Have you noticed how much anger there is in the community? Listen to talkback radio and hear the anger there. If you have the stomach to listen to shock jocks like Alan Jones you will hear plenty there. There is road rage and a level of anger and assaults in our city centres, often alcohol-fuelled, which is unacceptable in a civilized society.
Recently, one of our regular bloggers on The Political Sword
, NormanK, wrote a comment about ‘The Right to be Angry’.
He argued it was “…the theme of the current Abbott-led Opposition and many neo-cons around the world. Whilst it is not quite a three-word slogan, their promise to the electorate seems to be:
Day after day, in every way, we will reaffirm your RIGHT TO BE ANGRY.
The Right to be Angry over electricity prices.
The Right to be Angry over asylum seekers taking your jobs and living high on the hog.
The Right to be Angry over government debt, wasteful spending, water management, welfare cheats, public-purse-exploiting politicians, military tribunals, flood waters, food prices, petrol prices, share prices, bank profits, and the list goes on. “In fact we have Abbott & Co's blessing to be angry about anything we don't like or don't understand. It is our Right.
And nothing feeds a good bout of anger like a healthy dose of fear - a stock-in-trade of regressives.”
That struck a respondent chord. The more I reflected on it, the more it seemed to portray the approach of Tony Abbott and the Coalition and their fellow travellers in the MSM. [more]
Think back over the last three years. Over and again Abbott and his ministers have sought to make the public angry about the Government’s performance, seldom acknowledging any success or laudable move, instead insisting that the public had the right to be angry at what Abbott painted as ‘debt and deficit’, ‘waste and mismanagement’, incompetence at managing projects; and angry at ‘the most incompetent government in Australian history’. While some criticism might be legitimate – no government is faultless – the intensity and persistence of the criticism fuelled anger in the electorate that almost defeated the Government at last year’s election.
While no one will deny the right of taxpayers to be angry about incompetence or fraudulent behaviour in any public utility or in any government – local, state or federal – inflaming anger in the electorate when that is not deserved is corrosive to national unity and the nation’s sense of purpose. Yet, as NormanK points out, the federal Coalition encourages the people to be angry about events and circumstances over which no government has any control, such as floods, and food and petrol prices, bank profits and military tribunals.
There are countless examples of the deliberate encouragement of anger by politicians and journalists. Take Andrew Bolt’s tirade against Julia Gillard and the Government when, at the beginning of the flood crisis, she pledged a million dollars to the Queensland Government. He belittled her and the level of the contribution and compared it with the donations Australia made to Pakistan for their floods and Indonesia at the time of its tsunami. He must have known that this was but an initial contribution, and that much, much more would follow, as it has. But that did not deter him from his vicious slur and vitriolic condemnation, echoed by sycophantic followers on his blog. Indeed it is these very people that Bolt stirs to mounting anger every time he attacks Gillard. He tells them with his words that they have ‘The Right to be Angry’. He paints it as a right, even when no such right exists.
Tony Abbott stirred up anger over the floods by suggesting somehow that lack of dams – which he labeled a ‘dam phobia’ – might be the cause, even as his side of politics opposed recent proposed dam construction. Now he is stirring anger over the flood levy.
This penchant for always looking for someone to blame for any misadventure, any adverse turn of events, any move that might be disadvantageous to some, is malignant. It is a cancer that is spreading throughout our society and threatening to kill its victim.
The US provides us with frightening examples of the toxic effect of anger. The recent atrocity in Arizona has been attributed in part to the poisonous political atmosphere there where the repeated use of firearms metaphors suggested that people take up arms and target Democrats, and ‘reload’ until the enemy is defeated.
Take a look at what Arun Gupta had to say on AlterNet
on 12 January in a piece titled Hate and Violence Are Encoded in the DNA of the American Right
in commenting on the surfeit of political murders during the Obama years, in contrast to the Bush era. Gupta comments: “This stark contrast demands an explanation for why there have been so many political murder sprees in less than two years. The answer can be found within the strain of reactionary politics that dominates the American Right. The Right thrives on mobilizing group resentment, and the range of its targets over the last 50 years is astonishing: gays and lesbians, African Americans, Latinos, feminists, welfare recipients, reproductive-rights activists, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, government officials, criminals, liberals, antiwar activists, organized labor. “The group resentment is fomented and stoked within the right-wing echo chamber, in increasingly apocalyptic terms. With swaths of the public alienated and looking for easy answers in a time of epic joblessness, they latch onto scapegoats that demagogues like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage provide. As a result millions of alienated Americans are convinced their problems and the national malaise is the fault of Mexicans, liberals, abortion providers and homosexuals. Politicians willing to exploit this hatred can find a large and passionate base. Because extremism stands out in our media-saturated culture, those voices and politicians who are the most outrageous tend to be the most successful. This creates a politics that makes compromise and reasoned discourse all but impossible. Add to that a political system dominated by corporate money, which makes addressing social ills all but impossible, and you have a public seething with anger but with no ready outlet.”
Australian conservatives can see how well this strategy works – they have a working laboratory in the US. We have our own Glen Becks – Alan Jones, Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt are obvious clones. If you think that is an exaggeration, listen to them, read what they write. Compare it with Glen Beck’s utterances.
Writing in The New York Times
on January 9, Paul Krugman says in his piece, Climate of Hate
, that he was not surprised at the Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six people. He explained: "Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness – but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence. And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s ‘the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.’ The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line. “It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of ‘civility’, the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement. The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary. And it’s the saturation of our political discourse – and especially our airwaves – with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.”
As mentioned in the previous piece, on the EzKool
website in a January 10 article: Rush Limbaugh Continues Without Missing A Beat
Ezra Grant had this to say in the aftermath of the Arizona killings: “But politics in America is nothing new. It’s been around since this country’s inception. But something about this cycle of politics is different. Ask any member of Congress and they will tell you that they have not seen things this bad in quite a long time. So what made it this bad?” Grant answers his own question: “It’s the Sarah Palins, the Rush Limbaughs, the Glenn Becks, those radio and television personalities who are more concerned about dividing the country to fatten their paychecks, than they are about working together to bring the country together. These personalities are financially invested and vested in keeping this country divided.”
The way to divide a country is to evoke anger among some of the people against others, against authority, against the government. Tell them they have ‘The Right to be Angry’ about this or that, whether or not such anger is reasonable, and even when it isn’t, a reason for anger can simply be invented.
We have not reached the forlorn state in which America now wallows, but some conservatives here, both in parliament and in the media, are following down the dangerous American track, inciting anger and resentment among sectors of the population towards Labor governments for trumped-up reasons that do not stand up to scrutiny.
Any government that is incompetent or fraudulent, or makes poor decisions, or lies to the people, or fails to do what is best for the electorate, deserves criticism, and at times condemnation. But a government that is performing well, albeit not always perfectly, does not deserve to be pilloried with spurious accusations, illegitimate criticisms, biased opinion, vitriolic talk, and the people stirred into unjustified anger. Fomenting the Right to be Angry when that is unjustified is a malicious strategy that has no place in our democracy. We ought to expose it whenever it rears its ugly and poisonous head.
What do you think?