Long time passing… where have all the political parties gone?

As I indicate below, there is some wisdom to be heeded in Barack Obama’s advice to young citizens.
And from Paul Kelly’s song of reconciliation “From little things big things grow”.
Coming to expression now – in BIG terms world-wide – are fruits (we might say bitter fruits) from seed sown 40 or 50 years ago. In political debate these days, I regularly hear echoes of “visions” I initially heard in the Student Union debates of the Monash Association of Students in 1970-1971. The nihilistic and utterly self-indulged world-view that may cause us to cringe when we confront it – even on the bus trip we make – did not merely fall out of the sky.
And that suggests that along with the attempted diagnosis of our consternation I give in this post, we should respect, even treasure and welcome the everyday contacts we have to share our hopes and our visions …

The ongoing erosion of a commitment by political parties to do all in their power as parties to ensure just representation of all citizens is, I judge, at the root of the political consternation widely felt with the election of Mr Trump. Our Nurturing Justice view is that the election of this “Lone Ranger” as US President needs evaluation in the context of the world-wide decline, if not complete destruction, of political parties as associations of political conviction.

President Obama’s post-election encouragement to young citizens that they involve themselves in politics with hope is well taken. “Sometimes” he says “you lose an election”. It is not the end. And in political terms, that was a wise word in season. What he didn’t go on to say is that one needs to enter politics with a clear understanding that a party may need to lose in order to hold on to its principles, its commitments. Here is the piece de resistance of political party integrity.

What was remarkable with media coverage of the US Presidential election was the persistent assumption that his “movement” running against the Republican Party was merely a side issue. And all the while he was painted in RED while his opponent was in BLUE as if Republican and Democratic parties are effective and coherent associations of political belief.

As we have suggested previously, political parties no longer know how to lose in order to maintain the clarity and cohesion of their policies; these days they act more as advertising agencies, public poll driven public relations firms seeking to safeguard the political self-interests (careers) that has transformed parliamentary representation into a system where each tries to increase their share of governance at the expense of the other(s). And in the meantime, what happens to the electors whom the elected parliamentarians are expected to “represent” (even those who voted for other unsuccessful candidates)?

And so, the organisations that call themselves political parties simply feed the serious declension in commitment among electors to political parties. They become useful to garner support for lone ranger candidates who then as part of the deal wave convenient party banners at election time.

But to return to Trump’s election: What is more lamentable: the election of this lone ranger or the line of one obsequious national political leader after another offering “congratulations”? What an implicit endorsement of US mayhem! These congratulations seem part of a global farce!

Here in the South West Pacific we have our own politically ignorant and populist demagogues and they are very much in the ascendant in our Parliaments at all levels.

From where we sit in the South West Pacific, we should by now have a heightened sense of alarm at Indonesia’s neo-colonial aspirations as “father of all nesias”. Jakarta’s dogmatic refusal to reckon with the injustices meted out to West Papua’s Melanesians was confirmed last week. The Indonesian defence minister made the outrageous and inflammatory request that the Australian Government use its power to suppress Solomon Islands and Vanuatu criticism of human rights violations in West Papua by the now well discredited Indonesian military. And here we are fixated on the US election in a region where China’s ambitions are roiling our oceans.

And in the midst of this heightened international tension, we now have before our Federal Parliament legislation that qualifies as our own special “down under” equivalent to Trump’s Mexican Wall! The political conundrum we face is similar to what those seeking public justice for migrants face in the US.

Here, we have to figure out whether such a legislated life-time ban on some asylum seekers, those now housed on Manus Island or Nauru, from ever, ever setting forth on Australian soil is a genuine effort by seriously misled politicians or whether it is just another example of using Parliament for kite-flying, a convenient opportunity to dog-whistle the masses into giving support to dodgy policies or to parties tat can no longer enunciate their political principles in a party manifesto when election time comes.

“Both sides” continue to operate as if it is better to do everything on the run but after getting elected. And so their eyes are forever on the opinion polls (despite now being Trumped and Brexited). Anything else is just too difficult (i.e. especially when moral questions are involved) and so some issues get consigned to the “conscience vote” category as a point of principle allowing the party to avoid scrutiny on these issues … and so all effort is directed to enable sovereign individuals to be autonomous. And the political parties present themselves as the willing victims of this further dimension of “neo-liberalism”. Here is a de facto disenfranchisement of electors even when, as voters, they are required to place their filled in ballot into the ballot box come election time?

The justification for this “never ever set foot here” legislation is precisely what Trump uses to support his Mexican wall. The target apparently is the “business model” of people smugglers. But the business model hermeneutic is flawed – these fleeing people have not fled because they have a business model, because they have a “plan” to take “our” jobs and avail themselves of “our” social welfare, let alone get themselves a house in “our” ridiculously over-priced housing market that our Prime Minister (with his many properties) lauds as key to “our” nation’s future prosperity! The complexity of people fleeing for their lives – exploited as they have been by business rogues – is reduced to mere covetous self-interest by such a business-model calculus.

But then we have been told, again and again, that the way ahead is for Government to transform itself even further into merely a procedural system that enhances business and industrial opportunities; Government is viewed as simply another kind of business at a national level that has the task of respecting the “social capital”, the desires of “the people” in order to unleash their potential. And so the little word “justice” will also be wheeled into political discussion; but is it not a cover for a basic acquisitiveness, a bias in favour of commercial interests presenting as nationalistic, if not xenophobic, flag waving idolatry. Thus goes the populist demagoguery.

So in our view, any “seriously destructive” impact of a Trump presidency is already here.

In the last few years “we” (in the West) have experienced a decisive political shift mediated by a rampant, commercialized, twittered and facebooked individualism. We now confront, on all sides, a spiritual-cultural pressure to capitulate to the view that norms are only ever what is “politically correct”. Elections, presumably, as the means for determining what is “normal”, what as been decided as “politically correct”. (The Liberal Coalition has joined Labor and the Greens by absorbing this ideology into its fragmented politicised view of marriage).

We even see “political correctness” triumphant in Trump’s so-called conciliatory victory speech – a few days ago it was “Lock her up”*; now after victory it is replaced by polite applause for his opponent’s commitment to public service blah blah blah – thus Trump undermines himself totally as he calls for “hard work” to build bigger barns (Luke 12:13-21) …

To be grateful to the Lord God for the work public servants and other elected persons have done and continue to do to ensure just public governance is from a completely different menu from this Trump tripe.



* In Australia we recall the political inability of the former Leader of the Opposition to distance himself and his party (coalition) from similar kinds of hounding of Australia’s female Prime Minister!


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