What’s happened to political discourse?

NOTE: This is the unedited version of the article that was submitted to the Shenzhen Daily, and published on October 31st, 2016.

I read with interest, SZ Daily’s Editor-in-chief opinion on the state of US democracy (US election an indecent game, 24/10/2016).

As a keen observer of politics, and as someone who has worked in Australian politics, I too despair at the direction of the US presidential campaign. I look at the extreme length of the campaigns, the vile comments that have been thrown around at various times over the last 18 months or so, and I think to myself… what happened? When did the so-called greatest democracy on earth fall into the partisan pile? Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself no paragon of virtue, quoted President Eisenhower in news reports last week that ‘Politics is like the road. The left and the right represents the gutter, and the middle is drivable.’

I don’t purport to have all the solutions to this. However, Trump’s hyper-nationalistic approach is one that disgusts me to my core. It resonates with a group of people that do not seem to understand how the world actually works. There are people who support Donald Trump, but would own iPhones made here in Shenzhen, drink German beer, watch British TV shows on their Korean televisions, drive Japanese cars, eat Mexican food, etc., etc. The United States of America, like Australia, is, by definition, an immigrant country. The majority of Americans are descended from people that were not born there. This is their basic history, yet tens of millions of Americans refuse to accept it.

The hyper-nationalistic political approach is not unique to America, unfortunately. The state of political discourse has changed in such a way that the politics of fear and the unknown encourages people to vote for what they view is safe. They vote for tighter borders and they seek protection from those that they do not know. These same people decry calls from experts who try and explain facts to them by responding that they are “elites”, “part of the system”, “part of the problem” and other similar terms. It has become, as some political observers have said, part of the new political normal.

What do I think? I think that the belief that “we feel that we are not safe” is what is driving the push behind these far right wing, populist parties. While China’s Communist Party is strong in its position with over 100 million members, there is little doubt that the Party fears such a similar uprising of populist opinion against it, and the outcome of the political system breaking apart under such an event would be unknown – and to many outside observers, it could be very disconcerting.

People decry the days of statesmen – men and women who were well-spoken, who could handle journalists with aplomb and could strike down an opposing member with the wittiest of comments. Right now, I believe Hilary Clinton should be flicking through old comments of former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, because when asked why she put Donald Trump through so much mental and emotional pain during this election campaign, she can say “Because I wanted to do him slowly”.

Please note my piece published on October 2nd that looked at the current state of discourse around freedom for some of my more recent thoughts on the topic.

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