November 23, 2016

Politicians: Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds.

Andrew Hastie is the Federal Member of Parliament for the Western Australian seat of Canning.  He’s a former Troop Commander of the SAS, and studied History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales.

He’s also a practising Christian and, in my humble view, someone who could potentially be Australia’s Prime Minister one day.

Here’s a great article he wrote for The Australian newspaper today.  As opposed to a media view of the political upheaval of the past few months across the Western world, this is a politicians view. And although he is from the conservative side of politics, he nails both sides of politics for their anti-democratic tendencies.

If I could take one thing away from this article is Andrew’s request that politicians  in democracies start to take more seriously the thing that got them to their positions in the first place: democracy.

I asked him for permission to republish it here, which he kindly granted:

Political Class Ignored The People

“A dark day.” “Frightening.” “Devastated.” Watching progressives react to Donald Trump’s win made me think of the apocalyptic wasteland in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, with people “sitting in their rags by the side of the road like ruined aviators”.

Closer to home, the opposition is gnashing its teeth at the election of Trump, with Labor figures foolishly questioning the assumptions of Australia’s critical security partnership with the US.

Though I’m conservative, I can understand their reaction because, for both progressives and conservatives, the “frailty of everything” has been revealed by the rise of Trump.

It was only four years ago that Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address — a paean to the progressive cause — where he championed an agenda for a shift towards renewable energy, same-sex marriage, softer immigration laws and a greater reliance on diplomacy instead of military power. The arc of history appeared to bend towards the Obama vision. But no one foresaw the looming threats that swarmed and broke apart this political world view.

The rise of Islamic State in the Middle East and the contraction of US power in the global order eroded American self-confidence.

The post-GFC economic recovery never eventuated in the forgotten corners of the US, with people in rust-belt states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio unable to realise the optimism of the political and financial class.

The pursuit of the Obama agenda by judicial and executive fiat, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the imposition of transgender bathrooms in public schools, fed the belief that the administration was more interested in identity politics than governing for all Americans. These difficulties were garnished with a growing belief the US political class was


The Australian

November 23, 2016

no longer acting in the best interests of the people. Enter Trump, the Great Disruptor. What lessons can be learned? There are at least three.

First, the election of Trump was overwhelmingly a repudiation of progressive overreach rather than a validation of the conservative world view. For conservatives to claim victory is to wear a tinsel crown and dress in borrowed robes. Trump has not made the case for a classical conservatism in his quest for the White House, nor should we try to retrofit one to his platform in the glow of his victory.

Many people are mistakenly reading into Trump’s election a conservative revolution while ignoring the overwhelming populist strain that defined his campaign. Rather than rejoice as we watch the crashing masonry of the progressive political order, conservatives should feel equally chastened by the need for greater communication with the Australian people.

We need to be averse to overreach. We need to listen and take heed. We need to tell our story more convincingly. It could happen to us, too.

The second lesson is more positive: democracy is alive in the West. People remain strongly resistant to statist activism. More powerful than the political levers of government are grassroots volunteer movements and pre-political institutions. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan know this to be true. They lived Edmund Burke’s dictum that “a nation is not to be governed that is perpetually to be conquered”.

Like overzealous ideologues in foreign lands, politicians who pursue a new moral order with aggressive legislative, judicial or executive authority will invite organised resistance from below.

Hillary Clinton, in her first post-election address, insisted “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”.

The election result repudiated this abstract idealism, showing people are increasingly distrustful of ideologues who seek to redefine their democratic freedoms. Against the Marxist inflection of the progressive voice, Trump spoke the colourful language of the worker and won.

Pre-political institutions are the best place for securing our freedoms and so we should take encouragement that democratic governments cannot control them, and are sent packing when they attempt to do so.

Ironically, Labor understood this better than most when it presciently scuttled the Coalition’s plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Rather than risk a potential


The Australian

November 23, 2016

defeat through a popular vote, it prefers to ram a same-sex marriage bill through the parliament and frustrate the will of the people. You can’t deny its intuition, even if it is anti-democratic.

But both sides of the house should note, if they didn’t know already, that people do not like governments that advance the narrow interests of identity groups and use political correctness and litigation as weapons of coercion. Which is why, in any healthy democracy, we find the principle of limited government. That is what ensures respect for mainstream culture and its pre- political institutions.

Third, we have been given a rather blunt lesson that treating people as homo economicus — the idea that our political problems can be reduced to economic questions and that people act rationally to secure their interests — denies the existence of social and cultural capital inherent to Western polities. Not everything can be put up for sale.

The reflexive protectionism that defined the Brexit and Trump movement reminds politicians that, despite the benefits of globalisation, there are always losers in the transfer of labour and capital offshore. Loss of identity through vocational irrelevance is a real anxiety in communities that prize skilled labour.

People are also worried about their local customs and national identity. They are worried about the preservation of a shared inheritance — what Burke regarded as a line of obligation between the dead, the living and unborn. They see threats to their national identity from without and within. This is why immigration is such a fraught issue for people, especially when competing for employment with foreign workers.

The desire to preserve culture, tradition and history is not a bad thing. In a previous era we called it patriotism — the love of one’s country. Trump captured the spirit of this anxiety superbly: Make America Great Again.

This has been a momentous year for politics across the Western democratic tradition. Perhaps Brexit and Trump are the birth pangs of more tumultuous events to come? Or maybe Western politicians can close the gap between themselves and their constituents without further disruption?

One thing is clear: the forgotten people have long memories and won’t tolerate dismissal, neglect or denigration by the political class.

Andrew Hastie is the federal member for Canning.


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