Do you still like democracy?

I remember sitting in a food court in La Paz, Bolivia with a group of my US expat friends, back in early 2015, talking about Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Only one of us believed he had any real chance – I thought Paula was crazy for thinking he even had a shot.

Even at the start of the year, when Trump was beginning to eliminate the competition in the Republican race, I realised that I was wrong and Paula was right.

This week, as I compose this blog I also contemplate the reality that is so terrifying because it began as such a joke.

Thank you, Democracy.

Photo from businessinsider.com (but originally seen on Twitter)
Photo from businessinsider.com (but originally seen on Twitter)

 

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I remember sitting in a dank classroom in a leafy suburb of Canberra, Australia, discussing politics in my high school history lesson. With the children overboard affair and then the September 11 attacks the world was going crazy.

They were two horrific events that saved Prime Minister John Howard’s butt – and redefined the whole Australian political landscape.

This week, our parliament votes on a bill that would bar all asylum seekers arriving by boat from ever being allowed into the country, even if they are ultimately determined to be genuine refugees. It is just icing on a cake that started going mouldy with mandatory detention but really got rancid when Peter Reith lied about asylum seekers chucking their kids into the sea.

You gotta love Democracy.

Tandberg in The Age, 11 October 2001.
Tandberg in The Age, 11 October 2001.

 

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It’s funny, Democracy. We have a voice and yet we whinge way more than anyone in the not-so-free world.

We do things like complain about having to vote – or we donkey vote, or we don’t vote at all.

We want our politicians to do more to improve our lives and the lives of our families. And we’re happy for them to do the dirty business of keeping out the undeserving Others so that we can enjoy our improved lives.

Sure we can blame politicians for pandering to the lowest common denominator, for wedge politics, for simplistic slogans in place of real policy. But ultimately not enough of us care enough to do anything about it.

Democracy isn’t just a facade for elites to look like they represent our interests – I genuinely believe that what is happening both here and in the US is enough of a reflection of actual public sentiment.

I’ve recently written to my local MP and the Nick Xenophon Team, urging them to oppose the proposed amendment to Australia’s immigration law. It’s not something I’ve done much in the past but it’s something I should do more often.

See, I believe that politicians should lead public opinion rather than be led by it. I believe they should stand for all that we can be as a nation, that they should be individuals of integrity, willing to make tough but noble decisions.

Naive? I’d like to think I’m simply optimistic.

Democracy needs to be more than whingeing – whether we do it literally or with our vote, it has to stop.

Democracy needs to be more than using our freedom of expression to insult leaders (y’know, the ones we elected) and decry the stupidity of those who don’t agree with us politically.

I mean, maybe part of democracy is taking responsibility for the way we vote collectively. So if most of the country doesn’t agree with Educated, Moral, Right-Thinking Me, what can I do to change the debate?

I’d say either own other people’s stupidity or do something about it. Public opinion, culture, social norms – these are things shaped by forces from above and below.

The thing about Democracy is that we’re never too far away from either of those to make a difference.

And that is why, my dear Democracy, I still like you.

2 thoughts on “Do you still like democracy?

  1. I guess the people that cared enough to vote have spoken. It is possible that the majority have voted foolishly, but democracy gives everyone that option. Whatever happens, it will be interesting!

    I wonder if Trump really has any intentions at all to hold Wall Street to account? Since 2008 that’s something that the American people have been calling for, but under the Obama administration this hasn’t happened to their satisfaction. Instead the people have seen government and Wall Street in what could be described as a slightly corrupt embrace. Clinton definitely gave the impression that more of the same would continue, so in a way I’m not surprised at the outcome.

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    1. Yeah I reckon US voters might be even more disillusioned than we are here in Australia! There is a lot of elite power play happening over there at a level that is inconceivable here. I think Trump may surprise people, and I am interested to see what kind of team he will put together in office, to what extent it will be a particular group of Republicans controlling him and to what extent it will be him driving his own agenda.

      Like

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