Anyone who is willing to raise their head above the parapet and be subjected to intense public scrutiny is worthy of respect. Yet, as our nation finds itself facing one crisis after another, it is genuinely concerning to observe how febrile the political culture has become. This creates a growing sense of marginalisation where any alternative viewpoint is derided with scorn – and a road ahead which presents some very real challenges for democracy.
An unhealthy political system is what lies at the heart of the problem, not democracy itself. It is egotistical, self indulgent, self righteous and antagonistic. Take a look at social media and you can often see this up close and personal. Hate filled put downs are what are increasingly passing for political discourse. Gracious discussion and measured reasoning are becoming less and less common, giving way to the spectacle of wild hysteria and yobbish behaviour. It seems that it is easier to smear an opponent’s character than engage in civil conversation. As Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, ‘Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.‘
It is difficult to recall ever having witnessed such incendiary politics in our nation. Any attempt to silence those who might hold a different point of view will concern everyone who cares about freedom and democracy. By all means should ideas be robustly challenged and alternatives presented. But Voltaire was right when he said ‘I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it‘.
Our nation is the poorer because of a political system that has moved from adversarial to antagonistic. Politicians would be wise to think very carefully when they condemn hate speech – as hatred has become the language of their own profession. Those in power set the tone and people ultimately follow. Moral authority is earned through what is modelled more than maligned. That is why the vibe of political discourse desperately needs to change, and this begins with those in leadership taking responsibility and demonstrating a better way.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the political turmoil, it is always helpful to keep a healthy perspective of God. Proverbs 14:34 says ‘Doing what is right exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.’ We would do well to pray that God will help our nation. How we need his grace.