By Henry Johnston
By the time this essay is published the current election campaign reaches the ‘magical’ halfway point. The single quote marks around the word magical, denote the idea, a type of invisible hand is moving the electorate toward a decision which might change the nation’s future.
In fact, nothing is further from the truth. By the time the result comes and goes, the majority will simply tune out of the national debate and move on with their lives.
We are Australians after all; sure of our egalitarianism, our sense of the fair go and sceptical of the American notion of manifest destiny. And yet we are a nation wracked by self-doubt, unsure of our place in the world, and annoyed by pesky politicians foisting this or that paradigm upon us at every local, state and federal election. In short, we just want it to go away, but it won’t, nor will the consequences diminish no matter the makeup of the next government. Unsure footed and election weary, we Australians stand at a cross-road.
For some, the fog of uncertainty lifted momentarily during the first televised debate between Shorten and Morrison, and an address to the National Press Club by Greens Leader Richard Di Natale. Yet within days, both leaders scrambled to defend candidates who displayed their true nature on various social media platforms.
For the Liberal Party, it is a faux explanation of sinister forces at work behind the hate speech of Jessica Whelan.
Whereas for Labor it is the argument Luke Creasey was a naughty boy a long time ago, but all is forgiven now.
Thus far the Greens have avoided the spectacle of crest-fallen spear carriers, but in New South Wales that party’s internal war rumbles along.
And this is the ‘magical’ halfway point.
Creasey and Jessica Whelan are just two of a phalanx of fallen electoral aspirants, with the toll likely to increase by Election Day.
Without realising it, many of those among us charged to make sense of this mess – journalists – dutifully record and report two philosophical tropes deployed by contemporary politicians. Moral equivalence and that darling cause célèbre of the far right, political correctness.
It is a rarity to read journalism which avoids these hoary old chestnuts, and I don’t hold out much hope for the situation to change in the near or distant future.
The best answer comes courtesy of the most incisive analysis of the state of Australian public debate I have read thus far in the campaign.
Writer Richard Cooke lays the blame at the feet of Rupert Murdoch in his essay for the May edition of The Monthly headlined: News Corp. Democracy’s Greatest Threat.
Thankfully there are many splendid, hardworking and honest Australian journalists and writers, but their ranks are thinning fast due to cutbacks, layoffs and redundancies at mastheads big, small, local, regional and national.
My fear is young up-and-coming scribes will not know the difference between moral equivalence and political correctness, or any number of questionable political narratives trotted out by the Jordan Peterson’s and Milo Yiannopoulos’s of this world. And truth be told I am in two minds about banning them as I am about the jailing of Julian Assange.
And though I know this statement might seem politically incorrect to many readers, calling oneself a journalist and a publisher careens from moral to false equivalence, an unsettling transgression borne equally by both the left and the right.
Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.
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