Our Potemkin Prime Minister
He wasn't there again today, oh, how I wish he'd go away
There are massive floods in Queensland and a war in Ukraine. Not to mention the usual problems of the world that are the legitimate interest of the leader of a nation’s government.
So, where’s Scotty?
Over the weekend, the prime minister managed to have his photo taken in church
and then with one of the apostles of a global misinformation organisation posing as a media outlet
He has long been known as Scotty from Marketing, the king of announcements with no follow through, the man who travels with a photographer wherever he goes and who organises endless, inappropriate opportunities to burnish his tinpot delusions.
But I think we might finally be moving into endgame.
Grigory Potemkin, the Russian minister who became famous for erecting the facades of fake villages so that Emperess Catherine II would think the country was in better shape than it was, has nothing on this guy.
Morrison is, in fact, a fake prime minister. He is his photo ops.
A Potemkin prime minister.
We should be clear, however, that this isn’t the same thing as saying he is harmless, or lazy, or even a do-nothing. It isn’t even that he is focussed on image more than substance.
In politics, doing nothing—not showing up to support people in need, failing to distribute money for disaster relief, not ordering vaccines in time—is also a political choice. It is very much doing something.
It is an illustration of priorities.
I would rather go to Hawaii than lend moral support to bushfire victims. I would rather continue to distribute money in Liberal electorates for carparks than see to it that relief funding gets to those who needs it. I would rather not rush to get the nation vaccinated during a global pandemic.
These are all choices, and they speak to a deeply held set of beliefs about the role of government and the values Morrison and co. bring to their politics.
This is a government, then, that regularly fails to rise above the level of a snake’s arse, morally speaking, and they hit a new low over the weekend.
In amidst concerns about the terrible flooding happening in Queensland, the Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton, made the unprecedented announcement that he had set up an online donation site so people could contribute to flood relief.
As the flood waters recede (which I hope is happening) let the betrayal this announcement represents sink in.
The whole point of government, it’s raison d'être, need I remind anyone—except the current government apparently—is that we come together in the form of democratic government and its institutions in order to manage risk, to, by collective effort, see to it that when things of magnitude happen that are beyond the ability of an individual to manage—a pandemic say, or a flood, or a bushfire—we have the collective resources in place to deal with them.
This is a moral as well as an economic undertaking.
Democracy is about spreading risk and spreading power, recognising that if one group of citizens is suffering, we all have an interest in seeing to it that that problem is managed.
Yes, we often fail. Yes, certain groups are still marginalised.
But part of our power as citizens is to hold our elected representatives accountable for that underlying moral presumption.
When we criticise governments for failing to do these things—protect women, protect trans kids, look after those affected by climate-related disasters, deliver vaccines—the power of the critique is immanent in the very basis of democratic government.
To have a senior Minister, therefore, announce that instead of mobilising the forces of government to help people in need, to activate the financial and moral resources of the people his government is meant to represent—for which we pay our taxes and give our moral support— and to announce that he is instead going to outsource the matter to an online donations platform, then that government has lost the plot (if they ever had it).
The fact that the prime minister supported this monstrous betrayal of democratic purpose merely illustrates that the entire government is corrupt in the deepest sense.
I mean, I accept entirely that Scott Morrison doesn’t understand the criticism, but that is the entire fucking problem.
Once your government starts running GoFundMe campaigns to deal with natural disasters, they are admitting they have no understanding of the role they are meant to play as political leaders. They are admitting that they are pretend leaders.
They are actively undermining the legitimacy of, not just their own government, but of government itself as the democratic force we put in place to manage certain aspects of our collective lives.
And let’s be absolutely clear: such a government needs to be removed at the earliest opportunity lest we wake up one day and find the country has been turned into a Potemkin democracy in the image of its Potemkin prime minister.