(This post first appeared in Kapiti Independent News.)
We’re currently watching the excellent series on the Polynesian Panthers and what strikes me is how little the National Party (and ACT) rhetoric has changed since the 1970s. Immigrants are scapegoated, dog-whistling equates to ‘white=good’ and ‘brown=bad’, human rights are forfeited in an attempt to look ‘strong’ and ‘competent’, and the ills of our society are laid at the feet of those with the least resources to fight back. And, just like then, such rhetoric and actions are less about fact and all about scraping together votes at any cost.
A lot has been written already about the purposeful misinformation doing the rounds of social media, but what really concerns me are the constant dog-whistling attacks pouring out of mainstream media, with little push back or restraint. This week I cancelled my digital subscription to The Herald after weeks of seeing ‘opinion’ pieces from the worst of our self-absorbed narcissistic commentators, all dead set on undermining the public’s confidence in our pandemic response. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a particularly disingenuous opinion from Graham Adams, Is Jacinda Ardern the Messiah? Or just a very crafty politician?, clothed as in-depth analysis yet full of innuendo and emotive language. She bats away questions, provides stock answers, is nonsensical, garbled, cagey, exhortatory, unrealpolitik, hopelessly naïve, otherworld[y], preternaturally saintly, ‘brand Jacinda’, plaintive, vain, casts herself, shameless, ruthless, cunning as a fox, highly choreographed, exploits, pseudo-religious, preaching from the ‘podium of truth’ . . . He even draws the ultimate long straw of equating her calls for kindness with a Mormon theology that ‘offers the chance of redemption to even the likes of Adolf Hitler and Vlad the Impaler’.
It’s interesting to me how rabidly some respond to calls for kindness and courtesy, as if they’re dirty words, their sentiment suspicious. It smacks of sexism to me (and some might say misogyny), those who criticise such calls implying a) she doesn’t mean it, and b) it somehow equates with weakness (with all its gender undertones i.e. woman=kind=weak). I find this disgusting. At a time when we have never more needed to be reminded to be kind and courteous, this approach is weaponised by those who sit to the right of her. Their repeated put-downs and aggression are cynically designed to drive a wedge between us, destabilising the country at a time when we need to stand together and support each other with compassion and generosity.
Adams uses Ardern’s upbringing in the Mormon faith to bash her, claiming her calls for kindness prove she’s still operating under some kind of Mormon ‘code’, implying an ulterior motive, while also claiming ‘devout Catholic’ Bill English was much more honest (and shouldn’t take any flak for being Catholic, despite him voting against women-friendly policies based on his beliefs), and he then lauds Judith Collins’ admission that faith played a role in her job, citing her grandstanding prayers in an empty church during the election campaign (when she then went on to dog-whistle a death threat aimed at my brother.)
I’m not saying that there aren’t things that can be criticised, or that our government couldn’t do better, but this level of frothy-mouthed ridicule and finger-pointing isn’t about accountability, it’s about point scoring and, in the process, it’s damaging our health response. It’s also disingenuous, framed as concern, while they must know that the only way to get those hesitant to comply is to encourage a whole-country approach.
One has to wonder what drives someone to write such an underhanded hit job? I’m afraid the answer that pops into my head is ‘Dirty Politics.’ I’ve come to the conclusion that, just as the rhetoric around the Dawns Raids is still reprised today, The National/ACT parties’ propensity for dedicated smear campaigns against their rivals has also been reprised, with Judith Collins (one of the original Dirty Politics perpetrators) again resorting to dirty tactics to gain some kind of political advantage. I wish this was just fancy, but I fear it’s not. It absolutely guts me that they would pursue this kind of attack politics at a time when vulnerable people are already falling for misinformation and people are fearful and uncertain. The divisions they are driving between us are dangerous, especially when we know that the even bigger issue we will all have to face is climate change, another issue they have worked steadily to undermine. And if we look at the changes that need to be made to protect future generations, and then at the people stirring up dissent and uncertainty, we see that they are also the people who have gained the most from our fossil-fuel driven consumption and wasteful behaviours. It’s shameful, dangerous and threatens all our futures.