While a Trump superfan mailing bombs to his opponents might be a visceral example of division, we are split down similar bipartisan lines.
Bipartisan politics is dead.
That’s the statement that kept me awake last night, and continues to sit on my shoulder today and distract me at work.
I didn’t sleep too well, with a long week finishing in a crescendo of political debate on Sunday night – during dinner and before bed with my partner.
We started with the usual, light-hearted banter but soon got talking about America’s university system, the state of global politics, and whether anyone is going to stop the cascade of petty, partisan screeching over there – and back home in Australia.
I know, what a hoot.
My beloved engages pretty seriously with American politics and media, and we were both painfully aware of the pipe bombs scare during the week. It saw senior Democratic Party politicians (former and current) and open critics of Trump allegedly targeted by a maniacal, far right-wing man named Cesar Sayoc.
He sent them all a little bomb in the mail, which was swiftly discovered during routine mail screening.
While no deaths or injuries became of if, this attempted terror attack did what it was designed to do – incite fear and chaos.
Perhaps it was fear and chaos that fuelled Sayoc to go about this deranged and sad reported act. Perhaps, it was, as some opined, that it was the destruction of the housing marked that caused it. Perhaps it is indicative of a problem that sits right below our nose, something we fear to entertain the very idea of.
Australia has almost completely lost confidence in its government. This may be, in part, because we have not seen a Prime Minister complete their term since 2007.
It seems like we are given permission to be divisive, judgemental, and spew vitriol towards what we see as our political opposites. When the President of the free world openly encourages people to “…knock the crap out of” protestors, and maintains that he would “beat the crap out of” anyone that rushes to his stage, you know the world is in strife.
I remember the first time I saw this for myself in Australia – long before Trump was the US President, and Julia Gillard was tentatively our Prime Minister.
A group of uni classmates and I were eating lunch on a sunny balcony, chatting amongst ourselves.
One of them piped up, “I don’t think I could ever date someone who votes Liberal, out of principle.”
I saw a few little nods and laughs, but I looked her square in the eye and held her gaze.
“Are you joking?” I asked.
“No, of course not,” she replied.
I went on the most tactful rant I could muster, basically telling my classmate that if someone votes based on their principles and sincerely thinks the country would be better that way, you can’t hold that against them.
My partner gave the counter to this idea during dinner, when he said that “right wing commentators encourage supporters to be proud, be bold, and never apologise for their views, I like that.”
Apparently, this means the alt-right can say whatever chauvinistic thing they want, and don themselves head-to-toe in “Make America Great” merchandise without any shame.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Bill Shorten to undergo Labor Conversion Therapy
- Please guys, no more piss-take politics
- Is this the death-knell of our two-party system?
I get it. Being “right wing” invites a level or ridicule and criticism that being more progressive simply does not. But I don’t think the above advice presents a solution.
I think we are all finally seeing our biggest problem to date: we have stopped caring about people that aren’t ourselves. The pipe bomb incident has shown how normal it is to openly, and happily, hate.
Here is some data that might make the picture be a bit clearer.
In the 2016 census, only 19% of Aussies aged over 15 volunteered their time, with most of them between 35 and 54 years old. That means a solid eight out of ten people are unwilling to provide any of their time without it involving money, or some predictable, established benefit.
In addition, we are voting in fewer moderate politicians. We are directly ensuring that the “extreme” ends of the left and right are getting louder and more prominent.
According to the Australian Election Study – which has analysed our voting patterns since 1996 – minor parties like One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party, Family First, and the Sex Party are increasing their share of our primary votes.
It means that those who vote number 1 on their ballot for Liberal or Labor (in the House of Representatives) are at their lowest in decades. I’m not saying minor parties are inherently bad, it just means that politicians that sit close to the centre are dwindling and there are fewer, clear moments of bipartisan policies. Our MPs are simply too busy bickering.
To improve as people, and as a nation, Australia needs both sides of the political divide to come together and focus on two things and two things alone.
1: a desire to represent the people, and create policies that benefit all (or most) of us;
2: desist using the party room as a floor for personal agendas and divisive remarks.
What we see in parliament is just the beginning. After all, Australia has almost completely lost confidence in its government. This may be, in part, because we have not seen a Prime Minister complete their term since 2007.
We are imitating our MPs – discarding unity for the sake of militant politics and one-upmanship. We are increasingly “othering” our supposed opposition, and throwing hate towards the very folks that we could potentially fight beside if this country was ever not in peace.
Social media simply adds to this conundrum. It gives us our very own “filter bubble” – Facebook and Google algorithms that encourage us to curate content and block out anything other than what we already understand or agree with.
We need to step outside the bubble for a moment and learn again how to relate to people who see the world, or its politics, differently. We need to approach every human being, regardless of their views, with a basic level of respect and compassion.
Forget the trendy hashtags, the isolating filters we impose on ourselves and the terrifying ease in which we dismiss someone’s moral compass based the numbers they scrawl on the election ballots.
You can and should befriend (or date) people that share a different world view, culture, gender and economic background.
If we follow our current path the next war will not be overseas – but from within our own borders.