The politics of the coming generation.

ANU’s 2019 Australian Electoral Survey showed that among young people in Australia today there is “evidence of a growing divide between the voting behaviour of younger and older generations”.

Only 15 per cent of voters aged 19 to 24 voted for the Liberal and National Party Coalition, and less than a third of voters aged 25 to 34 voted for the Coalition parties(see Sarah Cameron and Ian McAllister, The 2019 Australian Election: Results from the Australian Election Study, Canberra: ANU). It is not implausible that the conservative side of Australian politics is about to lose a large part of a new generation of voters.

Many younger, up-and-coming leaders and their followers around the world today have decidedly different political views to the current generation of global leaders. Consider this appalling line-up: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, Nicolas Maduro, Shinzõ Abe, Kim Jong-un, Jair Bolsonaro, Xi Jinping, Rodrigo Duterte … The quality (for want of a better word) that these men (and they are all men) have in common is their delusion that they are momentous leaders, grandly entitled to their high offices. They think they are in power simply because of who they are. Like France’s seventeenth-century Louis XIV (“L’état, c’est moi!”), they all confuse their own egos ­ – their very personas – with the national interests of the countries they lead. Their narcissism is gargantuan.

Although Australia’s current crop of political leaders operate at a lower level in the global scheme of things, across the board and with few exceptions, they are as deluded as the creatures listed above. Few, if any, in the Morrison government could be identified as statesmen or intellectuals. What they do have in common is a grossly inflated sense of entitlement. Consider this small sample: Scotty from Marketing, Michael McCormack, Barnaby Joyce, Michaelia Cash, Susan Ley, Queensland’s Member for Manila, Angus Taylor, Andrew Laming, Stuart Robert. Nearly all are remarkably disconnected from, and contemptuous of the views of the next generation of voters (recall, for example, Craig Kelly on climate change, Matt Canavan on more coal mines).

Things are not so different on the Labor side. While there are some impressive women in their ranks, the males are less impressive. There are exceptions, of course: Ed Husic (who should be in the shadow ministry), Andrew Leigh. There may be others … Penny Wong could eclipse Gareth Evans as Australia’s greatest Foreign Minister if the ALP gets into government before the Senator retires. Sadly, Anthony Albanese epitomises all that is passé about the current leadership generation whose time is over. He’s a nice bloke but not one who will set political fires ablaze in the policy bellies of the up-and-coming generation of voters.

If only Sally McManus could be provided with a safe Labor seat in the House of Representatives!

Two characteristics especially are shared by most of the contemporary leadership generation, in Australia and across the globe.

First, there is no Nelson Mandela in their ranks, no Gandhi, no Konrad Adenauer, no Martin Luther King, not even a John Lewis anymore. The current pack of leaders lacks an inspiring narrative grounded in moral gravitas; they all lack moral authenticity. Hardly any of them demonstrates a genuine interest in, or concern about the most serious issues confronting humanity today. They fail miserably when it comes to articulating a vision of a more peaceful, exciting and sustainable future. Their politics focus on that mythical beast dominating the present political discourse, “the base”. This focus is all about dividing not uniting society – and divided societies are fertile ground for would-be dictators. To borrow a Trumpian trope, the current pack are fake leaders.

The second and most telling characteristic shared by the current leadership generation is how out-of-touch they are with the coming generation. For example, their arrogant dismissal of the young people who quit their classrooms to protest about governments’ inaction on climate change is symptomatic of the yawning gap between the young and the old. There are thousands, perhaps millions, of Greta Thunbergs across the world today. They are passionate and principled and ready to mobilize. In Australia many of these admirable young people will be old enough to vote at the next election. Politicians beware!

It is not only climate change that is motivating and mobilising the younger generation. They are justifiably anguished by the economic conditions threatening their futures and the futures of their children. For decades now they have been locked out of the privileges that current leaders self-righteously regard as their entitlement (theirs and theirs alone): affordable housing, accessible health care, good education and training opportunities, meaningful employment.

But what most markedly differentiates the younger generation from the current crop of fake leaders is their strong commitments to some of the most important challenges now facing the world – for example:

· attaining women’s equality

· entrenching LGBQTI rights

· defending human rights more generally

· ending racism and similar social problems (for example, domestic violence)

· stopping disgustingly profligate expenditures on war (especially nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction)

· addressing environmental disasters and species extinctions

· understanding and valuing the integrity of different cultures

· establishing truly effective international institutions to fight future pandemics, to end global poverty, to deal with terrorism, to solve the tragedy of the refugee crisis, and to stop international crime syndicates and drug cartels in their evil tracks

What is especially remarkable about the current generation of leaders is their pugnacious failure to take the coming generation seriously. They don’t even try to understand them.

Consider for example, the courage of the young protesters in Hong Kong. While Beijing’s ruthless reactions to the protests may appear to be suppressing the brave young people who have taken to the streets, nonetheless those young people still go out! And this is so even when many of them think that their efforts are ultimately doomed to fail. Like those born in 1997 (the year Margaret Thatcher handed over Hong Kong to the CCP), the so-called “cursed generation”, many believe that Beijing will win in the end. Beijing probably thinks so too.

But Beijing and the fatalists among the protesters are wrong. Indeed, Beijing’s current ramping up of authoritarianism is evidence of an increasingly insecure regime confronting a particularly shaky future. That future entails a generational shift that is likely to shatter the very foundations of the existing regime. Maybe Xi Jinping and his CCP cronies are subconsciously aware of their vulnerabilities as they face the coming generation ­– more so than are many of the West’s fake leaders.

They all need to heed Bob Dillon’s 1960s advice to get out of the doorway and stop blocking the hall. Dillon’s call helped to inspire some interesting mini-revolts against a generation of leaders who were as self-righteously ossified as the fake leaders of today. The difference today is that, with social media and a better-informed emerging generation of voters and new leaders, the times are changing once again. It’s just that the present sad lot at the top haven’t noticed it yet, or are in denial.

Let them be warned: The next generational revolts will not be as minimal as those of the ’sixties.

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Dr Allan Patience is a Principal Fellow in Political Science at the University of Melbourne.

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