A Christian Political Option’s Response to the Failings of our Democratic Governance

Roger Henderson’s reply to my most recent post prompted me to reply in these terms:

I am hoping my post will help readers remain hopeful about their political task. Our responsibility to seek public justice locally, regionally, nationally, globally is not taken away from us just because of a coup, unjust governance or unfair election results.

My posts here are as part of a suggestion, specifically to fellow Christian citizens, to develop our Christian (i.e. biblically-directed) political thinking about what has happened and why – including reflection on Brexit – as a pre-requisite for ongoing efforts to give effect to our commitment to a Christian political option.

Yes, here in Australia we experience the result as a shock and it raises deep fears and forebodings. It brings to cogent expression a deep suspicion that our own political aspirations are somehow at odds with our what our systems of public governance can deliver. My post is launched from here in the South West Pacific. We are actually a non-US polity, although our political leaders seem to have forgotten that. But the best critics of the US political system are not Crocodile Dundees – with our laconic “Do you call that a political critique? This is a political critique!” – but Americans themselves. Americans may also be the worst and most dogmatically closed minded about their own “city on a hill”, “progressive civil rights enhancing” polity but there are those within that polity who have as good an understanding of the incoherence of the US presidential election system.

See http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/electoral-college-system-ever-change/

The remarkable “thing” for me is that this constitutional “matter” raised by Josh Tucker at New York University – and it was basic “stuff” that helps us understand the election process – only seems to come into political discussion after the election rather than during it, or even when the President, the losing candidate and the winning candidate make their initial post-election comments. If they were perhaps assuming that all Americans actually knew and understood the constitutional framework of the election they didn’t seem to be too eager to say so. Mr Trump may default to a ends-justifies-the-means explanation and refusal to retract his pre-election bombast, but the President and the losing candidate did not do much in what they have said to challenge the populist mythology of “winner takes all”.

Thus my question is this: in this situation, so widely felt as a serious turn of events, why is it still so difficult to challenge the “winner take all” presupposition of the Trump election “victory”. And if we, in this part of the world, were to begin to do that then it would not only mean criticism of the Liberal-Coalition, Labor  and Greens and anyone else operating on such presumptive political assumptions – it would mean that we would see good political sense in heeding Jesus’ own teaching for its applicability to our own political viewpoint. We would first reflect upon how we might begin to harvest the forest of political hypocrisy in own political perspective, rather than identifying the “politically correct” capitulations of those with whom we politically disagree.

My suggestion for our own political life is therefore aimed toward a twofold outcome:

1. political parties need to come to see themselves as necessarily involved in genuine political education of the entire electorate seeking to attract voters who share their political beliefs by giving a comprehensive view of how they see legislation and its consequences in all areas of our social life – SO HOW CAN THAT HAPPEN?

2. political parties should be advocating the establishment of more viable political parties so that all (or most and not just 51% of) electors with their political beliefs can be appropriately represented in parliaments and congresses at all levels. This they cannot do as long as they assume they can represent the “common good”, the “national interest” of all electors, even the ones who have political beliefs divergent from their own while also committing themselves to political campaigns that are predicated on a “winner takes all” (half of electors plus one) basis. SO HOW CAN THIS TAKE HOLD POLITICALLY?

3. Perhaps what our system of public governance needs is a genuine political competition to determine which party can promote and begin to develop a truly just system of political representation for all. How can that happen without a party stepping forward with a resolute commitment to a coherent system of proportional representation?

Paul Keating makes some sane recommendations on how Australia’s Government should see our regional role, but one cannot but ask how such a stance can ever be put to the Australian polity without adequate political education and indeed reform of our entire attitude to political responsibility.

The recommendations we put forward in this post are, admittedly, recommendations for a reform of political parties, for their “root and branch” reformation so that ongoing electoral “discourse” will be enhanced instead of narrowed to serve one or other party’s agendas. Our political parties need to be made accountable for the policies they are not putting forward concerning the necessary reform of parliamentary representation. And Christian citizens need to become accountable for the Christian democratic contribution they are not vigorously putting forward.

Those who in this country claim their spiritual roots in the protestant reformation have hardly begun to consider taking steps toward the authentic reformation of genuine political parties let alone of the reformation of elections and public governance. If that path were to be followed – would we not in Biblical terms be constrained to refer to it as the path of political repentance? – could it not help our polities get out of the “winner take all” mindset? Could it enable us to begin talking with our political opponents (instead of talking at them) and move toward a way of “doing politics” that does not destroy parties as associations committed to the public interest.

The lack of genuine accountability of elected representatives to electors needs to be addressed in a wholehearted political sense. And we can’t stand back and allow those we elect to take the blame, either. And we certainly shouldn’t be waiting for the “other guy” to step forward before we do with the courage to promote genuine reformation of political life. Public justice for all is what we should be promoting.


15 November 2016 (amended 17.11.16)


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