Compare and contrast, as university examiners used to say, two points of view.
The law says that if you enter into a contract with someone, you should co-operate with them to allow them to get the benefit of the bargain – or at least you should refrain from conduct that would deny them that benefit.
When it came to the race laws of Hitler in 1933, Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed the exact opposite of that position. He challenged these immoral laws and called on churches ‘not just to bandage victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.’ Bonhoeffer did not just seek to spike the machine – he sought to kill its driver. He was executed for his part in plots against Hitler. (His church doesn’t go for saints, but he would be at the top of their list if they did.)
So, there are two completely opposed positions – you try to make the arrangement work, or you try to frustrate it, and you destroy the other side.
The recent failures of the political system here and in the US have been in large part caused by the failure of our politicians when in opposition to adhere to the first position – instead they have opted for the second. The role of the opposition is to check the government and its policies and proposed laws. It is not the role of the opposition to make government impossible or to seek to block everything that a government does. There is one hell of a difference.
We could see this most clearly in Senator Cruz, a man more loathed by Republicans than Donald Trump. Cruz unashamedly sought to bring Washington to a halt by blocking what we call supply. We saw it again with the refusal of Republicans to cooperate to replace Justice Scalia. The Supreme Court had to proceed a man down, and Americans may get new abortion laws from a court rigged by this unconstitutional means. We saw the same universal negativity from Tony Abbott in his guise as Doctor No. We are now seeing something very like it from Bill Shorten, who at least doesn’t try to hide his insincerity. In truth, Cruz and Abbott behaved like fanatics, and wearing their faith all over their fronts didn’t help.
The idea is to create a paralysis that will reflect badly on government. People will say that a government that can’t act is a bad government. The scheme has been defined with precision by President Obama.
Some of this is really simple, and it’s the thing that Mitch McConnell figured out on Day One of my presidency, which is people aren’t playing close attention to how Washington works. They know there are lobbyists, special interests, gridlock; that the powerful have more access than they do. And if things aren’t working, if there’s gridlock, then the only guy they know is supposed to be in charge and is supposed to be helping them is the President. And so the very deliberate strategy that Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party employed during the course of my Presidency was effective. What they understood was that if you embraced old-fashioned dealing, trading, horse-trading, bipartisan achievement, people feel better. And if people feel better, they feel better about the President’s party, and the President’s party continues. And if it feels broken, stuck, and everybody is angry, then that hurts the President or the President’s party……The President-elect, I think, was able to make an argument that he would blow this place up.
In short, the Republicans jammed a spoke in the wheel in order to make the machine seize up. This is bad faith made manifest. It is worse than strike action – it is sabotage. For short term political gain, the Republicans were prepared to inflict lasting damage on the system as a whole, including the Supreme Court. That causes more distrust and contempt, and you get disasters like Trump, or the cruel farce of the last two weeks of our parliament and insanity about the environment. Abbott the wrecking ball was a disaster in government, and Trump promises to be even worse.
And so the downward spiral goes on. People lose faith in a stalled system. There is a sense of stagnation, and a sense that politicians are at best useless. People feel helpless; they are certainly leaderless; and they feel more insecure for themselves and their children; the system has let them down. The main media don’t help – they have hardly noticed this sabotage, and the press just rabbit on about issues that most people couldn’t give a damn about. When Trump claimed that the system was rigged, he struck chords with the dispossessed, but it is a little hard for a billionaire to bang on about inequality.
And writing this, I can fear another disaster for me flowing from what I see as a disaster for the US. Garrison Keillor wrote a piece in which he expressed fear for the effect of Trump on children – Trump does everything that we tell children not to do. My fear is that Trump will set back the republican movement here. I don’t think much of that inbred, jug-eared Charlie Windsor, but he is a saint compared to that stupid pussy-groping pig who is about to become President of the United States. The monarchists can say that if we give up the hereditary Crown, we might end up with a jerk like Trump as our Head of State.
And who would say that that could never happen in this sad billabong?
Poet of the month: Vergil (Georgics)
Before Jupiter’s time no farmers worked the land:
it was wrong to even mark the fields or divide them
with boundaries: men foraged in common, and the earth
herself gave everything more freely, unasked.
He added the deadly venom to shadowy snakes,
made the wolves predators, and stirred the seas,
shook honey from the trees, concealed fire,
and curbed the wine that ran everywhere in streams,
so that thoughtful practice might develop various skills,
little by little, and search out shoots of grain in the furrows,
and strike hidden fire from veins of flint.