This article explains why Hansonism could rise from a minority status to a majority status – with Turnbull’s help.
It is time for Australians to decide what Patriotism means. Patriotism has become strongly embedded in the political psyche. It is time to determine who defines Patriotism. The politicians or us?
Political populism is a strategy used by politicians to appeal to the masses. Politicians do this by targeting a common fear to appeal to the masses and unite them behind the leader.
Populist politicians use this to unite the lower class and the elites through shared fears. These fears are usually quietly contained fears not openly spoken about, and it is the job of the populist politician to draw these fears to the surface. This transforms the quietly contained fear into openly expressed raw emotion.
This is the point when the Populist Politician holds all the Aces.
A Classless Fear
The reason Asylum Seekers and Muslims are used as targets within the rhetoric, is the fear of anything foreign is a natural psychological reaction. The beauty that politicians see in this strategy is that it brings together all classes – elite and poor, to unite over a common fear.
This explains why the rejection of foreigners/Muslims is more important amongst Hansonites than jobs, education, health and welfare.
To demonstrate, I will cut and paste a comment I received the other day about Pauline Hanson’s support for cuts to welfare:
I am not amused by some comments on here obviously i am a Pauline supporter and for one sick and tired of being called a racist because of my concerns for our country ..welfare cuts .. so be it ..better than paying thousands to a muslim man with a few wives and heaps of kids which they will keep on having to get the muslim numbers up in Australia (Forum User)
Forum User is expressing that he is happy with six billion dollars of welfare cuts because it is more important to prevent a Muslim man who has (in forum-user’s mind) a few wives and kids, accessing welfare; than it is to be angry at the Government for placing the disadvantaged into deeper poverty.
Forum User views his stance as patriotic, as Pauline Hanson reinforces this message.
When this misunderstood form of Patriotism, championed by populist politicians feeds into harming everyday Australians and pushing minorities down even further; who should define Patriotism? The Politicians or Us?
(Note: – the racist comment was generalised, no one had called him a racist on that forum)
In-Groups and Out-Groups
The success of this can be explained because there is a deep-seated need within humans psychologically to belong. Social Identity Theory describes this as in-group and out-group behaviour and is the biggest underpinning factor for the ‘Them versus Us’ attitude.
The populist politician uses the symbolic interactionism of words “Illegal immigrants” and symbols “multiple Australian flags” to draw the quiet and unexplained harboured fear to the surface, turn them into raw emotion and to set apart the groups.
This has negative consequences on democracy for the reason it pushes minority groups down further and further until they may be regarded as non-human altogether. Individuals within these shunned groups are classified in the minds of the masses as ‘other’ with an irrevocable spoiled identity.
This is where the fallacy of the Patriotic Approach enters the debate. To remain vigilant and to protect the ‘In-Group’ anything outside of the ingrained beliefs or threatens the In-Group is deemed ‘unpatriotic.’
The Argumentum ad Populum Patriotic Approach
The debate by Liberal politicians for years now (strongly commencing with John Howard) has been built on Argumentum ad Populum. That is, appealing to the emotions of the multitude, rather than drawing on authentic leadership to build a strong argument.
Argumentum ad Populum cuts across two underlying constructs – Pathos – the use of language to appeal to emotions. Usually emotions which are harboured and need to be drawn to the surface.
For example, using the term ‘Illegal immigrant’ instead of ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’ implies that there is a criminal aspect attached to that person. Criminals are people we are generally afraid of.
The Pathos used to discredit and create the outgroup, are the terms unpatriotic and ‘lefties.’ This places anyone considered to have a social conscience (aka a left-wing individual) as unpatriotic. The politician reinforces this divide.
— Pauline Hanson (@PaulineHansonOz) October 30, 2016
This use of this language legitimises the harboured fear and draws it to the surface as it creates the common enemy – unpatriotic lefties.
The other construct is the Argumentum Ad Hominem – or the personal attack.
The use of Pathos by populist politicians reinforcing over and over that their believers are Patriots, strengthens this belief. This also is an antecedent to enable the use of Argumentum Ad Hominem as it used to protect the In-Group from the mendacious traitors within the Out-Group who cannot be believed because they are unpatriotic.
Anyone who sides with the ‘Targets’ (Asylum Seekers or Muslims) is labelled unpatriotic and is in the ‘Out-Group’ and shunned along with the targets.
The Prime Minister Follows Hanson’s Lead
When the Prime Minister announced that, “No asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia by boat, even those found to be refugees, can ever enter the country“, many reeled in shock and horror.
However, One Nation Party Leader, Pauline Hanson rejoiced; proudly proclaiming on Twitter the Prime Minister was following her lead.
