Are “moderates” failing to keep us safe?

Aug 16, 2019

Could it be “moderates” – through lack of vigilance, or is it apathy? – who most threaten our safety and existence? Yes, this seems a ridiculous, even immoderate assertion. But let’s think about it. The US, the UK and Australia are currently “led” – though there’s precious little leading – by men unembarrassed to flaunt their lack of coherent policy and analysis, their disdain for science and seriousness, their willingness to tell or endorse any lie at any time if it seems to advantage them. Trump, Johnson and Morrison are, to a man, dizzy with success, adoring of their own vulgar, meaningless slogans, and utterly impervious to views that don’t flatter them. But how did they get such power? How do they maintain it? And why have political and media moderates failed to sufficiently expose these sorry little Emperors’ nakedness?

Hope went long ago that anyone in their most immediate circles will do more than pander to their masters’ egos. Trump has in fact run through more courtiers than multiple predecessors in the White House. Yet gun-loving, largely white, hyper-capitalist Republicans still at least publicly support “their” President, along with his monstrous lies, cruelties, inanities – despite the real and accelerating dangers he poses to his own nation and the rest of the world.

Protecting their business interests is surely only part of the story. There’s toxic ideology here, too. After all, Republicans tend to think introducing universal health care is a greater danger than limiting gun use. They also fight loudly for the dignity of the unborn – while going strangely silent on never-ending wars, as well as State-sanctioned violence against those born poor, black, brown, or in any one of the US-damaged nations that their Trumpeter despises. And still the moderates can’t, don’t or won’t contain them.

The single hope on the bleak landscape that’s America is that last month (July 2019), as reported by the Washington Post – but barely discussed in the Australian media – the US House of Representatives voted to prevent Trump from going to war without congressional approval. (Karoun Demirjian was the reporter.) About two dozen Republicans had the wit and decency to cross the floor and support the Democrats “to include the provision in an annual defence authorisation bill”. The House is, of course, Democrat led. They also voted to suspend for one year the “sale of air-to-ground munitions” to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in a puny attempt to slow the destruction of Yemen.

Are there any similar constraints – moderate or otherwise – on Morrison? He’s the “Praise Jesus, damn the poor and refugees” man who will soon be sitting down for hamburgers and chips with “grab them by the p***y” Trump, ready to stress to him – as his ministers did to Super-Hawk Pompeo – the “specialness” of Australia’s relationship with the United States, no matter how unhinged or bellicose. And what do we hear from Australia’s “moderates” of the risks, the insanity and total amorality of this? Not enough, not enough.

Australia does have a National Security Committee. But its powers seem to be limited to “advising” and “recommending”. Also, one must ask, how many on that Committee abhor war, are desolate that Australia is not a known nation of peace or at least one where neutrality is seriously debated? How many on that Committee objected to Christopher Pyne’s vile ambition that Australia should be a top 10 “defence industries” nation? I find no evidence of that.

Here, in Morrison’s “Get a Go” idyll, “having a go” militarily remains a power exclusive to government. As reported by Brendan Nelson, a former Liberal Minister for Defence: “Since 1985 the Australian Democrats, firstly, and more recently the Australian Greens, have attempted to remove the exclusive power of the government to commit Australia to war. Attempts have been made to repeal section 50C of the Defence Act 1903, which allows the deployment of Australian troops overseas, replacing it with a requirement for both houses of parliament to approve a declaration of war and commitment of troops.” Nelson continues, “While the power to make war, deploy troops and declare peace are essential elements of the executive power of the Commonwealth, it is open to any government to put such matters to the parliament for debate.” BUT THERE IS, IT SEEMS, NO REQUIREMENT TO DO SO.

What we are left with then, along with rage, fear and sorrow, is the emerging picture of a God-ordained (in his own mind) politician for whom “history began with his election as Prime Minister”, as Mungo MacCallum put it in his war-weary article here of 13 August. And it is not as though we weren’t warned. Moderates will argue, correctly, Morrison is “not as bad as…” But what are they comparing him to? And why should “not as bad as” be the road along which Australia travels?

This is where my rage becomes outrage…because even if Morrison’s “miraculous” election campaign neither threatened nor spoke of war, what was clear was his – and his Government’s – unapologetic trashing of countless lives in full view. How? Through the increasing impoverishment of the poorest, continuing insults to First Peoples, the blaming and harassment of victims of the Government’s own policies – including Robodebt, indefensible behaviour towards those who sought asylum six years ago, plus outrageous schemes and more schemes as public funds move into private hands. And the unforgivable refusal to engage appropriately with climate science. And for what? For what?

In plain sight – yet who among the many sincere moderates in politics, the media or in everyday life for heaven’s sake, took sufficient note that it’s the particular style of Morrison’s populism that endangers this nation? As do the corporate and media mega-interests that justify and bloat his Government’s power. Yes, there are others in his Government more extreme. But Morrison is the Front and Centre Man, the “pray and grow rich” man, selling the reassurance that we are “in good hands” or even “God’s hands”. Post-Christchurch, Waleed Aly on the Project may well be the sole journalist who came close to challenging Morrison’s rhetoric. Who since has adequately grilled him about his entrenched indifference to the fate of the poor – and the planet? Are the majority moderates so easily distracted? Subdued? Or persuaded? Even with open talk of support for the most war-ready nation on earth? Alas, poor Yorick, alas.

Usually rather more hopeful, Rev Dr Stephanie Dowrick is a life-long peace activist and the author of many books including Seeking the Sacred: Transforming Our View of Ourselves and One Another. Find her on Twitter – or her public Facebook page.

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