When Covid-19 hit, I’d been questioning for a very long time what glued collectively the disparate positions of the spiritual right in Australia: for deregulation but additionally huge taxpayer subsidy; without cost enterprise but additionally towards the free motion of labour; for the equality of all freedoms so long as one, faith, is extra equal than others; for “our children’s future” but additionally towards local weather science.
During the coronavirus disaster, the patterns started to repeat: divergent positions coalescing beneath an intellectually amorphous however readily identifiable tribal banner. What unified that tribe was, for need of a greater phrase, a contrarianism, what rude adherents may name an “up yours” to political correctness.
A great individual to observe as a bellwether of this tribalism is Mark Latham. No one in Australian public life higher embodies the precept of up yours.
Latham took up Labor politics as an up yours to privileged individuals. He then stop Labor as an up yours to Labor. He moved into media commentary and adopted a pose of up yours to his private enemies, earlier than broadening his stance to a basic up yours to political correctness. He stated up yours to his personal backers and misplaced his job, greater than as soon as. Then he went seeking a political celebration that represented the spirit of up yours, and now, representing Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, sits on the New South Wales legislative council, from which he can say up yours to just about everybody.
On 24 January 2020, the day the primary individual examined constructive for Covid-19 in Australia, Latham tweeted: “Let me guess. Coronavirus is caused by climate change.” He was retweeted 345 instances and obtained 468 replies. Two weeks later, he harnessed it to a different culture-war hobbyhorse: Asian immigration. On 7 February, he tweeted: “So WHO declares a global health emergency over Coronavirus and Australian universities plan to bring 10s of thousands of Chinese students here to be quarantined in ‘regional ‘facilities’, having passed through our airports/transport system. Pure nuts Unis = money churning centres.”
Three days later, he was making Latham jokes once more: “Things we hate in the suburbs, in ascending order: Traffic jams, Cancelled trains, Asbestos, Safe Schools program, Coronavirus, Cancer, Hollywood moralising, The Greens.”
As the Covid-19 outbreak escalated, @ActualMarkLatham centered his energies on selling nuclear vitality, figuring out greater than anybody else about home violence, attacking the ABC, the Greens and the NSW Department of Education (particularly, for permitting “our” college students to fall behind “children of migrants”), and – one other of his menagerie of pet matters – the Israel Folau case.
Replying to a Daily Telegraph story about Christian rugby gamers feeling “muzzled” by the banning of Folau, Latham wrote on 26 February: “Similarly, how must the NRL Islander players in their prayer circles after every game feel about the NRL banning of Folau? This is what multiculturalism looks like, in Minto and beyond.” And, commensurately, on 28 February, he discovered time to belittle Ian Thorpe: “Ian Thorpe: we need human rights for all, including gay rights. Ian Thorpe: human rights must not include religious rights.”
When the tally of world coronavirus circumstances handed 80,000, Latham was echoing Donald Trump and dog-whistling the “Wuhan illness” (as a part of a tweet rubbishing the National Rugby League for selling Indigenous footballer Latrell Mitchell because the face of its promoting marketing campaign).
Coronavirus had grow to be a facemask over Latham’s tradition conflict, which he determined should not be allowed to lapse whereas the world was coping with a lethal pandemic. On 20 March, he responded to an article on a clean-energy web site which reminded the world that the “curve” of carbon emissions additionally wanted to be “flattened”. Latham retorted: “It had to come: How CoronaVirus response is really all about climate change policy!!!”
Soon we have been to be swamped once more by Twitter wars over George Pell, allegedly offensive TV reveals and political cartoons, statues, historic names, Guy Sebastian … The coronavirus hadn’t killed the tradition wars, it had solely despatched them right into a momentary recess, and after they resumed, their tang had been sharpened by the disaster.
“It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.” So wrote the Roman historian Tacitus, a century after Christ. His response to that “rare fortune” was to maintain his prose tight and to the purpose: he was identified for his economic system of expression, fathering the outline “taciturn”. Would that Tacitus was our overriding spirit in the present day.
Instead, our verbal diarrhoea promotes bizarre strains of conformity. All that up yours and but a lot herd behaviour. The free-speech right, at least the PC-left, resemble no historical tribe so carefully because the Monty Python gag: “Repeat after me: we’re ALL INDIVIDUALS!”
When it got here to adapting their cultural hobbyhorses to Covid-19, the insurgent right was complaining in regards to the erosion of liberties and the overkill of restrictions. The Institute of Public Affairs’ director, John Roskam, was calling Australia a “police state”, writing: “25 million Australians have been placed under indefinite house arrest, children’s playgrounds are locked and patrolled by security guards, and the police fly drones over beaches and parks.” He likened Victoria to “the worst socialist regimes”, even National Socialist. He praised Donald Trump for promising to cease donating US funds to the World Health Organisation, whereas criticising the Australian authorities for the “debilitating debt” its well being measures have been lumping on taxpayers.
The right’s concentrate on private liberties was unsurprising, and certainly devoted to ideas of libertarian politics. What was actually arresting, although, was the affirmation of a sample seen in the course of the Israel Folau saga: it was not the left however the right that now channelled the vitality of radical, unfocused, up-yours political protest in Australia. Who was calling on individuals to eschew face masks and “big brother” contact tracing apps, to disregard fines? Not union leaders or Green politicians. Civil disobedience was owned by the right.
Perhaps most revealing was the looks, on 10 May 2020, of Australia’s first political protest towards the coronavirus lockdown: it was Melbourne rightwingers who have been out on the streets, on the steps of Melbourne Town Hall, bearing placards about preventing for his or her rights, blaming China and the 5G community for the virus, opposing vaccinations and, for causes finest identified to themselves, breaking right into a chant of “Lock up Bill Gates”. Progressives have been at house following the principles whereas conservatives out getting arrested by police.
Later, those self same coronasceptics carried out a U-turn to criticise premier Daniel Andrews for not supervising lodge quarantine carefully sufficient, permitting a brand new outbreak of the illness. The solely strategy to reconcile these 180-degree reverses is to acknowledge that incoherence is itself a type of up yours.
Australian political radicalism now wore the Southern Cross and the Union Jack, previously the nationwide image of anti-radicalism. Even the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 have been an exception that proved the brand new rule. These protests have been directed towards a particular racism, spurred by the demise of George Floyd within the US, and their targets had names: police brutality, deaths in custody, institutional racism.
The protests of the right, then again, have been protests towards every thing. They dropped at thoughts Marlon Brando’s character Johnny within the movie The Wild One. Asked “What are you rebelling against?”, Johnny replies: “Whattaya got?” In 1953, Johnny was a forerunner of a technology of progressive protest. Today, his character would belong to the alt-right. Lacking a particular enemy, this type of rage by no means spends its vitality. The job of preventing every thing can by no means be accomplished.