— Pauline Hanson (@PaulineHansonOz) October 30, 2016
Many are reeling in horror, as they see this as a complete disconnect from the politician Turnbull has portrayed himself to be for many years.
Along with others, I came to the conclusion that Turnbull had morphed into Abbott and has now morphed into Pauline Hanson. I referred to this as watching a bad Dr. Who regeneration. However, upon reflection I along with others, was very, very wrong.
Turnbull Channels Howard
Turnbull is not morphing into Abbott or Hanson. He is channelling John Howard.
John Howard is the most prolific popoulist politician of our time. He pushed political populism to a new level. With the threat of Hanson’s movement in the early 2000’s becoming prominent this became a threat to the Howard Government.
Political populism seeks to fill a gap and motivate people to believe they have real agency to ‘beat the system.’ Third party populist politicans are successful when the gap is perceived to have widened between the promises of the Government to provide security and quality of life and their (failing) practical solutions.
When a third party populists instill in believers that they can beat the system; this means their target is the Government. This is now a direct threat to the Turnbull Government.
Although Hanson is smiling and cheering as if she is the alternative-Prime Minister; she is foolish if she is smiling now.
When the threat of a populist third party is a threat to the Government, the Government needs to become the system which embraces those who aim to defeat it.
John Howard’s success in defeating Hanson was to incorporate her demands into his policies.
In response, (to the threat of Hanson) John Howard recast policies on Aboriginal affairs, multiculturalism, immigration, social welfare and Australian nationalism to match more closely those advocated by Hanson (Wear, 2008)
When the Hansonites in the early 2000’s set out to destroy the ‘system,’ Howard’s response was to become the system that was accommodating and embracing, so that system was no longer deemed a threat.
Turnbull is channelling Howard by adopting Hanson’s policies to transform the system of Government into one that is no longer a threat to the growing movement of Hansonites.
This will require a very ugly Prime Minister who will lead a very ugly Government.
Is Turnbull the New Wedge-Meister?
In addition, Howard wedged the opposition on populist policies. Author Thomas Keneally famously nicknamed John Howard “The Wedge-Meister.”
Howard wedged the opposition on issues such as Freedom of Speech (Turnbull tick!), Border Protection (Turnbull tick!) and the need for Muslim immigrants to assimilate (Turnbull tick!)
Howard used ‘Australian values’ to ‘wedge’ Labor in an attempt to draw major support to his leadership. Essentially, Howard was trying to wedge Labor as ‘unpatriotic and a member of the ‘Out-Group.’
It is very clear why Turnbull has ramped up the rhetoric with “No Asylum seekers who come by boat will ever come to Australia in their lifetime” and has openly challenged Labor to support the bill. Turnbull is not only channelling Howard by adopting One Nation’s policies, but also vying for the title of “Wedge-Meister.”
If Labor do not support this bill, Turnbull will paint Shorten as ‘unpatriotic, unAustralian, a threat to our borders and security and a threat to Australia.’ It will be the biggest attempt to shove the Labor opposition leader in the “unpatriotic out-group” we have seen to date. Turnbull will then have free reign to dismiss Shorten using the Patriotic Approach discussed above (non-patriots cannot be believed because they are not patriots).
The Challenges Ahead
The challenge for leadership from the opposition to break this, is this type of successful political populist behaviour results in a very strengthened and cohesive cognitive culture amongst the group of faithful believers. If the Government keeps adopting Hanson’s policies and becomes the system that is no longer a threat and gains popularity; this creates a major dilemma for how the Labor opposition responds to this.
Although this could mean Turnbull may be remembered as Australia’s most hateful and divisive Prime Minister; what matters now is Shorten has a huge responsibility to respond effectively. He will need to challenge every nationalist policy Turnbull adopts of Hanson’s and he will need to be shrewd when combatting wedge politics.
True leaders would not turn to populist mechanisms to stoke, stir up and inflame that natural fear. They would use honest, open and authentic leadership to allay these fears.
For Australia to combat nationalism, as the Labor leader, Shorten needs to be an absolute stand out Authentic Leader. It will be Shorten’s challenge to find the gap in the ‘newly transformed Turnbull Government’. He will need to advocate strongly on the one thing that the Hanson/Christensen/Turnbull Government fails to deliver on, that will give the masses agency, security, salvation and hope.
There is a challenge also to us as a people. A very serious challenge.
If populist policians are defining patriotism, as something one stands for, even if it it means harming our nation through divisive, destructive and stigmatising policies and rhetoric; who should define Patriotism? The politicians or Us?
Our challenge is to redefine Patriotism. Patriotism for Australians should always be underpinned by ‘The Fair Go.’ We need to stand up strongly together and reject anything that does not align with the Fair Go and shout this down as unpatriotic behaviour.
It is time we redefined Patriotism and took back our country.