Death of Chris Ashton, an exemplary journalist
The peacemaker: The Toroama story

Kakistocracy finds it hard to go the distance


ADELAIDE - I think that the phenomenon that Phil Fitzpatrick describes in ‘The Biggest Threat is real and was indeed epitomised by the appalling Trump and his enablers in the USA.

And, as Phil writes, that is “the global problem of politicians of dubious merit and intent, totally not worthy of election, who are nevertheless populating governments everywhere.”

Our current Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, is a mere shadow of Donald Trump, which is perhaps more to his credit than not.

In Australia, it has been State and Territory leaders who have led the charge against Covid-19, not the Federal government.

While I would hesitate to call Australia’s Federal government a kakistocracy, it certainly falls very far short of the standards of basic competence set by its predecessors.

There was a time when Federal politicians conceived of themselves as superior to their State and Territory counterparts, playing in what they imagined to be a higher league.

I am not at all sure that the Australian public would agree with this idea now.

In Papua New Guinea I think that the notion of a country being ruled by a kakistocracy is depressingly close to reality.

With some notable and worthy exceptions, PNG's national politicians have shown themselves to be venal opportunists at best and sometimes rather worse than that.

But, as Phil observes, this is frequently the situation in many other places too.

The Indian People's Party (BJP) government under Narendra Modi has been spectacularly inept in the management of the Covid pandemic and its incompetence and bad judgement has resulted in a hideously large death toll.

The leader of the Opposition in India has said the government has effectively murdered many people and it seems that numerous Indians believe this is true.

Democracy is always messy, noisy and difficult. Even basically quite competent and well-intentioned politicians can struggle to cope with its inherent disorder.

Vehement disagreements over difficult policy issues are frequently played out in full public view.

Often this process is the subject of breathless and not necessarily accurate or balanced reporting in the media, so creating an impression of instability and disunity.

However, there remains an underlying stability within a functioning democracy that ensures that, no matter how vehement the disagreement, eventually a workable compromise is achieved.

This may take a long time and produce a sub-optimal policy outcome, but it mostly helps steer a nation in the right general direction.

Authoritarian governments always strive to ensure that their political disputes are well hidden and that any hint of public dissent from the stated policy positions is ruthlessly suppressed by whatever means necessary.

Curtailing basic freedoms can create a surface impression of stability, order and calm and this is frequently claimed to be a ‘natural attribute’ of a despotic system of government.

But, beneath the surface - in response to the repression required to keep opponents at bay - discontent, fear, anger and hatred seethe quietly.

History tells us that very often, when the long suppressed sentiment finally explodes, the regime teeters and falls under the weight of the lies, distortions and insoluble contradictions that have been denied, ignored or buried.

So, the fundamental strength of democracy – the openness with which it enables the existence of a range of views, political positions and other freedoms - is the very process which authoritarians see as a weakness.

But the fundamental weakness of authoritarianism is its need to constantly suppress basic freedoms.

Even a kakistocracy – government by the incompetent and the unscrupulous - can, because of its innate inability, generate the momentum required to bring leaders forward who will overturn it and make the very policy changes that it abhors and detests.

The early evidence is that this may well be the greatest achievement of Donald Trump, because his successor is now attempting to implement a long overdue reform process within the US polity.

Whether this can be done in the face of still fierce and determined resistance from a privileged, hysterical, hypocritical and sometimes deranged Republican opposition is an open question.

But I think it is fair to write that the tide of history has indisputably turned against the Trumpian kakistocracy and reactionary world view.

As occurred with the collapse of the Russian Tsarist regime in 1905, the writing is on the wall for the defenders of the economic, racial and other inequalities in the USA, and resistance will ultimately be futile.

Sadly, I see little sign that such a reform process is underway in PNG.

The people may have to suffer a great deal more before the political impetus swings in favour of genuine reformers or, possibly, determined revolutionaries.


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