themselves to be captured would be worthwhile. Perhaps the winner-take-all and control-everything mentality has led to a strongman effect in which consideration of alternatives is seen as a sign of weakness and in which simple solutions give an aura of strength which attracts unthinking popular support.

More important, however, is the fate of the nations they govern in.

In the US, electoral-system change is near impossible. However, if Trump wins, he will most likely implode. Narcissists do not change and do not learn. We will see the same 2017-2021 litany of resignations and sackings of beguiled officials who eventually see how impossible it is to work with such a person. It will lead to a catharsis when the term ends.

In Britain, the Conservatives face an existential wipe-out, as in Canada. Labour and the Liberal-Democrats might wake up to the benefits of preferential and even compulsory voting, but don’t hold your breath unless Labour is in minority.

In Australia, we are close to perpetual minority government in which a government can only stay in power if it takes into consideration a range of views, rather than assuming its way is always right and best.

At five of the past six elections, majorities were tiny or non-existent. Polling suggests majority-party support is steadily declining. Labor is losing to the Greens. The Liberals’ constant concessions to the Nationals is driving support to the teals and the Greens, while the Nationals smugly hold their seats.

A Coalition loss in 2025 could easily see a major readjustment.

In any event, we can hope that polarising, populist, “policy” concoction ends and that government by the frontal cortex does not perish from the earth,

Crispin Hull 

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 4 June 2024.

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